I chose to research Magritte because I have always been a fan of surrealism. I already have learned quite a bit about Salvador Dali through art history classes in high school, but I knew much less about Magritte despite being a fan of several of his paintings. Because I wanted to know more about such a prominent surrealism artist, Magritte was an obvious choice.
Rene Magritte was born on November 21st, 1898 in Hainaut, Belgium. Hainaut is often known as a grey country, with its drab land and dreary skies. It is Hainaut’s greyness that influences the settings of many of Magritte’s paintings. Magritte was part of the Surrealism movement, a movement that attempted to tap into the subconscious mind by using automatism. Combined with hyper-real landscapes and Freudian influences, surrealism was an art movement that evoked the feelings of dreams.
When he was twelve years old, his mother committed suicide, and although he did not speak of her death, he often alluded to her death through his painting. He did so by referencing death by water or by painting people with their faces concealed or absent. His most significant reference to his mother’s death is seen in his 1926 work, The musings of a solitary walker, seen below.
The musings of a solitary walker (Les reveries du promeneur solitaire), 1926: oil, 139x105cm
Also evident in this painting is a mysterious bowler-hatted man that reappears in several of Magritte’s paintings such as his 1958 painting, The intimate friend, or his 1956 painting of The ready-made bouquet.
Another symbol common in Magritte’s painting was the use of cloth to cover the heads of figures. This again is commonly cited as a reference to his mother’s dead body which was found covered by her nightdress. His use of cloth to disguise and create anonymity is seen in several of his 1928 pieces including The central story and The lovers. Other argue that another possible reason for his use of cloth to disguise people and objects was because of his obsession with the hidden. This is supported by the fact that Magritte used more than just cloth to cover faces in his paintings. He also painted in objects that would seem to randomly float in front of a face. This is seen in his famous 1964 Son of Man as depicted below.
Son of Man, 1964: oil, 116x89cm
As you can see in these images, Magritte, like many other artists from the surrealism movement, uses a hyper-realistic painting technique and juxtaposes this technique against the subjects of his paintings, which are often impossible scenes, seemingly straight out of fantasy. Max Ernst even went so far as to call Magritte’s painting “collages painted entirely by hand.” Ernst was actually often not wrong. Many of Magritte’s works uses a very traditional space, and then imposes foreign objects on top of the landscape, very much like pasting pictures together in a collage. One way he often does this is by blowing up an object so that it seems out of place with its background such as in The listening-room or A sense of reality.
The listening-room, 1952: oil painting, 55x45cm
One of my favorite pieces of Magritte’s is one that I learned about in high school called La Trahison Des Images (The Treachery of Images). The painting features a large pipe suspended in the middle of the canvas with the word “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” underneath. This means “this is not a pipe.” This piece is so interesting to me because Magritte’s argument was that the painting itself was not a pipe, it was merely a depiction of a pipe. This painting is a perfect example of how Magritte pushed the definitions of how we see and perceive things, which is exactly why Magritte is so interesting to me. This painting is just one of countless seemingly contradictory and mysterious works that Magritte produced.
La Trahison Des Images (The Treachery of Images), 1929: oil painting, 60x81cm
Magritte’s use of anonymity, dream-like mysteriousness, and unexpected juxtapositions is what makes his paintings so interesting and so popular in the surrealism movement.
Magritte, Rene. La Trahison Des Images (The Treachery of Images). N.p., 1929. Web.
Magritte, René et al. Magritte : The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926-1938. New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2013. Print.
Magritte, Rene. Son of Man. N.p., 1964. Web.
---. The Listening-Room. N.p., 1952. Web.
---. The Musings of the Solitary Walker. N.p., 1926. Web.
“MoMA | Surrealism.” N.p., n.d. Web. 3 Mar. 2015.
Sylvester, David, and Menil Foundation. Magritte : The Silence of the World. New York: H.N. Abrams, 1992. Print.