René Magritte
Year, Birthplace 1898, Belgium
Year, Place of death 1967, Belgium
Magritte was the son of a tailor and a dressmaker, and his early life was marked by numerous moves and by his mother's suicide in 1912. In 1916, he enrolled at the Académie de Beaux-Arts in Brussels, where Victor Servranckx was a peer. Pierre-Louis Flouquet drew his attention to cubism and futurism and introduced him to the Antwerp avant-garde. Magritte became interested in the De Stijl abstract movement. In 1920, he met the person who was to become his life companion, the poet and collagist E.L.T. Mesens, who was sympathetic to the dadaist spirit. After his military service, in 1922, he started work at the Peters-Lacroix wallpaper factory with Victor Servranckx, who had in the meantime become an abstractionist, and together they wrote L’Art pur: Défense de l’esthétique. [Pure Art: A Defence of the Aesthetic]. Following this, he made his living designing posters and advertisements. René Magritte began to exhibit his paintings; however in 1925, dissatisfied with his work, he decided to return to figuration, emphasising detailed representation. The poet Marcel Lecomte introduced him to the work of Giorgio de Chirico, which made a deep impression on him, as did surrealist poetry. Magritte found his rightful place, and collaborated with Mesens, the poets Marcel Lecomte, Camille Goemans and Paul Nougé, and the composer André Souris. He also worked with Mesens on the dadaist journal Oesophage before painting his first surrealist works, including La Fenêtre [The Window], from 1925, and Le Jockey perdu [The Lost Jockey] from 1926. In 1926, he signed a contract with the Brussels gallery Le Centaure, and was finally in a position to leave his work in advertising. His first solo exhibition took place the following year, but was slated by the critics. Soon after, Magritte moved to Perreux-sur-Marne, in the suburbs of Paris. It was there that he met the surrealists and took part in the group's activities (the surrealist exhibition organized by Goemans in 1928, the journal La Révolution surréaliste [The Surrealist Revolution] in 1929, the collage exhibition La Peinture au Défi [Painting Challenged] in 1930). He was particularly linked to Paul Éluard, André Breton, Hans Arp, Joan Miró, and later, to Salvador Dalí (with whom he spent the summer of 1929 in Cadaqués together with Éluard). For financial reasons, and perhaps also due to his difficult relationship with Breton, he returned to Brussels in 1930 where the Belgian surrealist group was in full swing, and was increasingly strengthened by the poets Louis Scutenaire, Paul Colinet, Marcel Mariën and Achille Chavée. It was at this time that Magritte defined the repertoire of objects and models that spread throughout his work (bilboquets [cup-and-balls], balustrades, apples, tubas, bells, beach scenes, curtains...), and also his illusionist techniques (tree-leaf, bird-leaf, the co-existence between night and light, petrification, the absence of gravity, dummies' heads, solid wooden boards, among other things). Around 1927, he began to write words related to the painted objects directly on the canvasses. A solo exhibition organized at the Brussels Palais des Beaux-Arts in 1933 confirmed his influential position in the city's artistic circles. Although he continued to stay in contact with the Parisian surrealist group, and to take part in all the exhibitions, his life and friendships were centred on Brussels. In 1934, one of his most famous and influential creations, Le Viol [Rape], was chosen to illustrate the cover of Breton's pamphlet Qu’est-ce que le surréalisme? [What is Surrealism?]. In 1936, Julien Levy organized Magritte’s first exhibition in the United States, which gave rise to a series of international exhibitions and led to considerable popular success. After 1943, Magritte cast aside his customary smooth surfaces to return to a more impressionistic style, reminiscent of Renoir, which he maintained until 1947. It was as if he wanted to bring light to a particularly dark time. In 1945, Breton chose the second version of the Modèle rouge [Red Model] to illustrate the cover of the second edition of Le Surréalisme et la Peinture [Surrealism and Painting]. Although his painting had shifted from the automatism that had originally been envisioned, the impact of the images he created, the decontextualization of his objects, the humour, the poetry, the dreams, and the eroticism they emanated obliged Breton to recognize Magritte's importance in surrealism. He went on to dedicate two texts to him in 1961 and 1964, which were republished in the 1965 edition of his work Le Surréalisme et la Peinture. The retrospective at the MoMA in New York in 1965 can be seen both as the conclusion of a simple bourgeois Brussels lifestyle, surrounded by friends and poets, and also as Magritte as the prolific inventor of images that continue to fascinate. AC