René François Ghislain Magritte (November 21, 1898 – August 15, 1967) was a Belgian surrealist artist. He is well known for a number of witty and amusing images. Surrealism was a cultural movement that began in the mid-1920s, and is best known for the visual artworks and writings of the group members. The works feature the element of surprise, unexpected juxtapositions, and the use of non sequiturs. Some viewed their art as an expression of a philosophical movement that was dedicated to revolutionary change. Magritte would ultimately break with Andre Breton, the founder of the Surrealist school. Magritte's work primarily addressed the issue of representation in the work of art. Magritte seems to suggest that no matter how realistically the artist can depict an item, verisimilitude is still an artistic strategy, a mere representation of the thing, not the thing itself. The philosophical basis of this perspective appears to be the Kantian distinction between noumenon and phenonomenon. The artist deals in phenomena only. This Kantian perspective is the basis for modern relativism. Since observers are limited only to each individual perception, one can never know the universal, which essentially ceases to exist for beings like humans.
Magritte was born in Lessines, Belgium, in 1898, the eldest son of Léopold Magritte, a tailor, and his wife Adeline, a milliner. He began drawing lessons in 1910. In 1912, his mother committed suicide by drowning herself in the River Sambre. Magritte was present when her body was retrieved from the water, and the image of his mother floating, her dress obscuring her face, was to be prominent in his amant series. He studied at the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts in Brussels for two years, until 1918. In 1922, he married Georgette Berger, whom he had met in 1913.
Magritte worked in a wallpaper factory, and was a poster and advertisement designer until 1926, when a contract with Galerie la Centaure, in Brussels ,made it possible for him to paint full-time.
In 1926, Magritte produced his first surrealist 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.
When Galerie la Centaure closed and the contract income ended, he returned to Brussels and worked in advertising. Then, with his brother, he formed an agency, which earned him a living wage.
During the German occupation of Belgium in World War II, he remained in Brussels, which led to a break with Breton. At the time he renounced the violence and pessimism of his earlier work, though he returned to the themes later.
His work showed in the United States, in New York, in 1936, and again in that city in two retrospective exhibitions, one at the Museum of Modern Art in 1965, and the other at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1992.
Magritte died of pancreatic cancer on August 15, 1967, and was interred in Schaarbeek Cemetery, Brussels.
Popular interest in Magritte's work rose considerably in the 1960s, and his imagery has influenced Pop, Minimalist, and Conceptual art. In 2005, he came 9th in the Walloon version of De Grootste Belg (The Greatest Belgian); in the Flemish version he was 8th.
Philosophical and artistic gestures
A consummate technician, his work frequently displays a juxtaposition of ordinary objects in an unusual context, giving new meanings to familiar things. The representational use of objects as other than what they seem is typified in his painting, The Treachery Of Images (La trahison des images), which shows a pipe that looks as though it is a model for a tobacco store advertisement. Magritte painted below the pipe, This is not a pipe (Ceci n'est pas une pipe), which seems a contradiction, but is actually true: The painting is not a pipe, it is an image of a pipe. (In his book, This Is Not a Pipe, French critic Michel Foucault discusses the painting and its paradox.)
Magritte made the same gesture in a painting of an apple: He painted the fruit realistically and then used an internal caption or framing device to deny that the item was an apple. In these Ceci n'est pas works, Magritte seems to suggest that no matter how realistically the artist can depict an item, verisimilitude is still an artistic strategy, a mere representation of the thing, not the thing itself. The philosophical basis of this perspective appears to be the Kantian distinction between noumenon and phenonomenon. The artist deals in phenomena only.
His art shows a more representational style of surrealism compared to the "automatic" style seen in works by artists like Joan Miró. In addition to fantastic elements, his work is often witty and amusing. He also created a number of surrealist versions of other famous paintings.
René Magritte described his paintings by saying,
My painting is visible images which conceal nothing; they evoke mystery and, indeed, when one sees one of my pictures, one asks oneself this simple question, "What does that mean?" It does not mean anything, because mystery means nothing either, it is unknowable.
In addition to the academic interest in the work of Magritte by Foucault and others, the 1960s brought a great increase in public awareness of Magritte's work. One of the means by which his imagery became familiar to a wider public was through reproduction on rock album covers; early examples include the 1969 album Beck-Ola by the Jeff Beck Group (reproducing Magritte's The Listening Room), and Jackson Browne's 1974 album, Late for the Sky, with artwork inspired by Magritte's L'Empire des Lumieres. Alan Hull of UK folk-rock band Lindisfarne used Magritte's paintings on two solo albums in 1973 and 1979. Styx adapted Magritte's Carte Blanche for the cover of their 1977 album, The Grand Illusion, while the cover of Gary Numan's 1979 album, The Pleasure Principle, like John Foxx's 2001 The Pleasures of Electricity, was based on Magritte's painting, Le Principe du Plaisir. Paul McCartney, a life-long fan of Magritte, owns many of his paintings, and claims that a Magritte painting inspired him to use the name Apple for the Beatles' media corporation.
