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René Magritte


René Magritte, a major figure in surrealism and Belgian painting, was born on 21st November 1898 in Lessines and died in Brussels on 15th August 1967. He regularly attended the classes at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Brussels between 1916 and 1918. As his family was living in the capital, he went to work in the studio of Pierre-Louis Flouquet between 1919 and 1920, where he discovered cubism and futurism. The two artists exhibited works in January 1920 at the Brussels Centre d’Art. After doing his military service in 1921-22, he married Georgette Berger in June 1922. He was introduced to the Dada milieu after meeting Camille Goemans and Marcel Lecomte; he owes his greatest artistic emotion to the latter in particular, through the discovery in 1925 of a reproduction of Love Song by Giorgio de Chirico, the poetico-metaphysical painter. Remembering this veritable revelation, he later wrote: “My eyes saw the thought for the first time”.

Even though he painted in an abstract manner until 1926, the Lost Jockey, painted the same year, is considered as the turning point for Magritte’s entry into the surrealist universe. A genuine conflict between reality and illusion was established. This work marks the definitive abandonment of aesthetic and formal pursuits in favour of painting open to poetry and mystery. The first surrealist group in Brussels attended Magritte’s first major exhibition in 1928 at the Epoque gallery run by Mesens, although the painter had left Belgium in August 1927 and was now living in the Val-de-Marne in France. This move allowed him to meet the historic surrealists such as André Breton, Paul Éluard, Max Ernst and Salvador Dali and to participate in their activities.

However, links with the Parisian surrealists continued to be difficult and René Magritte fell out with André Breton over a pendant of Christ worn by Georgette Magritte. With the crisis of 1929 sweeping across Europe, René Magritte returned to Brussels in 1930 and presented a new exhibition organised by Mesens. Magritte exhibited his work in 1933 at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels and held his first exhibition in New York in 1936 at the Julien Levy Gallery. In 1937, he met Marcel Mariën and stayed in London where he exhibited his work in Mesens’ London Gallery in 1938. After the German invasion of Belgium in May 1940, Magritte left Brussels to live briefly in Carcassonne before returning home. He created the Enchanted Domain between 1952 and 1953, comprising eight panels of a mural for the casino at Knokke-le-Zoute. In 1957, thanks to the art dealer Iolas and American collectors, the doors to success opened for Magritte, who died ten years later, at home, of cancer of the pancreas.

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