Rene Magritte Biography
René François Ghislain Magritte (French: [ʁəne fʁɑ̃swa ɡilɛ̃ maɡʁit]; 21 November 1898 – 15 August 1967) was a Belgian surrealist artist. He became well known for creating a number of witty and thought-provoking images. Often depicting ordinary objects in an unusual context, his work is known for challenging observers’ preconditioned perceptions of reality. His imagery has influenced pop, minimalist and conceptual art.
René Magritte was born in Lessines, in the province of Hainaut, Belgium, in 1898. He was the oldest son of Léopold Magritte, a tailor and textile merchant, and Régina (née Bertinchamps), who was a milliner before she got married. Little is known about Magritte’s early life. He began lessons in drawing in 1910. On 12 March 1912, his mother committed suicide by drowning herself in the River Sambre. This was not her first attempt at taking her own life; she had made many over a number of years, driving her husband Léopold to lock her into her bedroom. One day she escaped, and was missing for days. Her body was later discovered a mile or so down the nearby river.
According to a legend, 13-year-old Magritte was present when her body was retrieved from the water, but recent research has discredited this story, which may have originated with the family nurse. Supposedly, when his mother was found, her dress was covering her face, an image that has been suggested as the source of several of Magritte’s paintings in 1927–1928 of people with cloth obscuring their faces, including Les Amants.
Magritte’s earliest paintings, which date from about 1915, were Impressionistic in style. From 1916 to 1918, he studied at the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts in Brussels, under Constant Montald, but found the instruction uninspiring. The paintings he produced during the years 1918–1924 were influenced by Futurism and by the figurative Cubism of Metzinger. In 1922, Magritte married Georgette Berger, whom he had met as a child in 1913. From December 1920 until September 1921, Magritte served in the Belgian infantry in the Flemish town of Beverlo near Leopoldsburg. In 1922–23, he worked as a draughtsman in a wallpaper factory, and was a poster and advertisement designer until 1926, when a contract with Galerie ‘Le Centaure’ in Brussels made it possible for him to paint full-time. In 1926, Magritte produced his first surreal painting, The Lost Jockey (Le jockey perdu), and held his first exhibition in Brussels in 1927. Critics heaped abuse on the exhibition. Depressed by the failure, he moved to Paris where he became friends with André Breton and became involved in the surrealist group. The illusionistic, dream-like quality is characteristic of Magritte’s version of Surrealism. He became a leading member of the movement, and remained in Paris for three years.
Galerie ‘Le Centaure’ closed at the end of 1929, ending Magritte’s contract income. Having made little impact in Paris, Magritte returned to Brussels in 1930 and resumed working in advertising. He and his brother, Paul, formed an agency which earned him a living wage. In 1932 he joined the Communist Party, which he would periodically leave and rejoin for several years.
Why Rene Magritte?
A Belgian surrealist painter, Rene Magritte’s witty and thought-provoking paintings sought to have viewers question their perceptions of reality, and become hypersensitive to the world around them. Magritte’s mother was a suicidal woman, which led her husband, Magritte’s father, to lock her up in her room. One day, she escaped, and was found down a nearby river dead, having drowned herself. According to legend, 13 year old Magritte was there when they retrieved the body from the river. As she was pulled from the water, her dress covered her face. This later became a theme in many of Magritte’s paintings in the 1920’s, portraying people with cloth covering their faces.
He began drawing lessons at age ten, and in 1916, went to study a the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Brussels, where he found the instruction uninspiring and unsuited to his tastes. He did not begin his actual painting career until after serving in the Belgian infantry for a short time, and working at a wallpaper company as a draftsman and producing advertising posters. He was able to paint full time due to a short-lived contract with Galerie le Centaure, allowing him to present in his first exhibition, which was poorly received.
Magritte made his living producing advertising posters in a business he ran with his brother, as well as creating forgeries of Picasso, Braque and Chirico paintings. His experience with forgeries also allowed him to create false bank notes during the German occupation of Belgium in World War II, helping him to survive the lean economic times.
Through creating common images and placing them in extreme contexts, Magritte sough to have his viewers question the ability of art to truly represent an object. In his paintings, he often played with the perception of an image and the fact that the painting of the image could never actually be the object. His artistic interpretations influenced many modern artists, including Andy Warhol, Jan Verdoodt and Jasper Johns. His art, which was especially popular during the 1960’s, has also influenced numerous songs, movies, and books.