Men with black hats on their heads, a space so repulsive and yet dreamy, full of clouds, with everyday events contained in an unusual image—this is René Magritte’s intellectually modern work. Art does not have to be beautiful and clear to everyone; it has to affect people, raise existential questions, and find meaning in the meaninglessness of existence. This is the true purpose of art, which the artist is trying to reveal.
René Magritte is a 20th-century Belgian painter. The artist represented the Surrealist movement and was a master of the brush. René Magritte experienced many hardships during both World Wars. However, the first shock of his life came when he was only 13 years old.
It was then that the little boy tragically lost his mother, who took her own life. It is said that when Magrito’s mother was found, her nightdress was pulled over her head. If this is true, then the artist was so profoundly affected by this life event that his loss was reflected in his life’s work.
The artist often depicted people in his drawings with their faces hidden under white cloth. It should also be mentioned that R. Magritte’s mother was a hat maker while she was still married, so this is a fact of life that is inextricably linked to the artist’s depictions of people, who are often painted wearing black men’s hats.
R. Magritte began to develop his artistic abilities at an early age, producing his first paintings as a teenager. Between 1916 and 1918, he studied at the Academy of Fine Arts “Royale des Beaux-Arts” in Brussels, but he felt unhappy and constrained as an artist, which is why his studies at the Academy of Fine Arts stretched out over time.
He was fascinated by modernist painting: cubism and metaphysical art, where painters depicted realistic objects in unrealistic environments; in cubism, artists used geometric shapes to break down reality into images and objects.
Magritte’s work was first exhibited at the Brussels Art Centre in 1920, and a little later he painted his first surrealist painting, Le jockey perdu (The Lost Jockey).
There are four main things that have influenced the artist’s life and work style. The first was the loss of his mother, which had such a profound effect on the artist that he often included details in his drawings that related to her life.
Magritte’s life and artistic activity were later shaped through his marriage to Georgette Berger. She was a childhood friend who later joined him at the same art academy in Brussels. Berger always supported her husband and encouraged him to find his own creative path.
The third event that turned the artist towards surrealism was the exhibition of his drawings at the “Antwerp Congress of Modern Art Show,”, where he met the poet E.I.T. Mesens. The poet, who wrote in a surrealist manner, became a long-standing friend of Magritte and a companion on his creative journey.
The final twist in his life, which definitively shaped the artist’s artistic direction, was the paintings by Giorgio de Chirico exhibited in the same exhibition. He was an Italian artist and one of the founders of metaphysical painting.
This modern artist impressed Magritte with his shading technique, his rendering of hidden symbolism, and his depiction of extraordinary landscapes. All these life events shaped the artist’s creative style and approach to life.
Although R. Magritte’s life and work began in Brussels, he wanted to move to Paris, where he was able to integrate and develop as an artist more easily. In Paris, he and his wife joined the Surrealist movement and its leader, André Breton, but they were not only inspiring but often overshadowed the others, and over time, Magritte found their worldview too dogmatic and constrained.
After all, as an artist, he wanted to be free and independent in order to discover himself. Following their failures in Paris in the 1930s, the couple decided to return to Brussels to pursue their artistic careers, from which they never left.
If we take an outside view of Magritte’s work, he has constantly tried to experiment with different artistic styles. During World War II, the artist began to depict scenes of contemporary life in his paintings, which were very close to Impressionism.
Magritte explained at the time: “Before the war, my paintings expressed anxiety, but the war years taught me that the most important thing is to express charm. I live in a very ugly world”. Later, after the war, Magritte decided to try the absolute opposite of his previous work.
He sought to represent absurd and silly ideas and objects by drawing them as unadorned as possible. However, at the Paris exhibition, he received a great deal of criticism, which forced him to return to what he knew best: the surrealist style.
One of his most famous pieces is entitled “La Trahison des images (Image fraud). This drawing shows a pipe that looks like something out of an advertising leaflet, so realistic with the inscription at the bottom “This is not a pipe”.
The artist wants to emphasize the fact that the viewer is not looking at the object itself but at the image of the drawn object. When asked about this painting, Magritte replied, “Of course it’s not a pipe. Try stuffing tobacco in it.”
R. Magritte’s work has been recognised worldwide for its ability to convey the mystery of the everyday, and to reinterpret ordinary phenomena or objects in a new way, to give them a whole new meaning, by transporting them to unusual places.
Even nowadays, his work still perplexes people, makes them think and wonder what the artist was trying to say with this work. Thus, this painter’s work has influenced contemporary art movements such as Pop and conceptual art.