Ceci n’est-ce pas une Pipe

Rene Magritte: La trahison des images (1928/29), source: wikipedia

On November 21, 1898, Belgian surrealist artist Rene Magritte was born. He became well known for a number of witty and thought-provoking images that fall under the umbrella of surrealism. His paintings have become student poster classics and his work challenges observers’ preconditioned perceptions of reality. I really like the paintings of Rene Magritte and I always refer to that special one above in my lectures on semantics. Actually there is also another version of the picture showing an apple ant the text ‘Ceci n’est pas une pomme’. Usually, I first show the picture of an apple to the students and ask ‘What is this?’. Not used to being asked stupid questions in a computer science lectures it usually takes a while until one of the students will give the answer ‘an apple’. Then I grab into my bag and present a real apple asking ‘…and what is this?’. Now the students are kind of surprised, and this is the starting point to talk about signs, language, semiotics, cognition, and semantics. But let’s get back to Rene Magritte and his work.

Rene Magritte: The Portrait (1935)
source: wikipedia

René Magritte was born in 1898, in the Belgian province of Hainaut, Lessines as the eldest son of Léopold Magritte, a tailor and textile merchant. Little is known about Magritte’s early life. At age 11 he began lessons in drawing and two years later in 1912, his mother committed suicide by drowning herself, which was not her first attempt at taking her own life. According to a legend, 13-year-old Magritte was present when her body was retrieved from the water, but recent research has discredited this story, which may have originated with the family nurse. When his mother was found, her dress was covering her face, an image that has been suggested as the source of several of Magritte’s paintings in 1927–1928 of people with cloth obscuring their faces.

Magritte’s earliest paintings were Impressionistic in style, one year before he started to studied at the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts in Brussels in 1916. But Magritte found the instruction rather uninspiring. The paintings he produced during the years 1918–1924 were influenced by Futurism. Most of his works of this period are female nudes.

In 1922, Magritte married Georgette Berger, whom he had met as a child in 1913. From December 1920 until September 1921, Magritte served in the Belgian infantry in the Flemish town of Beverlo near Leopoldsburg. In 1922–23, he worked as a draughtsman in a wallpaper factory, and was a poster and advertisement designer until 1926, when a contract with Galerie le Centaure in Brussels made it possible for him to paint full-time.

Rene Magritte: Son of Man (1964)
source: wikipedia

In 1926, Magritte produced his first surreal painting, The Lost Jockey (Le jockey perdu), and held his first exhibition in Brussels in 1927, which didn’t work out successfully. He moved to Paris where he became friends with André Breton, and became involved in the surrealist group. What characterizes the surrealism of Magritte is the illusionsitic, dream-like quality. Unfortunately, Magritte was not as successful as he expected to be in Paris and therefore returned to Brussels in 1930 and resumed working in advertising. Together with his his brother Paul, he formed an agency which earned him a living wage.

During the German occupation of Belgium in World War II Magritte remained in Brussels, which led to a break with his friend Breton. He briefly adopted a colorful, painterly style in 1943–44, an interlude known as his “Renoir Period”, as a reaction to his feelings of alienation and abandonment that came with living in German-occupied Belgium. In 1946, renouncing the violence and pessimism of his earlier work, he joined several other Belgian artists in signing the manifesto Surrealism in Full Sunlight. During 1947-48, Magritte’s “Vache Period”, he painted in a provocative and crude Fauve style. During this time, Magritte supported himself through the production of fake Picassos, Braques and Chiricos – a fraudulent repertoire he was later to expand into the printing of forged banknotes during the lean postwar period. But, in 1948, he returned to the style and themes of his prewar surrealistic art until his death in 1967.

At yovisto you can learn more about Rene Magritte and his works in the video of the New York Museum of Modern Art on Magritte’s painting ‘The Portrait’ from 1935.

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