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The Mystery Evoked By René Magritte's Surrealism

Updated: Nov 14, 2023

On 21 November 1898, René François Ghislain Magritte was born in Lessines, in the province of Hainaut, Belgium. During Magritte's early puberty, Magritte's mother committed suicide by drowning herself in the River Sambre at Châtelet.

Supposedly, when his mother was found, her dress was covering her face, an image that has been suggested as the source of several of Magritte's paintings in 1927–1928 of people with cloth obscuring their faces. René began drawing lessons around the age of 12.

During 1916–1918, Magritte studied at the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts in Brussels. Around the age of 17, Magritte created his earliest paintings in the Impressionistic style.

René worked as a poster and advertisement designer until 1926 René managed to get a contract with Galerie Le Centaure in Brussels, and finally, René made it possible for him to paint full-time.

René Magritte's Surrealism

In 1926, Magritte produced his first surreal painting, The Lost Jockey (Le jockey perdu), and held his first solo exhibition in Brussels in 1927. Magritte received harsh critics for his first surrealism exhibition.

Depressed by the failure, he moved to Paris where he became friends with André Breton and became involved in the Surrealist group. With his illusionistic, dream-like Surrealism, He became a leading member of the Surrealism movement.

In 1936 he had his first solo exhibition in the United States at the Julien Levy Gallery in New York, followed by an exposition at the London Gallery in 1938. During the German occupation of Belgium in World War II he remained in Brussels.

12 Son of Man, Rene Magritte
12 Son of Man, Rene Magritte

Magritte developed a colorful, painterly style as a reaction to his feelings of abandonment that came with living in German-occupied Belgium.

At the end of 1948, Magritte returned to the style and themes of his pre-war surrealistic art. Magritte's Surrealism was a systematic attempt to disrupt any dogmatic view of humanity by expressing ordinary objects in an unusual context. For example, when Magritte painted rocks, which are commonly understood to be heavy, he often painted them floating cloud-like in the sky.

Magritte's constant repelling of reality and permanent adoption of illusion has been attributed to the early death of his mother. Psychoanalysts have hypothesized that Magritte's issues with reality and illusion reflect his subconscious desire for the illusion "his mother is alive" and his repelled reality as "mother is dead".

Magritte died of pancreatic cancer on 15 August 1967, aged 68, and was interred in Schaerbeek Cemetery, Evere, Brussels. The Magritte Museum opened to the public on 30 May 2009 in Brussels. Housed in the five-level neo-classical Hotel Altenloh, on the Place Royale, it displays some 200 original Magritte paintings, drawings, and sculptures.

The Case Of Surrealism

In Europe in the aftermath of World War I, Surrealism developed as a cultural movement in which artists depicted illogical scenes. Though Surrealism originated mainly in Paris, France, the movement spread around the globe, impacting the visual arts, literature, film, and music of many countries and languages, as well as political thought and practice, philosophy, and social theory.

Surrealists believe that non-Western cultures also provide a continued source of inspiration for Surrealist activity as non-Western cultures, somehow, induce a better balance between instrumental reason and imagination in flight than Western culture.

Various much older artists are sometimes claimed as precursors of Surrealism. Foremost among these are Hieronymus Bosch, and Giuseppe Arcimboldo, who Dalí called the "father of Surrealism".

Surrealism was not officially established until after October 1924, when the Surrealist Manifesto was published by French poet and critic André Breton and his group, including writers and artists from various media.

According to Surrealism leader André Breton, Surrealism aimed to "resolve the previously contradictory conditions of dream and reality into an absolute reality" which is surreality.

Many Surrealist artists and writers regard their work as an expression of the philosophical movement first and foremost with the works themselves being secondary. Surrealism as an art movement was associated with political causes such as communism and anarchism.

During the war, André Breton, who had trained in medicine and psychiatry, served in a neurological hospital where he used Sigmund Freud's psychoanalytic methods with soldiers suffering from psychological shocks. Freud's work with free association, dream analysis, and the unconscious was of utmost importance to the Surrealists in developing methods to liberate imagination.

Leading up to 1924, two rival surrealist groups had formed. One group was led by Yvan Goll, and the other group, was led by Breton. Goll and Breton clashed openly, at one point literally fighting over the rights to the term Surrealism.

In the end, Breton won the battle through tactical and numerical superiority. Breton insisted that Surrealism was an ongoing revolt against the reduction of humanity to market relationships, religious gestures, and misery and to espouse the importance of liberating the human mind.

Generally, Surrealism used dream analysis and emphasized the combination, inside the same frame, of elements not normally found together to produce illogical and startling effects.

Breton also included the idea of startling juxtapositions in his 1924 manifesto, in painting the juxtaposition of colors and shapes is used to create contrast, while the position of particular kinds of objects one upon the other or different kinds of characters in proximity to one another is intended to evoke meaning.

In 1924, Miró and Masson applied Surrealism to painting. The first Surrealist exhibition, La Peinture Surrealiste, was held at Galerie Pierre in Paris in 1925. It displayed works by Masson, Man Ray, Paul Klee, Miró, and others.

Throughout the 1930s, Dali joined the Surrealism movement. Dali and Magritte created the most widely recognized images of the movement.

Influenced by the Dada movement of the 1910s, Surrealists practiced techniques to allow the unconscious mind to express itself. Surrealism as a visual movement was about finding a method to expose psychological truth and strip ordinary objects of their normal significance.

Surrealism was keen to create a compelling image that was beyond the ordinary formal organization in order to evoke empathy from the viewer. In addition to Surrealist theory being grounded in the ideas of Hegel, Marx, and Freud, to its advocates, its inherent dynamic is dialectical thought.

Surrealism does not specifically refer only to self-identified "Surrealists", or those sanctioned by Breton, rather, it refers to a range of creative acts of revolt and efforts to liberate imagination. Surrealists emphasize the intimate link between freeing imagination and the mind and liberation from repressive and archaic social structures.

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