Magritte: Hidden Figures in Surrealism Art

Surrealism: Magritte

René Magritte and Surrealism

One of the many pioneers of the surrealism movement in the early 1960’s, the enigmatic character Rene Magritte, used the idea of repetition and surrealism to depict everyday life with a morbid twist of primitivism.

The Belgium born surrealist’s handiwork is bold and illustrative, likely a result of his supplementary work in advertising. Kittenish and mysterious, the images were never left wondering what was pictured, but you are often left wondering why. His images certainly stand alone as artworks. The most compelling pieces are the ones where he applies the trade work concept and imagery from his painted oeuvre to his pictures.

Using surrealism as the main style in most of his images, today we go into details as to the mystery behind his favorite method in generating such intrigue, the obscurity of hiding one object behind another.

Surrealism: The Movement

To fully understand the style that makes Magritte’s artwork so intriguing, we must go back a couple of years to when the movement started and what exactly it is. Surrealism originated in the late 1910s and early 1920s. The literary movement that experimented with a new mode of expression called automatic writing, or automatism sought to release the unbridled imagination of the subconscious.  

René Magritte – Son of a Man (1946).

Surrealists often sought to channel the unconscious and believed that the rational mind repressed the power of the imagination. Influenced by the well-known socialist Karl Marx’s ideology, they hoped that the psyche had the power to reveal the contradictions in the everyday world and start a revolution. Using primitivism, a belief in the value of what is simple and unsophisticated, expressing as a philosophy of life or through art, it went on to shape many movements later, the style remaining influential to this day.

The works of Sigmund Freud also profoundly influenced a lot of surrealists that would use his ideas and beliefs to create masterpieces that would often have people thinking long and hard. Freud legitimized the importance of dreams and the unconscious as valid revelations of human emotions and desires. These ideas you’ll find in Salvador Dali’s artwork or Magritte’s photography.

Magritte’s Life:

Born in Lessines, Belgium on November 21st, 1898, Magritte’s father was a tailor and textile merchant, his mother a milliner before getting married. Emotionally unstable, his mother had numerous suicide attempts before finally taking her life in 1912, drowning herself in a river. She was found face down, her dress covering her head. Some theorized that Magritte’s tendency of covering faces in his painting is due to that tragedy.

The Lovers I - rené Magritte - Surrealism Art
René Magritte – The Lovers I (1928).

His interest in art sprung out when he took drawing and painting classes at school. He was soon mingling with artists from the young avant-garde movement. This is when he began sharing a studio with an abstract artist, Pierre Flouquet. He was not interested in following the same artistic path and was attracted to surrealism which was beginning to take hold in Paris.

His first gallery showing in 1927 was not a success and his work was criticized by Pierre Flouquet. He wrote that Magritte had allowed himself to be too influenced by art dealers to the detriment of his work. Disappointed with the reaction, he left Brussels to spend three years in Paris. There, he could integrate himself into the surrealist circles. Although life there became too expensive for the struggling artist, he returned to Brussels quickly after in 1930. By that time, had already begun what would become his most famous series of paintings.

Magritte’s art

Magritte was fascinated by the interactions of textual and visual signs. In some of his most famous pictures, he employed both words and images. We see that in his most famous work such as ‘Treachery of Images’ 1929. The painting depicting a pipe with the words “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” that translates to “This is not a pipe” in French.

René Magritte - This is not a Pipe - Surrealism
René Magritte – The Treachery of Images – This is not a Pipe (1929).

“He preferred to remain on the threshold of art. He was more focused on the way he expressed his ideas, on how to touch the spectator.” expresses Xavier Canonne an art historian and the curator of a new exhibition entitled: “René Magritte: The Revealing Image.”

Magritte’s pictures often share the air of mystery that characterizes much of his surrealist work, seemingly motivated more by a spirit of rational inquiry and wonder at the misunderstandings that can lurk in language.

Heavily influenced by the ideology of Freud psychoanalysis for which he would often relate repetition to signs of trauma. He often promoted and cultivated an approach that avoided the stylistic distractions of most modern painting as the time. His work in commercial art also played an important and impactful position in prompting to question the conventional modernist belief in an original work of art.

René Magritte – Alfa Romeo advertisement (1924).

The Role in Surrealism:

Magritte’s purpose of hiding the faces was due to an existential trauma or the inspiring works of Freud’s psychoanalysis.

There’s no doubt in mind that the oddly intellectual character that was Magritte did indeed play a big part in the surrealism movement.

René Magritte -  Man in a Bowler Hat (1964 ) - Surrealism Art
René Magritte – Man in a Bowler Hat (1964).

His style of repetition and idiosyncratic approach to surrealism setting him apart from the other surrealists in a unique way. Magritte’s ark work will forever hold a special position in what exactly the surrealism movement was about. Emphasizing the power of personal imagination much like the tradition of Romanticism, but with the difference that they believed the revelations could be found on the street and in everyday life.

Written by Karen Pasos.

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