Once upon a time ... Magritte

Duane Michals, René Magritte, 1967
René Magritte is world famous for his strange and poetic images.
He was born on 21 November 1898 in Lessines, (Hainaut) Belgium.
When Magritte is 12 years old, he attends drawing classes above a sweet shop! At 18, because the art of painting seems somehow 'magical', he decides to make this his career and he enrols at the Academy of Fine Arts of Brussels.

Georgette and René Magritte, 1922
At 15, Magritte meets Georgette at a fair. A few years later, they meet again and marry. She becomes his favourite model and she lets him stage the scenes where he paints her in all sorts of outfits and in some surprising poses and places. A great complicity unites them throughout their lives!
The man who became a painter

René Magritte, Woman on Horseback, 1922, RMFAB
During his years at the Academy, Magritte meets a lot of other artists who later become his friends. Together they find inspiration in new art movements like Cubism (*) and Futurism (**).

Giorgio de Chirico, The Song of Love, 1914, New york, MoMA
The first Surrealist works
In 1923, Magritte discovers the Song of Love, by the Italian artist Giorgio de Chirico. He is overwhelmed by the poetry of everyday objects found in unusual places where everything seems still and silent. Do you recognize these objects? Is there a particular reason for these objects to be placed together?

René Magritte, Pour devenir un fort soldat... (To become a strong soldier), 1918, RMFAB ©
Being an artist is not always easy! Before becoming famous and being able to live from his work, Magritte does a lot of advertising. His images, simple and effective, catch the eye. They celebrate luxurious fashion houses but also objects from everyday life such as sweets, coffee, cars, medicine ...

René Magritte, The man from the Sea, 1927, RMFAB
The dark period
Magritte puts familiar objects or parts of them together with strange characters in dark settings... The result is often unexpected and disturbing. They look like stage sets! And yet everything seems strangely quiet!

René Magritte, The Use of Speech, 1929
Magritte and Georgette move to Paris. He is about 30. There he meets many other famous artists like Salvador Dali, with whom he likes to exchange ideas. He paints more than a hundred artworks! He also tries new techniques: he makes collages with all kinds of paper - newspapers, music scores - and plays with words in his paintings!

René Magritte, The Harvest, 1943
The "full sunlight" period
Between 1943 and 1947, Magritte is looking for a way to show "the sunny side of life" in order to forget the horrors of war. He is inspired by the Impressionists (***) and uses their vivid, colourful and bright touches. The style is airy and the themes are happier: bunches of flowers, mermaids, flowery landscapes...
However, Magritte's friends resent this change of style.

René Magritte, The Pope's Crime, 1948
The "vache" period
In 1948, Magritte presents his first solo exhibition in Paris. Annoyed at not having been invited earlier despite already being successful in London and New York, Magritte decides to play a prank!
Inspired by caricatures, comic strips and other artists, he paints 15 oils and 10 gouaches in a few days only. The colours are garish and runny. The brush strokes are fast and nervous. The subjects astonish by their vulgarity and irony. It is the "vache" period! The public is outraged.
Magritte does not sell anything. At the request of Georgette, he goes back to his earlier style.

1. René Magritte, The Empire of lights, 1954 2. René Magritte, The Empire of lights, 1961, private collection
Return to his early style
After several years marked by war and various changes of style, Magritte decides to paint again as before! His painting is richer but retains its poetic and mysterious force.
Magritte is becoming increasingly popular. He repeats previous themes and executes them differently. To do so, he changes the proportions, framing, colours or details. He also uses other techniques such as gouache.
(*) In the early 20th century, artists are looking for a simplified representation of reality. They bring objects back to geometric forms such as spheres, cones and cubes, hence the name of Cubism. Some painters prefer to abandon their brushes for collages with wallpaper, playing cards, music scores, etc.
(**) Looking to the future, the artists of this movement are passionate about the world of technology and new means of transport. By repeating shapes, they seek to illustrate speed, the dynamism of machines and the bustle of modern life.
(***) The Impressionists lived in the late 19th century. These artists, mainly French, love to paint outdoors. They translate their impressions of landscapes and simple everyday subjects in vivid, pure colours.