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Artists Rene Magritte
Rene Magritte Photo

Rene Magritte

Belgian Painter

Movement: Surrealism

Born: November 21, 1898 - Lessines, Belgium

Died: August 15, 1967 - Brussels, Belgium

Rene Magritte Timeline


"Art evokes the mystery without which the world would not exist."
Rene Magritte
"Any ground subtracts its own hue from the colors which it carries and therefore influences."
Rene Magritte
"My painting is visible images which conceal nothing...they evoke mystery and indeed when one sees one of my pictures, one asks oneself this simple question 'what does that mean'? It does not mean anything, because mystery means nothing either, it is unknowable."
Rene Magritte
"We must not fear daylight just because it almost always illuminates a miserable world."
Rene Magritte
"[I aim to produce] pictures in which the eye must think in a way entirely different from the usual."
Rene Magritte
"Only thought can resemble. It resembles by being what it sees, hears, or knows; it becomes what the world offers it."
Rene Magritte

"Everything we see hides another thing, we always want to see what is hidden by what we see."

Rene Magritte Signature


Surely the most celebrated Belgian artist of the 20th century, Rene Magritte has achieved great popular acclaim for his idiosyncratic approach to Surrealism. To support himself he spent many years working as a commercial artist, producing advertising and book designs, and this most likely shaped his fine art, which often has the abbreviated impact of an advertisement. While some French Surrealists led ostentatious lives, Magritte preferred the quiet anonymity of a middle-class existence, a life symbolized by the bowler-hatted men that often populate his pictures. In later years, he was castigated by his peers for some of his strategies (such as his tendency to produce multiple copies of his pictures), yet since his death his reputation has only improved. Conceptual artists have admired his use of text in images, and painters in the 1980s admired the provocative kitsch of some of his later work.

Key Ideas

Magritte wished to cultivate an approach that avoided the stylistic distractions of most modern painting. While some French Surrealists experimented with new techniques, Magritte settled on a deadpan, illustrative technique that clearly articulated the content of his pictures. Repetition was an important strategy for Magritte, informing not only his handling of motifs within individual pictures, but also encouraging him to produce multiple copies of some of his greatest works. His interest in the idea may have come in part from Freudian psychoanalysis, for which repetition is a sign of trauma. But his work in commercial art may have also played a role in prompting him to question the conventional modernist belief in the unique, original work of art.
The illustrative quality of Magritte's pictures often results in a powerful paradox: images that are beautiful in their clarity and simplicity, but which also provoke unsettling thoughts. They seem to declare that they hide no mystery, and yet they are also marvelously strange. As Magritte biographer David Sylvester brilliantly described, his paintings induce "the sort of awe felt in an eclipse."
Magritte was fascinated by the interactions of textual and visual signs, and some of his most famous pictures employ both words and images. While those pictures often share the air of mystery that characterizes much of his Surrealist work, they often seem motivated more by a spirit of rational enquiry - and wonder - at the misunderstandings that can lurk in language.
The men in bowler hats that often appear in Magritte's pictures can be interpreted as self-portraits. Portrayals of the artist's wife, Georgette, are also common in his work, as are glimpses of the couple's modest Brussels apartment. Although this might suggest autobiographical content in Magritte's pictures, it more likely points to the commonplace sources of his inspiration. It is as if he believed that we need not look far for the mysterious, since it lurks everywhere in the most conventional of lives.


Rene Magritte Photo


Rene Magritte was the eldest of three boys, born to a fairly well-off family. His father is thought to have been in the manufacturing industry, and his mother was known to be a milliner before her marriage. Magritte's development as an artist was influenced by two significant events in his childhood; the first was an encounter with an artist painting in a cemetery, who he happened across while playing with a companion. Magritte later wrote, "I found, in the middle of some broken stone columns and heaped-up leaves, a painter who had come from the capital, and who seemed to me to be performing magic." The second pivotal event was the suicide of his mother in 1912 when Magritte was 14. According to the apocryphal account, Magritte was present when her body was fished out of a river, her face covered completely by her white dress. While current scholars believe this to be no more than a myth propagated by his nurse, the image of a head uncannily concealed by a contour-hugging cloth reoccurs throughout the artist's oeuvre.

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Rene Magritte Biography Continues

Important Art by Rene Magritte

The below artworks are the most important by Rene Magritte - that both overview the major creative periods, and highlight the greatest achievements by the artist.

