René Magritte (1898-1967) was a major figure of the surrealist movement during the first half of the twentieth century and one of Belgium’s most celebrated artists. From 1916-18, Magritte studied at the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Brussels and began painting in the Impressionist style. As the 1920s approached, Magritte began experimenting with Futurism and Cubo-Futurism in his printmaking.
In 1922, Magritte saw a reproduction of Song of Love (1914) by Giorgio de Chirico and began to incorporate more overt imagery into his own artwork. Like de Chirico, he began using illogical combinations of objects, but he also wanted to use new subject matter that would reference his reality. These early artistic experiments are seen in his advertisements and posters.
Magritte became a key figure in the formation of the Belgian Surrealist group and their theories in 1926. Unlike the French Surrealists who wanted to experience reality through the unconscious, Magritte strove for the same results by consciously disrupting reality and the conventional meanings of his chosen objects in order to express objects with the utmost clarity.
In 1927, the Galerie le Centaure in Brussels gave Magritte his first solo exhibition featuring over sixty works before he relocated to Paris. It was there that Magritte became acquainted with the Surrealists Jean Arp, André Breton, Salvador Dalí, and
Joan Miró. As Magritte’s output of work continued to evolve, the presence of words and text became essential; many of his titles are derived from literature, film, and music. The Treachery of Images (1929), which depicts a pipe above the phrase “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” has since become an iconic image of modern art. This arrangement challenges how the viewer identifies an image of something as the object itself, which it is not.
Often Magritte would represent an object metamorphosing into something new in order to hone in on the relationships between inanimate and animate objects. Magritte also produced numerous drawings using repetitive imagery and motifs in slightly different arrangements in order to extract the greatest potential from the scene.
The highly figurative style favored by Magritte paved the way for future generations of post-war and contemporary artists. Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Rauschenberg, Ed Ruscha, and Andy Warhol are a few of the numerous artists that have since been inspired by Magritte.