I cannot think of any circumstances that might have determined my character or my art. I do not believe in "determinism".
René Magritte was born at Lessines, in the Hainaut, on November 21, 1898. The oldest of three children, his childhood was marked by many moves of family abode, the financial woe due to commercial setbacks of his father and, above all, the dramatic death of his mother in 1912 who drowned herself in the river Sambre. From the age of 12, Magritte took painting classes from a local school master, and developed a passion for the films of the arch-criminal Fantômas as well as an avid taste for Edgar Allan Poe and Maurice Leblanc. Before coming to the capital in 1914 to study at the Académie des Beaux-Arts, he’d already crossed paths with Georgette Berger, at the fair in Charleroi, the woman who in 1922 would become his lifelong muse and wife.
At the Académie, the young painter meets Victor Servranckx and Pierre-Louis Flouquet, and together they follow the constructivist adventure of the group 7 Arts, a period during which he also makes his first decorative and advertising works. In 1922, Magritte becomes a chum of his brother Paul’s piano teacher, E.L.T. Mesens, a dandy with a penchant for dadaism’s nihilistic aesthetic. In 1923, another friend, the poet Marcel Lecomte, shows him a photograph of Giorgio de Chirico’s The Song of Love (1914). It’s a shock – and the starting point for his own surrealist oeuvre with, in 1926, the realization of The Lost Jockey. Further, it’s also the spark for melding into a common quest the diverse personalities that formed, in Brussels, the founding core of the Belgian surrealist group: Paul Nougé, Camille Goemans, E.L.T. Mesens, Marcel Lecomte, André Souris and Louis Scutenaire. In 1928, this entire group signs the preface by Nougé for the artist’s exhibition at the gallery L’Epoque, run by Paul-Gustave Van Hecke. His wife, the fashion designer Norine, also commissions Magritte for her ad-campaigns.
I despise my own past and that of others. I despise resignation, patience, professional heroism and all the obligatory sentiments.
A year earlier, he decides nonetheless to set up house in the Parisian suburbs. There he frequents André Breton, Paul Eluard and the group of Parisian surrealists with whom he collaborates on the last number of the review Révolution surréaliste, contributing a major text: Les mots et les images (Words and Images). His relationship with Breton, however, turns more difficult and, with the economic crisis in full swing, Magritte decides to return to Brussels and start an advertising agency, called Studio Dongo, together with his brother Paul. During the 1930s, Magritte is particularly productive. In 1936 he has a one-man-show in New York at the Julien Levy Gallery, followed two years later with another exhibition at The London Gallery, opened by Mesens in the British capital. Magritte’s many collaborations with Man Ray, Yves Tanguy, André Breton and Paul Eluard confirm his place at the heart of the international surrealist movement. This decade also sees his rapprochement with the Belgian Communist party and, on the eve of war, he produces the poster Le Vrai Visage de Rex (The True Face of Rex), juxtaposing the Belgian fascist Léon Degrelle and Adolf Hitler.
With Germany’s invasion of Belgium in 1940, Magritte decides to temporarily flee to the South of France. Despite wartime censorship, in 1943 his friend Marcel Mariën nonetheless pens the first monograph devoted to the painter. The Occupation years also coincide with the artist’s development of an impressionist technique of discrete expression. After the war, Breton will be quite critical of this period, defined by Magritte as 'surrealism in full sunlight'. The artist’s relationship with the Parisian surrealist group, never an easy one, would be further estranged by works exposed in 1948, his période vache [cow period], paintings made in "schoolboy" fashion, accompanied by a preface by Scutenaire with the explicit title of Les pieds dans le plat [Feet in the dinner-plate].
During this same period, Magritte begins to work with the gallery-owner Alexandre Iolas who acquaints Jean and Dominique Menil with his work, as well as the attorney Henry Torczyner, who becomes a friend of the painter. These new connections provide an intellectual entourage for his investigations regarding repetition and the grand "Magrittean" images. By dint of this American network, other major career events unfold in the USA, with exhibitions at the Sidney Janis Gallery, the Bodley Gallery, the Arkansas Art Center in Little Rock and, finally, at the MOMA in New York in 1965.
I love subversive humour, freckles, knees, the long hair of women, the dreams of young children at liberty, a young girl running in the street.
During the 1950s Magritte forges new friendships with Maurice Rapin and André Bosmans, with whom he launches the review Rhétorique. In 1953, through his friend Gustave Nellens, he is commissioned to paint murals destined for the Chandelier Hall at the Casino in Knokke on the Belgian coast. This work, The Enchanted Domain, encompasses his entire painterly universe. The artist will further, and differently, explore this domain from 1956 on, in a series of short films he makes featuring his wife Georgette, the Scutenaires and Paul Colinet. Right up to the end of his life, Magritte would continue to investigate and innovate using new techniques, like in the series of bronzes inspired by his work and cast after his death. René Magritte succumbed to cancer of the pancreas on August 15th 1967.