Magritte: his life, his work by John Paul FOSTIER

Friday, March 27, 2009 12:48:46 PM

Here's an interesting bio, some of the facts are wrong:

Magritte: his life, his work ...
by John Paul FOSTIER, history teacher in athénée Royal René Magritte.
translation : Christian DESERRANO, modern language teacher in athénée Royal René Magritte.

Birthplace and Family:
René Magritte was born in Lessines - home to lots of quarrymen - on November 21, 1898. But it is in "le Pays Noir" ("the Black Country" : an area of coal mines and tips) that he spent most of his childhood and adolescence, particularly in the city of Châtelet, where he studied in our school. His father, Léopold, born in Pont-à-Celles in 1870, was a tailor while his mother, Régina Bertinchamps, born in Gilly in 1871, was a modiste till she got married in 1898. After living in Lessines for a few months, his parents decided to settle in Gilly where his younger brothers, Raymond and Paul were born, respectively in 1900 and 1902. Paul who died in 1975, was a poet, a musician and a humorist; he was always very close in mind to René.

Early Years:
The whole family lived in Chatelet from 1904 to 1917, except for two temporary stays in Charleroi and Brussels in 1913 and 1916. They successively stayed at numbers 79 and 95 in the "rue des Gravelles" in Châtelet. We know very little in fact about René Magritte's youth, for this great artist was loath to look into his past. Thanks toPaul, we know that Léopold, the father, was a successful businessman who gave his family the opportunity of living handsomely and could even afford a small staff of servants. Léopold certainly had a sense of humour but must have been rather ill-natured. The tragic end of Régina Magritte, whose body was recovered in the Sambre in 1912, raised a lot of questions. No doubt she deeply influenced her son's work, in which water is omnipresent along with veiled characters (when Régina's body was taken away of the water, her face was covered with her dressing gown). After Régina's death, the education of the three brothers was entrusted to servants.

Châtelet retains the memory of boisterous and mischievous kids, who were not particularly brilliant at school. In Charleroi, where he studied at the present "Athénée Ernest Solvay", he is remembered as a student who showed very little interest in Latin and many other branches.

It is at the 1913 Fun Fair of Charleroi that he first met the one who would become his wife in 1922: Georgette Berger. René felt an artistic calling in Châtelet where he took his first lessons in art; Eugène Paulus, the well-known sculptor, must have been one of his teachers. In 1911 already, René completed his first great oil painting: "Chevaux dans une pâture" (Horses in a pasture) which filled his father's heart with pride. Magritte's early impressionist works date back to 1915.

The very first exhibition of works by René Magritte was held in the summer of 1915, in the "Château Bolle", rue de Couillet in Châtelet. This exhibition with a philanthropic goal also displayed, among others, works by Albert Chavepeyer. Between 1917 and 1919, he attended classes at the Fine Arts Academy of Brussels but took far less interest in what he was being taught than in the friendly encounters he could have there.

First steps in the art world:
In 1919, Pierre-Louis Flouquet, a French artist living in Brussels, shared his workshop with René Magritte that he introduced to cubists and futurists; Magritte also got acquainted with the Antwerps avant-garde.

In 1920, the "Centre d'Art de Bruxelles" displayed paintings by Flouquet and Magritte who, around the same time, also met Eduard T. Mesens, a Brussels artist with various talents, who was giving piano lessons to his younger brother Paul. In the first half of the 1920s, René Magritte drew some abstract pictures.

Then Marcel Lecomte made him discover "Le Chant d'Amour" (The Love Song), a metaphysical painting by Giorgio De Chirico. We can now assert that Magritte was definitely under the influence of De Chirico's use of space and metaphysical mysteries. Like him, Magritte eventually used a deliberately academic technique but his loyalty to traditional images is only apparent, the artist's wish being primarily to stress what is new and strange about daily, common images. His vivid and original contribution to the surrealist movement.

René Magritte discovered surrealism around 1925 and in 1926, he painted "Le Jockey perdu" (The lost Jockey), which, according to Magritte himself, was his first successful surrealist painting. The following year was organised in Brussels the first personal exhibition of works by René Magritte: sixty-one paintings on display at the gallery "Le Centaure".

It is in 1927 too that the first important article about Magritte's works was published by P.G. van Heecke in "Selection". That same year Magritte met Louis Scutenaire who was to become one of his main friends and collaborators. And, still in 1927, he and his wife Georgette left Brussels to settle in Le Perreux-sur-Marne, in the suburbs of Paris. They spent three years there and took an active part in the activities of the Parisian surrealist group.

But near the end of 1929, René Magritte's relations with André Breton became difficult, which partly accounts for his final comeback to Brussels in the summer of 1930. That same year proved to be financially hard for René and Georgette, although he sold Mesens some of his books and eleven of his latest works. Magritte was obliged to resume painting adverts while carrying on his pictorial work.

In 1932 he became a member of the Belgian Communist Party, which he left and joined again twice before his final withdrawal in 1945. In the years 1942-1943, René Magritte was a real ambassador of the surrealist movement; he painted and travelled a lot, giving lectures and contributing to several reviews. In 1943 he adopted a new style, painting several works in the impressionist way of Auguste Renoir for his first exhibition in Paris, in the "Galerie du Faubourg".

In 1948, Magritte took up a "vache" or "Fauvist" style which aroused anger among his best friends; but no work was sold and the artist gave up expressing himself in that style. In 1953, Magritte got an order from the Casino of Knokke, asking him for a panoramic decoration of the walls of the large gaming room, and so was "Le domaine Enchanté" created.

In October 1957, René and Georgette went to live in Schaarbeek, rue des Mimosas, 97. Personal exhibitions and retrospectives followed upon one other at a quick pace in Charleroi, Liège, Paris and New York. In 1963 his health began to decline, which brought him to spend some time in Ischia, Italy, in the course of april 1965. In spite of that, in 1965, the Magrittes took their first trip to the U.S.A. on the occasion of the retrospective held at the Museum of Modern Art of New York.

In early 1967, after a personal exhibition in Paris, René Magritte undertook the making of eight sculptures. But he didn't have the time to see his works cast into bronze; he indeed died at his home on August 15, 1967, eleven days after the opening of a retrospective of his works at the Boijmans-van Beuningen Museum of Rotterdam.



Copyright 2006


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