René Magritte

"My paintings are valuable, in my eyes, if the objects they represent resist interpretation by symbols or by other explanations."

- Magritte, 1957

"I hope I touch something essential to man, to what man is, to ethics rather than to aesthetics."

- Magritte, 1965

Painter, draughtsman, engraver, sculptor, photographer and filmmaker, Magritte, who is considered one of the most distinctive personalities of the Surrealist movement, is also recognized as the most important Belgian painter of the 20th century. From the outset, his style was defined by a representation of objects and people juxtaposed in a paradoxical arrangement that gave the works a feeling of strangeness and mystery. Concerned with realistic representation of images, he used flat areas of colour, with shapes as clearly and meticulously defined as in a collage, producing a naturalistic, photographic rendering of his subjects.

Magritte studied at the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Brussels from 1916 to 1918, where he explored a variety of styles of painting before settling on abstraction. He was particularly drawn to the works of the Italian painter Giorgio di Chirico; their unconventional juxtaposition of objects encouraged him to draw his inspiration once again from the real world. His work in advertising was the source of his including words in his compositions, including the famous inscription "Ceci n'est pas une pipe" in a hyper-realistic representation of a pipe. He spent 1927 to 1930 in Paris and took part in the activities of the surrealist artists, but soon came to the parting of the ways with them over a difference in ideology: Magritte preferred to express reality rather than the unconscious. His entire production is characterized by the same repertory of everyday objects with simple, pure shapes, organic or man-made, which reappear over and over in surroundings that seem ordinary and incongruous at the same time.

Madame Récamier by David (1951) is one of a series "Perspective" inspired by French masterpieces in which Magritte, in a typical demonstration of his mordant sense of humour, substitutes coffins for the people originally portrayed. Despite his success, Magritte would always be considered peripheral to the major art currents of the 20th century. He was greatly admired by many in the next generation of American artists, including Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol, who bought his paintings, and he had an influence on Pop Art and Conceptual Art. He would also have a major impact on the advertising field, where his images are used indiscriminately and generally in ignorance of their creator's identity.

René Magritte
Belgium: Hainaut, Lessines
Belgium: Brabant, Brussels-Schaerbek
© Banque d?images, ADAGP / Art Resource, NY