René Magritte – 7 Interesting Facts

René Magritte was a Belgian artist known for his surrealist paintings. He challenged his viewers’ perception of reality by placing everyday objects in unusual contexts. Behind his provocative artworks, here are the following facts:

1. Magritte’s mother committed suicide.

  • When he was thirteen, his mother drowned herself in the River Sambre after years of struggling with depression and several attempted suicides.
  • Her body was found with her dress covering her face. This may have influenced several paintings wherein Magritte portrayed people with cloth or objects covering their faces.

2. He had a complicated love story with his muse, model, and wife, Georgette.

  • It is said that Magritte first met and fell in love with Georgette at a local fair. They were separated and reunited years later at an art supply store in Brussels.
  • Almost 15 years into their marriage, he began an affair with a young artist. He enlisted a friend to entertain his wife and prevent her from finding out. This resulted in an affair between said friend and Georgette. Eventually, the couple reconciled and stayed together ‘til the end of Magritte’s life.

3. He was too poor to become a painter right away.

  • After Magritte served in the Belgian infantry for one year of mandatory service, he worked as a draftsman at a wallpaper factory and as a freelance designer for advertising posters.
  • His brothers supported him before he could become a full-time painter. His businessman brother bought his paintings, while Magritte and the youngest brother ran an advertising agency together.

4. Apart from images, he also used words to make his viewers question their perception.

  • In “Les Motes et Les Images” (Words and Images), the words placed next to the images do not have a direct correlation. Viewers were intended to analyze his work, linking the images to the words and forming new meanings.
  • Magritte did the same in creating titles for his works. One of his most famous paintings, “La Trahison des Images” (The Treachery of Images), depicts a pipe with the words, “Ceci n’est pas un pipe” (This is not a pipe).

5. His paintings were the most vibrant during World War II.

  • Magritte’s art shifted from the dark moods of surrealism to a “search for joy and pleasure”, in contrast to the violence and suffering during the war.
  • This period is known as his Sunlit or Renoir period, named after the artist who inspired him to use impressionistic techniques and bright palettes.

6. He was a master forger.

  • He made money by reproducing paintings by Picasso, Chirico, and Braques.
  • He also printed counterfeit banknotes to help him survive the postwar period.

7. He continues to be very famous and coveted even after his death.

  • His works have been plagiarized or adapted in book covers, advertisements, and posters.
  • One of his paintings was stolen from an art museum in 2009. The thieves could not sell it due to its immense popularity and returned it in 2012.

René Magritte’s witty and thought-provoking artworks have made him a central figure in Surrealism and an inspiration to later movements, especially Pop Art. Even after his death, his influence lived on in popular culture, including songs, books, and films. He is undoubtedly one of the most successful artists in history.