Numerous films have included imagery inspired by Magritte. The Son of Man, in which a man's face is obscured by an apple, is referenced in the 1992 film Toys, the 1999 film The Thomas Crown Affair, and in the 2004 short film, "Ryan."
Selected list of works
- 1920 Landscape
- 1922 The Station
- 1923 Sixth Nocturne
- 1925 The Bather and The Window
- 1926 The Lost Jockey, The Mind of the Traveler, Sensational News, The Difficult Crossing, The Vestal's Agony, The Midnight Marriage, The Musings of a Solitary Walker, After the Water the Clouds, and The Encounter
- 1927 The Meaning of Night, Let Out of School, The Murderer Threatened, The Man from the Sea, The Tiredness of Life, The Light-breaker, A Passion for Light, The Menaced Assassin, Reckless Sleeper, and The Muscles of the Sky
- 1928 The Lining of Sleep, Intermission, The Flowers of the Abyss, Discovery, The Lovers I & II, The Daring Sleeper, The Acrobat’s Ideas, The Automaton, The Empty Mask, Reckless Sleeper, and Attempting the Impossible
- 1929 The Treachery of Images, Threatening Weather, and On the Threshold of Liberty
- 1930 Pink Belles, Tattered Skies, The Eternally Obvious, The Lifeline, The Annunciation, and Celestial Perfections
- 1931 The Voice of the Air, Summer, and The Giantess
- 1932 The Universe Unmasked
- 1933 Elective Affinities
- 1933 The Human Condition and The Unexpected Answer
- 1934 The Rape
- 1935 The Discovery of Fire, The Human Condition, Revolution, Perpetual Motion, Collective Invention,' The False Mirror, and The Portrait
- 1936 Clairvoyance, The Healer, The Philosopher’s Lamp, Spiritual Exercises, and Forbidden Literature
- 1937 The Future of Statues and The Black Flag
- 1938 Time Transfixed and Steps of Summer
- 1939 Victory
- 1940 The Return and The Wedding Breakfast
- 1941 The Break in the Clouds
- 1942 Misses de L’Isle Adam and The Misanthropes
- 1943 Universal Gravitation and Monsieur Ingres’s Good Days
- 1944 ? The Domain of Arnheim
- 1945 Treasure Island and Black Magic
- 1947 The Cicerone, The Liberator, The Fair Captive, and The Red Model
- 1948 Blood Will Tell, Memory, The Mountain Dweller, The Art of Life, The Pebble, The Lost Jockey (1948), and Famine
- 1949 Megalomania, Elementary Cosmogany, and Perspective, the Balcony
- 1950 Making an Entrance, The Legend of the Centuries, Towards Pleasure, The Labors of Alexander, and The Art of Conversation
- 1951 David’s Madame Récamier, Pandora's Box, The Song of the Violet, The Spring Tide, and The Smile
- 1952 Personal Values
- 1953 Golconda, The Listening Room, and a fresco for the Knokke Casino
- 1954 The Invisible World and The Empire of Light
- 1955 Memory of a Journey and The Mysteries of the Horizon
- 1956 The Sixteenth of September
- 1957 The Fountain of Youth
- 1958 The Golden Legend
- 1959 The Castle in the Pyrenees, The Battle of the Argonne, The Anniversary, and The Glass Key
- 1960 The Memoirs of a Saint
- 1962 The Great Table, The Healer, Waste of Effort, and Mona Lisa (circa 1962)
- 1963 The Great Family, The Open Air, The Beautiful Season, Princes of the Autumn, Young Love, and The Telescope
- 1964 Evening Falls, The Great War, The Son of Man, and Song of Love
- 1965 Carte Blanche and Ages Ago
- 1966 The Shades, The Happy Donor, The Gold Ring, The Pleasant Truth, and The Mysteries of the Horizon
- 1967 Good Connections, The Art of Living, and several bronze sculptures based on Magritte’s previous works.
- West, Shearer. The Bullfinch Guide to Art. UK: Bloomsbury Publishing, 1996. ISBN 0-8212-2137-X
- Calvocoressi, Richard. Magritte. New York: Watson-Guptill, 1990. ISBN 0-8230-2962-X
- Meuris, Jacques. René Magritte. Cologne: Benedikt Taschen, 1991. ISBN 3-8228-0546-7
- Foundation Magritte Retrieved May 24, 2007.
- Collection of books on Magritte Retrieved May 24, 2007.
- René Magritte Museum at Brussels Retrieved May 24, 2007.
- The Magritte Site Retrieved May 24, 2007.
- Magritte at Artcyclopedia Retrieved May 24, 2007.
- René Magritte - His Life, His Work Retrieved May 24, 2007.
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