Bather (1925)
Artwork Images

Bather (1925)

Artwork description & Analysis: This elegant work is a fine example of Magritte's early attempts to find a restrained, illustrative style. It bears comparison with contemporary Belgian Expressionism and also with the classicizing modernist styles that were then popular throughout Europe. We can recognize many of the elements that characterized his later paintings, such as the prominence of the sea and the mysterious sphere in the background. This work also bears the influence of Magritte's professional forays into the world of fashion advertising, and his interest in the works of Fernand Léger. Bather can be compared to his painting The Bather between Light and Darkness (1935-36), which explores the same scene in the artist's mature style. In 1930, the artist gifted the picture to his sister-in-law, Leontine Berger.

Oil on canvas - Private collection

Familiar Objects (1928)
Artwork Images

Familiar Objects (1928)

Artwork description & Analysis: Here, the viewer is confronted by five men - or perhaps five views of the same man - each corresponding to a seemingly random object. These bland portraits with indistinct clothes, features, and expressions are characteristic of Magritte. The objects, on the other hand, are unique and command more attention than the figures who stare blankly at them. Several pictures that predate this attest to Magritte's interest in depicting objects in his work, but this is the first in which the objects appear alongside figures and are associated with the mental states of those figures. In this regard it shows the artist's growing interest in the Surrealist idea of the unconscious. Magritte's way of placing the objects in relation to the figures also enabled him to partially occlude their faces, a strategy which he would often employ in later work.

Oil on canvas - Private collection

The Treachery of Images (1929)
Artwork Images

The Treachery of Images (1929)

Artwork description & Analysis: The Treachery of Images cleverly highlights the gap between language and meaning. Magritte combined the words and image in such a fashion that he forces us to question the importance of the sentence and the word. "Pipe," for instance, is no more an actual pipe than a picture of a pipe can be smoked. Magritte likely borrowed the pipe motif from Le Corbusier's book Vers une architecture (1923), since he was an admirer of the architect and painter, but he may also have been inspired by a comical sign he knew in an art gallery, which read, "Ceci n'est pas de l'Art." The painting is the subject of a famous book-length analysis by Michel Foucault. One might also compare it with Joseph Kosuth's handling of a similar problem of image, text, and reality in his 1965 installation One and Three Chairs.

Oil on canvas - Los Angeles County Museum of Art

More Rene Magritte Artwork and Analysis:

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Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Influenced by Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Rene Magritte
Interactive chart with Rene Magritte's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
View Influences Chart


Giorgio de ChiricoGiorgio de Chirico
Max ErnstMax Ernst
Jean MetzingerJean Metzinger
Fernand LégerFernand Léger
André BretonAndré Breton

Personal Contacts

Paul EluardPaul Eluard
Edward JamesEdward James



Influences on Artist
Rene Magritte
Rene Magritte
Years Worked: 1915 - 1967
Influenced by Artist


Marcel BroodthaersMarcel Broodthaers
Andy WarholAndy Warhol
Martin KippenbergerMartin Kippenberger
Robert GoberRobert Gober
Joseph KosuthJoseph Kosuth
John BaldessariJohn Baldessari

Personal Contacts

Paul-Gustave van HeckePaul-Gustave van Hecke
E. L. T. MesensE. L. T. Mesens
Paul NougePaul Nouge


Pop ArtPop Art
Conceptual ArtConceptual Art
Appropriation ArtAppropriation Art

Useful Resources on Rene Magritte






The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing of this page. These also suggest some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.


Magritte Recomended resource

By Suzi Gablik

Magritte: Attempting the Impossible

By Siegfried Gohr, Rene Magritte

Keeping an Eye Open - Magritte: Bird into Egg Recomended resource

By Julian Barnes
One chapter devoted the originality of Magritte

More Interesting Books about Rene Magritte
Magritte Foundation Recomended resource

Rene Magritte at Tate Liverpool

Image Gallery for the Exhibition The Pleasure Principle at Tate Liverpool

Michel Foucault, This is Not a Pipe Recomended resource

Provides the Full Text of Foucault's Essays on Rene Magritte

Magritte and Contemporary Art: The Treachery of Images

Includes Essays, Information, and an Image Gallery from the LACMA Exhibition

Rene Magritte, La Periode vache

November 9, 2008

La Reproduction Interdite: Rene Magritte and Forgery

By Patricia Allmer
Papers of Surrealism
Spring 2007

Surreal Hero for a Nation of Contradictions

By Alan Riding
The New York Times
April 26, 1998

Magritte And His Defiance Of Life Recomended resource

By Michael Kimmelman
The New York Times
September 11, 1992

in pop culture

Magritte: Monsieur Rene Magritte

Documentary about the artist

Rene and Georgette Maritte with their Dog After the War

Paul Simon Song

After Magritte (1971)

Surrealist play by Tom Stoppard

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Content compiled and written by Sophia Powers

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Sophia Powers
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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