René Magritte

René Magritte Artworks

Belgian Painter

Born: November 21, 1898 - Lessines, Belgium
Died: August 15, 1967 - Brussels, Belgium

Progression of Art



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

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

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


The Ocean

The bright colors and casual brushwork of The Ocean typifies a series of satirical pictures Magritte painted in the style of late Pierre-Auguste Renoir, whose pictures were intended to mock the conservative tastes of the French public. The pose of the river god in this picture borrows directly from a late work by Renoir. As the Second World War drew to a close, he turned away from the more macabre subjects of Surrealism and embraced a radiant palette and, as he put it, "bewitching subjects." The artist wrote that he wanted to paint pictures "that will arouse what remains of our instinct for pleasure." Three years later in 1946, he signed the manifesto Surrealism in Full Sunlight that his Belgian friends had written to outline such principles. But the pictures in this style attracted considerable criticism from his Surrealist friends.

Oil on canvas - Private collection


The Pebble

The Pebble was included in Magritte's first Paris exhibition in 1948, where he shocked critics and public alike with an uncharacteristic group of his "vache" works. This group of around thirty pictures was painted rapidly in only a few weeks. It borrowed from the sketchy style of comics and caricatures, but some elements were also derived from Édouard Manet and Fauvism (the background in this picture may come from Henri Matisse). It also borrows the Venus de Milo motif that Magritte had used before. Perhaps unfortunately for the artist, the exhibition achieved its perverse effect, and was both financially and critically devastating to him. However, he remained attached to the work, and later gave this piece to his wife.

Oil on canvas - Private collection


Empire of Light

The Empire of Light exemplifies the sort of simple paradox that characterizes Magritte's most successful works. Dusk has fallen in the bottom half of the picture and a streetlamp glows peacefully. Above, cheerful white clouds hang in a baby-blue sky. Although both elements of night and day are calming and lovely considered on their own, their juxtaposition is eerie and unnerving. As Magritte once said of Max Ernst's and Giorgio de Chirico's work, the darker statement similarly applies to strains of Magritte's own work: "the spectator might recognize his own isolation and hear the silence of the world." The overall impression of this scene is one that powerfully stays in the mind of the viewer.

Overall, Magritte's rather 'straightforward' rendition of the uncanny - one that resembles reportage in its simplicity - certainly owes something to the artist's experience working in commercial art. The style, and the handling of the paint - restrained and illustrative - may also have been inspired by the emphasis on clarity and impact in commercial art.

Oil on canvas - The Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice

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Content compiled and written by Sophia Powers

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

"René Magritte Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. .
Content compiled and written by Sophia Powers
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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First published on 01 Aug 2012. Updated and modified regularly
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