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René Magritte

1898-1967

 

René François-Ghislain Magritte was born on November 21st, 1898,  in Lessines, Belgium, the eldest of three boys. Even at an early age, he liked to draw, and was encouraged to do so by his father Léopold.  He later started painting at the age of 12.   Régine Bertinchamp, Magritte's mother, suffered from depression; one night, while the rest of the family was asleep she fled to go to throw herself over a bridge, into the river Sambre. A few days later, her body is found floating, her face covered by her nightgown; René, who was then only 14, was deeply scarred by the image, which was later going to reappear in some of his works (The Heart of the Matter).

At the age of 16, Magritte met Georgette Berger, the girl who would be his future wife and creative muse.  A year later, in 1914, he left Georgette behind, and he enrolled at the Academy of Fine Arts in Brussels to learn how to paint with all the "proper" techniques usually attributed to artists who worked in the figurative style, his plan was to master these techniques before breaking free of them.  He would not see his beloved Georgette again until 1920, when by chance he would meet her at an art supply store.

While studying at the Academy of Fine Arts, Magritte met many artists who would influence his style, amongst them were E.L.T Mesens, Pierre Flouquet, and Piérre Bourgeois. He also showed some interest in the Futurist movement, and Cubism, but it was when he discovered Giorgio De Chirico's surrealist works that he found true inspiration.  It was from this inspiration that Magritte decided to make each of his painting a visual poem; a quality he found present in De Chirico's works.

In the fall of 1923, René Magritte married Georgette Berger, wallpaper artist. At that time, he develops a profound dislike for the decorative arts.  He later would state: "I detest my past, and anyone else's. I detest resignation, patience, professional heroism and obligatory beautiful feelings. I also detest the decorative arts, folklore, advertising, voices making announcements, aerodynamism, boy scouts, the smell of moth balls, events of the moment, and drunken people."

In 1927, Magritte joined André Breton, Paul Eluard, Salvador Dali, and other artists and writers who were part of the surrealist  movement in Paris.  Magritte held his first one-man exhibit was in Brussels in 1927, and as it was with his contemporaries, his art drew the ire of the critics and the conservative art crowd.  But what made Magritte's work so special was his incredible skill at painting realistic objects and figures.  The critics could not deny his talent, nor could they dismiss his work as an exercise in "laisser-faire".   Like De Chirico, and Dali, he was a true technician, and a technician with soul.  What set him apart from the other surrealists was his technique of juxtaposing ordinary objects in an extraordinary way; while Dali would "melt" a watch, playing with the consistency of an object (amongst other things), Magritte would leave objects intact, but play with their placement in reality, playing with logic. This technique is sometimes called Magic Realism.  Of course, what really upset the critics was that Magritte's art did not provide answers, but only confusion, and questions as to why...

In 1929, Magritte and poet Paul Eluard spent some time in Cadaquès, at Salvador Dali's residence.  Dali is perhaps the only other surrealist who's work could be compared to Magritte's.  Both shared impeccable technique, and a great sense of humor.  Another thing which may have angered critics was Magritte's "parodies" of famous paintings; like other surrealists, his irreverence and contempt for the norm was quite apparent in his work.  It is evident that the humor magazines such as Harvey Kurtzman's Mad, and comedy troupes such as Monty Python owe much to the surrealists.

Continued on the next page...

 

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