I cannot think of any circumstances that might have determined my character or my art. I do not believe in "determinism".

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René Magritte


I cannot think of any circumstances that might have determined my character

or my art. I do not believe in "determinism".

René Magritte was born at Lessines, in the Hainaut, on November 21, 1898. The oldest of three children, his childhood was marked by many moves of family abode, the financial woe due

to commercial setbacks of his father and, above all, the dramatic death of his mother in 1912 who drowned herself in the river Sambre. From the age of 12, Magritte took painting classes from a local school master, and developed a passion for the films of the arch-criminal Fantômas as well as an avid taste for Edgar Allan Poe and Maurice Leblanc. Before coming to the capital in 1914 to study at the Académie des Beaux-Arts, he’d already crossed paths with Georgette Berger, at the fair in Charleroi, the woman who in 1922 would become his lifelong muse and wife.

At the Académie, the young painter meets Victor Servranckx and Pierre-Louis Flouquet, and together they follow the constructivist adventure of the group 7 Arts, a period during which he also makes his first decorative and advertising works. In 1922, Magritte becomes a chum of his brother Paul’s piano teacher, E.L.T. Mesens, a dandy with a penchant for dadaism’s nihilistic aesthetic. In 1923, another friend, the poet Marcel Lecomte, shows him a photograph of Giorgio de Chirico’s The Song of Love

(1914). It’s a shock – and the starting point for his own surrealist oeuvre with, in 1926, the realization of The Lost Jockey. Further, it’s also the spark for melding into a common quest the diverse

personalities that formed, in Brussels, the founding core of the Belgian surrealist group: Paul Nougé, Camille Goemans, E.L.T. Mesens, Marcel Lecomte, André Souris and Louis Scutenaire. In 1928, this entire group signs the preface by Nougé for the artist’s exhibition at the gallery L’Epoque, run by Paul-Gustave Van Hecke. His wife, the fashion designer Norine, also commissions Magritte for her ad-campaigns.

I despise my own past and that of others. I despise resignation, patience,

professional heroism and all the obligatory sentiments.

A year earlier, he decides nonetheless to set up house in the Parisian suburbs. There he frequents André Breton, Paul Eluard and the group of Parisian surrealists with whom he collaborates on the last number of the review Révolution surréaliste, contributing a major text: Les mots et les images (Words and Images). His relationship with Breton, however, turns more difficult and, with the economic crisis in full swing, Magritte decides to return to Brussels and start an advertising agency, called Studio Dongo, together with his brother Paul. During the 1930s, Magritte is particularly productive. In 1936 he has a one-man-show in New York at the Julien Levy Gallery, followed two years later with another exhibition at The London Gallery, opened by Mesens in the British capital. Magritte’s many

collaborations with Man Ray, Yves Tanguy, André Breton and Paul Eluard confirm his place at the heart of the international surrealist movement. This decade also sees his rapprochement with the Belgian Communist party and, on the eve of war, he produces the poster Le Vrai Visage de Rex (The True Face of Rex), juxtaposing the Belgian fascist Léon Degrelle and Adolf Hitler.


Marcel Mariën, René Magritte, Louis Scutenaire, Paul Nougé and Noël Arnaud at the Congress of communist writers, Antwerp, November 1947|

With Germany’s invasion of Belgium in 1940, Magritte decides to temporarily flee to the South of France. Despite wartime censorship, in 1943 his friend Marcel Mariën nonetheless pens the first monograph devoted to the painter. The Occupation years also coincide with the artist’s development of an impressionist technique of discrete expression. After the war, Breton will be quite critical of this period, defined by Magritte as 'surrealism in full sunlight'. The artist’s relationship with the Parisian surrealist group, never an easy one, would be further estranged by works exposed in 1948, his période vache [cow period], paintings made in "schoolboy" fashion, accompanied by a preface by Scutenaire with the explicit title of Les pieds dans le plat [Feet in the dinner-plate].

During this same period, Magritte begins to work with the gallery-owner Alexandre Iolas who acquaints Jean and Dominique Menil with his work, as well as the attorney Henry Torczyner, who becomes a friend of the painter. These new connections provide an intellectual entourage for his investigations regarding repetition and the grand "Magrittean" images. By dint of this American network, other major career events unfold in the USA, with exhibitions at the Sidney Janis Gallery, the Bodley Gallery, the Arkansas Art Center in Little Rock and, finally, at the MOMA in New York in 1965.

