Birthday: November 21, 1898
Died At Age: 68
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Also Known As: Rene François Ghislain Magritte
Born in: Lessines, Belgium
Spouse/Ex-: Georgette Berger
father: Léopold Magritte
mother: Régina Magritte
Died on: August 15, 1967
place of death: Brussels, Belgium
Rene Francois Ghislain Magritte was a surrealist artist who created such works of art that intrigue the observers’ minds and force them to question their own perceptions of reality. The most admirable thing about this artist was that he steered clear of elaborate imagery or intricate designs while using simple graphics and day-to-day objects to create paintings that gave newer meaning to already existing notions. He had the reputation of having the ability to make people think through the witty messages he conveyed through his drawings. He had began drawing as a young boy and realized that he wanted to spend the whole of his life drawing, sketching and painting. A tragic incident that happened in his childhood deeply influenced his painting style—his mother committed suicide by drowning and her body was found with her dress covering her face. This imagery stayed with him and is reflected in many of his paintings where the object’s face is not exposed. He initially followed an impressionist style of painting though he later on became more inclined towards surrealism. Before becoming a successful artist he used to design wallpapers and illustrate advertisements—whatever work he did, he was always a true artist at heart. Today, he is widely recognized for having influenced pop, minimalist and conceptual art.
Childhood & Early Life
He was born as the eldest son of Leopold Magritte, a tailor and textile merchant and his wife Regina. He received drawing lessons from the time he was 12 years of age.
Not much is known about Magritte’s early life except for the fact that his childhood was scarred by a very tragic incident. His mother committed suicide by drowning herself in the River Sambre. His mother’s death affected him deeply.
He started painting as a teenager and his earliest known paintings date from 1915. Initially he adopted an Impressionistic style.
He enrolled at the Academie Royale des Beaux-Arts in Brussels in 1916 where he studied under Constant Montald. He remained there for two terms till 1918, though he did not think much of the experience.
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From 1918 till 1924, the paintings he produced, most of which were female nudes, reflected futurism and the figurative Cubism of Metzinger.
He served for a short while from December 1920 till September 1921 in the Belgian infantry before becoming a draughtsman in a wallpaper factory where he designed posters and advertisements till 1926.
He sold his first art work, a painting of the singer Evelyn Brelin in 1923. This led to a contract at the Galerie la Centaure in 1926 which enabled him to become a full-time artist. The very same year, he created his first surreal painting, ‘The Lost Jockey’.
He began to delve deep into surrealism, often using everyday objects and simple imagery to create confusing images. He used to play with people’s imagination by combining elements of reality with fantasy which challenged people’s minds to find out the real meaning behind his paintings.
He held his first exhibition in 1927 in Brussels where he showed 61 of his paintings. The exhibition was a failure and critics reviewed his paintings very harshly. Depressed, he left for Paris.
He became friends with the French writer and poet, Andre Breton, who was a leading surrealist in Paris. There he developed his own style of surrealism, incorporating a dreamlike quality into his paintings.
He painted ‘The Lovers’ in 1928 which shows a couple kissing with their heads covered in grey bags. One of his more popular painting, ‘The Treachery of Images’, painted the following year depicts a pipe with the caption ‘This is not a pipe’.
The Galerie la Centaure closed down in 1929 and Magritte was left with no steady income. He returned to Brussels in 1930 and went back to work at the wallpaper factory. He along with his brother Paul opened an agency which helped him earn a modest livelihood.
He stayed in Brussels even during the World War II after the German Occupation. This upset his friend Breton who cut all ties with him. During this time (1943-44), his art was heavily influenced by the impressionist artist, Auguste Renoir.
During the mid to late 1940s, he supported himself by making forgeries of the paintings of Picasso, Braque, and Chirico to sell to the Germans. He also made fake bank notes to survive through the post-war period.
He regretted the counterfeiting later on, but admitted that there was no other way to survive during the bleak war time. After the situations improved, he returned to his surrealistic style of art in 1948.
One of his best known paintings is ‘The Treachery of Images’ which depicts a pipe with the caption ‘This is not a pipe’. What the artist meant was that the painting as a whole was just an image of a pipe, not an actual pipe.
His painting ‘The Son of Man’ is a self-portrait that shows a man in an overcoat with his face obscured by a hovering green apple. There is the sea and a cloudy sky in the background. This was considered to be one of his most confusing paintings.
Personal Life & Legacy
He met Georgette Berger first in 1913 when they were both teenagers. The couple met again in 1920 and fell in love. Their relationship culminated in marriage in 1922 which lasted till the artist’s death.
Magritte suffered from pancreatic cancer and died in 1967.
The Magritte Museum was opened in May 2009 in Brussels. It is dedicated to the art work of this great surrealist artist and is located near the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium.
One of this great artist’s paintings was stolen from a museum but was soon returned intact as the thieves were unable to sell it in the black market due to its fame.