René François Ghislain Magritte
Art on This Day
The Belgian surrealist artist René François Ghislain Magritte was born on this day in 1898. Best known for a number of witty and thought-provoking images Magritte evoked themes of mystery and madness to challenge the assumptions of human perception.
Born in Lessines, Belgium and the oldest of three boys. Magritte’s father’s manufacturing business at times allowed the family to live in relative comfort but his young world was dealt a destructive blow in 1912, when his mother committed suicide by drowning herself in a river.
Magritte found solace from the tragedy in films and novels and especially through painting. In 1916 he left home for Brussels, where for the next two years he studied at Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts. Although he was ultimately unimpressed with the institution, he was nonetheless exposed to emerging styles such as cubism and futurism, which significantly altered the direction of his work
By subtly rearranging recognisable forms and perspectives he forces the viewer to look more closely at what is generally taken for granted. He exploited the ambiguities between real objects and images of them and delighted in playing with the viewer's expectations.
Magritte had his first one-man show in 1927 at the Galerie Le Centaure in Brussels. At this time he was producing almost a painting a day. Later that year he moved to Paris to join the Surrealists. Magritte described this period up to 1930, as his 'Cavernous' period with paintings depicting macabre and bizarre scenes tinged with eroticism. However, having made little impact on Paris, Magritte moved back to Brussels where he would remain for the rest of his life.
René Magritte is quotted to have said "If the spectator finds that my paintings are a kind of defiance of 'common sense', he realises something obvious. I want nevertheless to add that for me the world is a defiance of common sense."
His work was consistently true to Surrealism throughout almost his entire career. He incorporated many favourite recurring themes into his work for example floating rocks, paintings within paintings and inanimate objects with human features. The bowler-hatted figure also appears regularly and is seen by some as a self-portrait.
Although Magritte died of pancreatic cancer on 15 August 1967, aged 68 his imagery has no doubt influenced future generations as well as Pop, Minimalist and Conceptual art.
For more information on René Magritte see: Magritte Gallery website
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