Belgian Artist René Magritte In The U.S.


JUNE 3, 2013  

By Jason-Louise Graham

“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.” -René Magritte

Will 2013 be the year of René Magritte? Several US museums are gearing up to launch their blockbuster retrospec-tive of the Belgian artist René Magritte starting with the Museum of Modern Art, New York on September 28, 2013. The exhibit moves to The Menil Collection, Houston on February 14, 2014, and ends at the Art Institute of Chicago on June 25, 2014. Works by René Magritte have not been shown in the US for 20 years. Who was he and why the interest?

René Magritte (1898-1967) was born in Lessines, Belgium. He has been acclaimed as one of Belgium’s most prolific artists. Although Magritte’s father was not an artist – rather, a tailor and textile merchant – he always encouraged his son’s artistic aspirations. The eldest of three sons, his talents were piqued by tragedy. At an early age his mother committed suicide. Then, of course, he had lived through both world wars. These experiences changed René Magritte forever.

As a distraction Magritte plunged into writing mystery novels and poetry. During the course of his readings he came across the famous Fantomas serial by Louis Feuillade. The protagonist in the serial is a sinister gentleman thief. Magritte identified with this character which in turn manifested itself through-out his work. Though his artwork is astonishingly witty, thought provoking and beautifully dreamy, this haunting part of his life seems to underscore all his work. The result is an aura of mystery.

The eldest of three sons, René Magritte began taking art courses at the age of 12 in 1910. Magritte’s first landscape depicted the Belgian countryside around Jette, a work that is visible at the Mag-ritte Museum in Belgium today. Magritte’s first great oil painting, “Chevaux dans une Pature” (Horses in a pasture), followed in 1911. He produced his first Impressionist work inspired by Monet, in 1915, at the age of 17.

The early 20th Century was a time when art, politics and academia were closely aligned. Magritte was attracted to the avant-garde. Like others, he believed this movement opened up new ways of seeing the world. This was particularly relevant in the wake of the horrible amount of death and destruction from the First World War (1914-18).

Magritte thus moved to Brussels and joined the Academie Royale des Beaux Arts there in 1918. In Brussels, he rejected what he considered to be a bourgeois, traditional approach to education. Finding little to identify with, he left school in 1918.

After completing his mandatory military service in 1921, Magritte returned home to marry his childhood friend Georgette Berger. Georgette would be-come the artist’s muse and only model. To make a living Magritte began his career as a poster and advertisement designer at a wallpaper company. He did this until 1926. After selling his first painting of the singer Evelyne Brelia, he was signed by Galerie la Centaure. Under their auspices he began a full-time career as a painter.

At the Gallery, Magritte’s work be-gan to reflect his ideals, and he created his first surrealist painting “Le jockey perdu” in 1926. He had been intrinsically changed by the works of the surrealist De Chirico in 1922, and was said to have wept upon seeing De Chirico’s piece “Song of Love” – after which Magritte vowed to henceforth only create paintings that would be visual poems.


Magritte’s first exhibition of 61 works at Galerie la Centaure included more acclaimed pieces like “Treachery of Images” and “The Lovers”. The show was viciously savaged by critics, after which Magritte moved to Paris. The decade that followed Magritte’s conversion to surrealism was an exception-ally creative one for the arts; so much so he has henceforth been lauded as Belgium’s most influential artist in the 20th century.

Witty and thought provoking, he began creating strange, memorable images that are considered the first, closest, and most realistic depictions of the surrealist images and experiences we have in our dreams and subconscious imagination. His most enduring depictions include trains steaming out of fireplaces, rooms stuffed to the brim with giant green apples, and bowler-hatted men raining like hailstones from the sky. Many contemporary artists today, such as Jeff Koons and John Baldessari, continue to be influenced by Magritte’s work.

Belgian native Jason-Louise Graham resides in New York. Jason-Louise’s passion for René Magritte extends to her day job as well. Ms. Graham works at Rare Posters Inc., the exclusive distributors for the René Magritte products in the USA. Jason-Louise Graham can be reached at

Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926–1938 is organized by The Museum of Modern Art, The Menil Collection, and The Art Institute of Chicago. The exhibition at MoMA is organized by Anne Umland, The Blanchette Hooker Rockefeller Curator of Painting and Sculpture, with Danielle Johnson, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Painting and Sculpture. The exhibition travels to The Menil Collection, Houston (February 14–June 1, 2014), and The Art Institute of Chicago (June 29–October 12, 2014).

Picture information and copyright:

René Magritte (Belgium, 1898-1967). La clairvoyance (Clairvoyance). 1936. Oil on canvas. 21 1/4 x 25 9/16 (54 x 65 cm). Mr and Mrs. Wilbur Ross © Charles Hercovici — Adagp – ARS, 2013.

René Magritte (Belgium, 1898-1967). La durée poignardée (time transfixed). 1938. Oil on canvas. 57 7/8 x 39 (147 x 99 cm).  the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago.  Joseph Winterbotham Collection © Charles Hercovici — Adagp – ARS, 2013.