Surely the most celebrated Belgian artist of the twentieth century, Rene Magritte has achieved great popular acclaim for his idiosyncratic approach to Surrealism. To support himself he spent many years working as a commercial artist, producing advertising and book designs, and this most likely shaped his fine art, which often has the abbreviated impact of an advertisement. While some French Surrealists led ostentatious lives, Magritte preferred the quiet anonymity of a middle-class existence, a life symbolized by the bowler-hatted men that often populate his pictures. In later years, he was castigated by his peers for some of his strategies (such as his tendency to produce multiple copies of his pictures), yet since his death his reputation has only improved. Conceptual artists have admired his use of text in images, and painters in the 1980’s admired the provocative kitsch of some of his later work. Magritte wished to cultivate an approach that avoided the stylistic distractions of most modern painting. While some French Surrealists experimented with new techniques, Magritte settled on a deadpan, illustrative technique that clearly articulated the content of his pictures. Repetition was an important strategy for Magritte, informing not only his handling of motifs within individual pictures, but also encouraging him to produce multiple copies of some of his greatest works. His interest in the idea may have come in part from Freudian psychoanalysis, for which repetition is a sign of trauma. But his work in commercial art may have also played a role in prompting him to question the conventional modernist belief in the unique, original work of art. The illustrative quality of Magritte’s pictures often results in a powerful paradox: images that are beautiful in their clarity and simplicity, but which also provoke unsettling thoughts. They seem to declare that they hide no mystery, and yet they are also marvelously strange. Magritte was fascinated by the interactions of textual and visual signs, and some of his most famous pictures employ both words and images. While those pictures often share the air of mystery that characterizes much of his Surrealist work, they often seem motivated more by a spirit of rational inquiry – and wonder – at the misunderstandings that can lurk in language. The men in bowler hats that often appear in Magritte’s pictures can be interpreted as self-portraits. Portrayals of the artist’s wife, Georgette, are also common in his work, as are glimpses of the couple’s modest Brussels apartment. Although this might suggest autobiographical content in Magritte’s pictures, it more likely points to the commonplace sources of his inspiration. It is as if he believed that we need not look far for the mysterious, since it lurks everywhere in the most conventional of lives.
Oil on canvas
Huile sur toile
39 3/8 x 31 7/8 in – 100 x 81 cm
P. Waldberg, René Magritte, Brussels, 1965, p. 183 (illustrated).
R. Passeron, René Magritte, Paris, 1970, p. 23 (illustrated p. 22).
A. Robbe-Grillet & R. Magritte, La belle captive, Brussels, 1975, p. 112 (illustrated).
D. Sylvester, René Magritte, Catalogue raisonné, vol. III, Oil Paintings, Objects and Bronzes, 1949 -1967, Antwerp, 1993, no. 1003, pp. 403-404 (illustrated p. 403).
R. Hughes, ed., Magritte en poche, Antwerp, 2009, p. 428 (illustrated p. 398).
Ferrara, Palazzo dei Diamanti, Cento anni di pittura belga. Collezione Gustave J. Nellens-Knokke-Le Zoute, Belgio, 1970, no. 90.
Recklinghausen, Städtische Kunsthalle, Fliegen, ein Traum, Faszination, Fortschritt, Vernichtungswahn, May – July 1977, no. 143 (illustrated).
Brussels, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Rétrospective Magritte, October – December 1978, no. 172 (illustrated); this exhibition later travelled to Paris, Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, January – April 1979.
Lausanne, Fondation de l’Hermitage, René Magritte, June – October 1987, no. 109, p. 205 (illustrated).
Munich, Kunsthalle der Hypo-Kulturstiftung, René Magritte, November 1987 – February 1988, no. 128 (illustrated).
Yamaguchi, Musée préfectural, René Magritte, May – July 1988, no. 145 (illustrated); this exhibition later travelled to Tokyo, Musée National d’Art Moderne, May – July 1988.
Oostende, Provinciaal Museum voor Moderne Kunst, René Magritte, June – August 1990, no. 72, pp. 224 & 283 (illustrated p. 225).
Montreal, Museum of Fine Arts, Magritte, June – October 1996, no. 10, p. 104 (illustrated).
Brussels, Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, René Magritte, 1898-1967, March – June 1998, no. 226, p. 220 (illustrated).
Knokke, Casino communal, Magritte, June – September 2001, no. 57, p. 127 (illustrated p. 79).
Brussels, Musée Magritte, on loan since 2009.
Gouache on paper
Gouache sur papier
14 1/8 x 10 7/8 in – 36 x 27.7 cm
Letter from René Magritte to Alexander Iolas, 26 September 1962.
Letter from René Magritte to Bosmans, 1 November 1962.
Statement of account from René Magritte to Alexander Iolas, 1 January 1963.
Exh. cat., René Magritte, Musée Prefectural, Yamaguchi & Tokyo, 1988.
D. Sylvester, René Magritte, Catalogue raisonné, vol. IV, Gouaches, Temperas, Watercolours and Papiers Collés 1918-1967, London, 1994, no. 1512, p. 245 (illustrated).
D. Abadie, ed., exh. cat., Magritte, Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume, Paris, 2003, p. 48 (illustrated).
R. Hughes, ed., Magritte en poche, Antwerp, 2009, p. 430 (illustrated p. 377).
Munich, Kunsthalle der Hypo-Kulturstiftung, René Magritte, November 1987 – February 1988, no. 114 (illustrated).
Yamaguchi, Musée préfectural, René Magritte, May – July 1988, no. 132 (illustrated); this exhibition later travelled to Tokyo, Musée National d’Art Moderne, May – July 1988.
Verona, Galleria d’arte moderna, Palazzo Forti, Da Magritte a Magritte, July – October 1991.
Knokke, Casino communal, Magritte, June – September 2001, no. 37, p. 126 (illustrated p. 62).
Brussels, Musée Magritte, on loan since 2009.