Rene Magritte (1898 – 1967) was a Belgian surrealist artist. He challenged the observers’ preconditioned perceptions of reality.
Magritte’s early years are not as well disclosed as those of other artists. Yet, it is known that his mother was depressive and succeeded in one of her many suicide attempts when Magritte was 13. He studied at the royal Academy for the Fine Arts in Brussels, but wasn’t too impressed from the lectures. While his earliest paintings were Impressionistic in style, he soon showed influences of Futurism and Cubism.
After university and military service he went into commercial art and advertising until the Galerie le Centaure gave him a contract that made it possible for him to paint for a living. His style became more surrealistic and his first exhibition was more or less a failure. Depressed he went to Paris where he joined the Surrealist group and befriended Andre Breton, but wasn’t able to make an impact there. When the gallery closed and hence his contract was terminated, Magritte returned to Brussels and commercial art. He opened an advertising agency with his brother.
Magritte stayed in occupied Belgium what led to a break with Breton and a severe change in his art style. The time period is known as his Renoir-Period. After WWII he started to paint in a brutal Fauve style and supported himself by forging Picasso, Braque and Chirico. The forgeries were sold by his surrogate son Marcel Marien. In 1948 Magritte returned to Surrealism.
His work became more popular in the 1960s and influenced pop, minimalist and conceptual art. He died of pancreatic cancer in 1967.
Characteristically his work shows an assembly of ordinary objects in an unusual context that gives these objects a new meaning. By doing so he wanted to point out that no matter how close an artist comes to depicting the items accurately and capturing every detail, we will never capture the item, its essence itself. He also grappled with the difficulty of artwork to convey meaning. Here he came to the conclusion that as art is mystery and mystery is unknowable, art doesn’t mean anything either.