MAGRITTE René
Belgian painter, sculptor, printmaker, and film-maker; born in 1898 at Lessines, in Belgium, died in 1967. In 1925, after a short glance in the direction of Futurism and Cubism, Magritte joined the ranks of the Surrealists. He lived for five years in Paris, where he made friends with the poet Paul Eluard. While most Surrealist painters were making use of automatism, paranoia or the exploration of dreams, on the basis of the 'purely interior' standard that their leader, André Breton, suggested to them, Magritte was more interested in the world about him and its objects.
He wanted to reveal their existence by means of a representation that was realistic but poetic nevertheless, making painting both a way to knowledge and a means of moral liberation. From 1924 to 1936 he applied himself to producing surprise effects by bringing together incongruous objects, creating new ones, and transforming familiar ones. By means of exchange or opposition, he enlightened us about them: stone-burned, the sky was wooden or cracked, the bells of horses became dangerous flowers. Some ten years before, Chirico had already made use of unexpected combinations of elements unrelated to one another, to create an atmosphere of mystery and bewilderment. Magritte's dryness, his precision, and his will to paint 'anti-painting' sometimes recall the style of Chirico. From 1936 to 1940, expanding his field of investigation, Magritte no longer juxtaposed dissimilar objects, but instead explored the affinity that the object, isolated, could have with itself. The question was to discover the relation of the encompassing and the encompassed -- the relation of the tree and the leaf, the landscape and the picture, the shoes and the feet, the sky and the bird. This problem, solved a hundred times with astonishing imagination, made Magritte a wonderful inventor of images. Each of his canvases, admirably painted, was a discovery in which intelligence and sensitivity mingled. At the same time his tonality lightened. It passed from brown to green, from grey to blue. This metamorphosis announced other research in a sphere where colour would play a role of primary importance. Although very much questioned, the Impressionist period of Magritte, which dates from the Second World War, should not be a surprise. Painting being for him only a means of deepening his knowledge of the world, every technique, even an old one, was useful in so far as it made us reconsider the object from an angle and in a light that the painter could dictate at will. On the other hand, it is regrettable that this flood of colours was accompanied by only a few discoveries about the object itself. The aspect of the canvases changed; the content became less rich. Toward 1946, in the final volte-face of an amazingly independent man, Magritte returned to his former manner. His ideas are without doubt less numerous and his hand less sure, but Scheherazade, a woman's face outlined with pearls, is an enchanting find. Above all, he repainted two celebrated pictures, the Madame Récamier of Gérard and The Balcony of Manet, replacing the figures with coffins. Recreating masterpieces or remaking objects is the same process. In both cases the aim has been to teach us to see. Magritte is a great visionary.
Magritte's work was included in many Surrealist exhibitions, but it was not until he was in his 50s that he began to achieve international success and honours; in the 1950s and 1960s he painted several large mural commissions (notably for the Casino at Knocke-leZoute, 1951-3) and he was given major retrospective exhibitions in Brussels ( 1954). New York ( 1965), and Rotterdam ( 1967). By the time of his death his work had had a powerful influence on Pop art, and it has subsequently been widely imitated in advertising.
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