René Magritte

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René Magritte

Twentieth century Belgian surrealist artist, René Magritte, was famous for his clever artwork that presented witty, fascinating, thought-provoking and intriguing images. The characteristic feature of his work was depiction of ordinary objects in an unusual setting. Throughout his oeuvre he challenged the stereotypes and conventional ways to perceive reality. Moreover, his work immensely influenced modern art including pop culture, minimalist and conceptual art.

On 21 November 1898, René François Ghislain Magritte was born in the province of Hainaut, Belgium. His father’s occupation was tailoring and was a textile merchant, while his mother was used to be a milliner before marriage. His early life is not as well documented, though he was reported to receive drawing lessons in 1910. Two years later his mother drowned herself in the River Sambre in an act of suicide. Allegedly, he was present at the time when his mother’s body was recovered from the river. However, the historians discredit this incident which might have been rumored by family nurse. Also it was not his mother’s first attempt at taking her own life as she had shown suicidal tendencies at several occasions rendering her husband to lock her up in her room. One of the recurring images in his work was of the subject’s face being covered with a cloth. It is assumed that the image was inspired by his mother’s death as her face was, presumably, covered with her dress.

1915 was marked as the year when Magritte began to paint in Impressionistic style. The following years he went to Brussels to receive art education from the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts. However, he felt the instructions lacking in inspiration. Subsequently, he painted under the influence of Futurism and Cubism. He got married in 1913, and served in the Belgian infantry in the Flemish town in 1921. He did a stint as a draughtsman in a wallpaper factory for a year then took up posting and advertising. Eventually, he became a full time painter after all that struggle.

The Lost Jockey which came out in 1926 was his first painting and the following year he held his first exhibition. Discouraged and dejected after being lambasted by art critics, Magritte moved to Paris from Brussels. There he joined the company of André Breton and came into contact with a group of surrealists. Staying in Paris for three years, he became proponent of surrealism and key figure in the movement. His surrealist work had a distinguishing feature of dream like illusionistic state.

Upon his return to Paris when his contract with Galerie ‘Le Centaure’ expired, he went back to advertising business. One of the British surrealist patrons, Edward James, permitted Magritte to paint and stay rent free in his London home. Two of his works featured the surrealist painter, La Reproduction Interdite and Le Principe du Plaisir (Not to be Reproduced and The Pleasure Principle).

The years that followed witnessed the outbreak of the Second World War. René Magritte remained in Brussels and during that time he adopted a novel style of painting, known as his “Renoir Period”. The paintings manifested his deep-seated feeling of alienation and abandonment. Along with other surreal artists he signed the manifesto Surrealism in Full Sunlight. Post World War II was marked as the period when he experimented with a provocative and crude Fauve style called Magritte’s “Vache Period”.

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