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Rene Magritte

Untitled, from Aube à L'Antipode, 1966

Rene Magritte was born on November 21,1898 in the town of Lessines in southern Belgium, near Brussels. He was the oldest of three brothers. He began taking art lessons at the age of twelve. Between 1916 and 1921 Rene Magritte was enrolled at the Academie Royale des Beaux Arts in Brussels, but he attended classes only occasionally. He had some published drawings, some advertising posters, a stint as a designer at a wallpaper factory and another doing freelance publicity work for a fashion house. Rene Magritte had toyed with Dada, Futurism and Cubism; he had designed magazine covers and stage sets and written song lyrics.

When he was only fourteen, Rene Magritte woke one night to find his mother missing. He and his brothers searched the neighborhood and found her, drowned in a river after a jump from a bridge. Her nightgown was folded back over her face by the current. Several of his paintings painted through his life used a nude woman with various references to this tragic loss.

In 1922, a young friend of the artist showed Rene Magritte, in a magazine he brought back from Paris, a smudgy reproduction of a work by the prewar precursor of surrealism, Giorgio de Chirico. On seeing it, Rene Magritte uncharacteristically burst into tears. Although it was a few years before Rene Magritte abandoned his “modern” formula, he recognized the key to his own domain. In the years 1926 through 1930 he painted over two hundred and eighty pictures, some of them very large. Max Ernst was another influence.

Rene Magritte and his wife Georgette Berger were married for over forty-five years and had no children. They lived in Brussels at the same address from 1930 to 1954 where he used to take his little dog for a walk every day. The couple lived for three years in a Paris suburb and Rene Magritte was in daily contact with the surrealists. He painted regularly four mornings a week at home in his stuffy little apartment. He was a moonfaced little man, middle-aged, who puttered around Brussels, proving that he has all the technical facility of the best surrealists and none of their nightmare overtones.

By the time Rene Magritte died in 1967 at the age of sixty-eight, his genius was acknowledged.

Sources include:
Pipeline to Pop by Kenneth Baker, ARTnews, September 1999
Los Angeles Times, April 14, 1998
Peter Plagens in Newsweek Magazine, July 6, 1992
M.Therese Southgate, MD in Journal of the American Medical Association, July 5, 1995
Magritte, The Man in the Bowler Hat by George Melly in Art & Antiques Magazine, April 1992

Compiled and written by Jean Ershler Schatz, artist and researcher of Laguna Woods, California.

Biography from the Archives of AskART.