René François Ghislain Magritte
21 November 1898; Lessines, Belgium
15 August 1967; Brussels, Belgium
A Belgian surrealist painter, Rene Magritte’s witty and thought-provoking paintings sought to have viewers question their perceptions of reality, and become hypersensitive to the world around them. Magritte’s mother was a suicidal woman, which led her husband, Magritte’s father, to lock her up in her room. One day, she escaped, and was found down a nearby river dead, having drowned herself. According to legend, 13 year old Magritte was there when they retrieved the body from the river. As she was pulled from the water, her dress covered her face. This later became a theme in many of Magritte’s paintings in the 1920’s, portraying people with cloth covering their faces.
He began drawing lessons at age ten, and in 1916, went to study a the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Brussels, where he found the instruction uninspiring and unsuited to his tastes. He did not begin his actual painting career until after serving in the Belgian infantry for a short time, and working at a wallpaper company as a draftsman and producing advertising posters. He was able to paint full time due to a short-lived contract with Galerie le Centaure, allowing him to present in his first exhibition, which was poorly received.
Magritte made his living producing advertising posters in a business he ran with his brother, as well as creating forgeries of Picasso, Braque and Chirico paintings. His experience with forgeries also allowed him to create false bank notes during the German occupation of Belgium in World War II, helping him to survive the lean economic times.
Through creating common images and placing them in extreme contexts, Magritte sough to have his viewers question the ability of art to truly represent an object. In his paintings, he often played with the perception of an image and the fact that the painting of the image could never actually be the object. His artistic interpretations influenced many modern artists, including Andy Warhol, Jan Verdoodt and Jasper Johns. His art, which was especially popular during the 1960’s, has also influenced numerous songs, movies, and books.