Surrealist Artist (1898 - 1967)
01.12.11: Key Dates
Rene Magritte is today remembered as Belguim's greatest 20th century artist and one of the godfathers of surrealism. He is on the summit of surrealism with Salvador Dali, looking down on the likes of Max Ernst and Marcel Duchamp.
Born in Lessines, Belgium, on 21 November.
- Begins taking art classes in Chatelet, where he and his family have just moved to.
- Magritte's mother kills herself in the Sambre river.
- Meets Georgette Berger for the first time.
Magritte quits high school and enrols at the Academy of Fine Arts in Brussels where he attends classes in drawing, decorative painting and ornamental composition. Undertakes landscapes showing the Sambre river in which his mother had killed herself. These pictures are among his first works.
Magritte's best friend is the young poet Pierre Bourgeois, of whom he makes several portraits. They become interested in modernity and the Italian Futurists and invite Theo van Doesburg to give a lecture on the Dutch movement The Style.
Magritte's exhibits his first Futurist-inspired paintings along with works by the painter Pierre Flouquet. Pure geometric abstraction seems too radical to Magritte who begins to search for a different pictorial language, finding it in Cubism and Futurism. Again meets Georgette Berger.
Marries Georgette Berger. Georgette becomes his model and chief inspiration. He also becomes friendly with Victor Servranckx, who had developed a very personal geometric-abstract style. This style becomes the beginning of a new direction for Magritte.
1922 - 23
Creates his first really outstanding works which are characterized by Cubo-Futurist reminiscences and the presence of a very sensual representation in which women and colors are the dominant elements. He realises that resorting to abstraction has not enabled him to 'make reality manifest.' What he wants to establish is a disturbing relationship between the world and objects.
Magritte decides "only to paint objects with all their visible details". By placing them in situations which are unfamiliar to the spectator, he "challenges the real world". Magritte abandons the plastic qualities of pictorial art in favor of a more remote, colder style that portrays images from which all aestheticism had to be banished. Nocturne is one of the first works to reveal this change of emphasis. The work contains elements from the iconography that Magritte recognises for the first time and which he will use throughout his life: the painting within a painting, the bird in flight, and fire, adding to the stage curtain and to the wooden bilbioquet.
Completes The Last Jockey which, according to Magritte years later, was a critical milestone in his entry into Surrealism. The piece has a mysterious feeling, an anxiety without reason. This feeling of anxiety, which manifests itself in dark tonalities, lugubrious shapes and mysterious juxtaposition of objects, first appears in his work in the mid-1920s.
Magritte and Georgette move to Paris to be closer to where it all happens. He starts to take part in the activities of the Surrealists and becomes friends with Andre Breton, the self-appointed leader of the Surrealist movement.
1925 - 1930
Magritte begins combining words and images in his paintings. These word-pictures are not mere illustrations of an object or a concept. On the contrary, his work is intended to gently destabilize our mental habits of representation. Magritte elaborates on a didactic classification of this type of painting, the simplest which consists of denying an images through words, or vice versa.
Travels to Cadaques to stay with the Surrealist painters
Joan Miró and the Surrealist poet, Paul Eluard for a holiday. Completes The Treachery of Images , the famous 'pipe' picture. But this is not a pipe since we can not smoke it. It is only a representation of one. Magritte also first uses another technique around this time: that of representing a familiar object and given it a name other than its conventional one. Through this gallery of word-paintings, Magritte plays on the discrepancies, paradox, clarity and obscurity of common sense. The question remains as to whether the words actually represent what we think. As a result, the painting becomes a type of language.
Magritte still waits to have a one-man exhibition. Paris is in the midst of recession. The effect of the economic crisis is all too apparent to the artist. His friend Goemans is forced to close his Paris gallery and collectors and galleries become bankrupt. Magritte no longer has a steady income and his relationship with Breton has deteriorated as a result of their different interpretaions of Surrealism and what path if any it is taking. Discouraged, he returns to Brussels and turns to commercial work.
1930 - 1939
A network of friends and sponsors support him and enable him to sustain his daily life and to exhibit on several occasions at the Palais des Beaux Arts. Magritte is able to pull through these difficult years. At the same time he is earning a reputation abroad and his work is being exhibited in one-man shows or in group shows with other Surrealists in London, New York and Paris. Magritte shares the Surrealist concept of the power of desire and eroticism to 'change life' and wants to translate this idea through his use of unconventional images. He continues to involve metamorphosis in his work. In Black Magic a naked woman leaning on a rock gradually merges into the blue sky. The painter is, nevertheless, distrustful of the obvious seduction of 'pretty colors'. In The Rape he even pushes it to the point of obsession with the features of a woman's face replaced by sexual attributes: breasts, belly button and pubic hair. To avoid a scandal this painting is hidden by a velvet curtain at the Minotaure Exhibition in Brussels.
The 2nd World War is in full swing and the mighty German army has swept into Belgium. Magritte goes through a crisis resulting not just from from the German Occupation but his precarious financial situation and a dissatisfaction with his painting. He decides that a feeling of pleasure and an atmosphere of happiness has to predominate over the sense of anxiety and suffocation which had previously inhabited his work. In order to show the 'bright side of life', Magritte thinks about changing his iconography and begins to paint leaf-birds.
- Leaf-birds are used in two works, Treasure Island and The Companions of Fear .
He is struck by a reproduction of Pierre Auguste Renoir's Bathers which leads to a decisive transformation in his work. Enticed by the sensuality of the colors, he opts for a more luminous palette. While continuing to draw objects and figures with the meticulousness for which he has become known, he adds to them a touch clearly inspired by Impressionism, unleashing colour in new, warmer and more cheerful tonalities. Magritte calls this period his Sunlit period.
Alexander Iolas, who became Magritte's principal dealer in the United States, successfully exhibits the artist's work in New York. Iolas then suggests that Magritte forget Renoir and focus his output on images which overwhelmingly appealed to the public, like Treasure Island. Obligated to come to terms with the necessities of life, Magritte creats new combinations out of old images.
Completes Megalomania which reveals similarities with The Marches of Summer (1938-1939): a female torso (now in three parts), weightless cubes, blue sky with clouds and a parapet.
Completes The Domain of Arnheim, a work originally painted in 1936.
Magritte enjoys the game of juxtaposing and manipulating motifs. An image could exercise such powers of seduction that the painter felt compelled to reproduce it many times. Rather than falling into repetitive indifference, he excels in revisiting work in this way. Nowhere is this more evident than in The Dominion of Light , an evocation of the simultaneous presence of day and night, a magnetization of the contradictions dear to the Surrealists. There are sixteen versions of this work.
Among the works by Magritte which, beginning in the 1950's, definitively ensured his international recognition, one becomes the subject of extraordinary interest. In Golconda , Magritte brilliantly unites different motifs from his repertory: small men in overcoats and bowler hats float weightlessly in a blue sky in front of facades of houses. Present since 1927, this bowler-hatted figure finally finds his true dimension. He becomes Magritte's emblem par excellence. He is present in many works after the 1950's.
Completes The intimate Friend with bowler-hatted figure.
The Great War with bowler-hatted figure.
Large retrospective of Magritte's work is held at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, a clear manifestation of his worldwide recognition. Magritte refers to his work of the latest period (1958-1965) as his 'found children'. The iconographic elements, between them, in a reverting manner, finished by binding everything together in the last ten years of Magritte's life.
On 15 August, Rene Magritte dies in Brussels. He is 68.
Magritte Prints & Cards
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