During the 1950s Magritte forges new friendships with Maurice Rapin and André Bosmans, with whom he launches the review Rhétorique. In 1953, through his friend Gustave Nellens, he is

commissioned to paint murals destined for the Chandelier Hall at the Casino in Knokke on the Belgian coast. This work, The Enchanted Domain, encompasses his entire painterly universe. The artist will further, and differently, explore this domain from 1956 on, in a series of short films he makes

featuring his wife Georgette, the Scutenaires and Paul Colinet. Right up to the end of his life, Magritte would continue to investigate and innovate using new techniques, like in the series of bronzes inspired by his work and cast after his death. René Magritte succumbed to cancer of the pancreas on August 15th 1967.


Rachel Baes


As the daughter of the painter Émile Baes, Rachel Baes had an early introduction to painting. At the start she was influenced by Flemish expressionism and exhibited for the first time in 1929 at the Salon des Indépendants in Paris. She fell deeply in love with one of the main figures of Flemish nationalism, Joris Van Severen, and his death in 1940 left her heartbroken.

Her paintings are strongly focused on childhood dramas, exploring them from a specifically female perspective. They offer analyses of childhood as the cradle of women’s oppressions. In 1945 she met Paul Éluard — who wrote the preface to her first exhibition catalogue in Paris — and turned to

surrealism. Magritte’s painting Shéhérazade (1947) is a portrait of Baes. In 1961 she moved to Bruges (the town whose decorative buildings often appear in her paintings) and retired from public life. Subsequent exhibitions included an exhibition at the Palais des Beaux-Arts de Bruxelles in 1965 and her final exhibition in 1976 at the Galerie Isy Brachot in Brussels. She published a biography on Van Severen in 1965, and was buried alongside him at Abbeville.


Paul Delvaux


Belgian painter, Paul Delvaux was associated with the Surrealism art movement, although he never officially joined. Trained at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Brussels, Delvaux's early works were Post-Impressionist and Expressionist in style. In 1934 he saw the paintings of Giorgio de Chirico (1888-1978), Rene Magritte (1888-1978) and Salvador Dali, and was converted. By 1937 he was painting in a Surrealist manner, a style he adopted for the rest of his life. Delvaux’s paintings are primarily nostalgic scenes in which women often appear in the nude. The painstakingly detailed nature of his works manages to convey an unreality - a world of his own imagination. Delvaux's combination of photographic realism with unusual juxtapositions and a sense of mystery, places him in the same surrealistic category as Rene Magritte and Giorgio de Chirico - described in 1925 by the German art critic Franz Roh as Magic Realism. Famous paintings by Delvaux include: The Hands (The Dream) (1941, Claude Spaak Collection, Paris), Venus Asleep (1944, Tate Collection, London), and The Great Sirens (1947, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York). He is considered an important

contributor to modern art of the mid-20th century.

Artistic Training

Delvaux was born in Antheit, Belgium. Between 1916 and 1919 he studied architecture and decorative painting at the Royal Academy of Beaux-Arts in Brussels. He attended painting classes taught by Constant Montald (1862-1944), one of the key figures in Belgian Symbolism. He was also instructed by Jean Delville (1867-1953), a Symbolist, who was particularly fond of painting landscape. Delvaux's early paintings were primarily naturalistic landscapes and between 1920 and 1925 he completed about 80 such compositions. In 1925 he enjoyed his first solo exhibition. Delvaux's late 1920s works, mainly landscapes and nudes, were strongly influenced by Flemish Expressionist painters such as Constant


Permeke (1886-1952) and Gustave De Smet (1877-1943). De Smet was originally a 'Luminist' but moved towards Expressionism and Cubism during the First World War.

Becomes Surrealist

In 1934 Delvaux encountered Surrealism, notably the works of Giorgio de Chirico, for the first time in 1934, at the Minotaure Exhibition in Brussels. De Chirico was best known for his Metaphysical

Painting, created between 1909 and 1919. These rather haunting pictures show city squares and urban architecture cityscapes completely devoid of people. Later De Chirico produced pictures of cluttered storerooms inhabited by mannequin-like figures. Delvaux always acknowledged the influence of De Chirico, stating "with him I realized what was possible, the climate that had to be developed, the climate of silent streets with shadows of people who can't be seen. I've never asked myself if it's surrealist or not". Although Delvaux associated with several Surrealist artists, and his works were included in the 1938 Paris International Exhibition of Surrealism, he resisted being categorized as one. He later said: 'Surrealism! What is Surrealism? In my opinion, it is above all a reawakening of the poetic idea in art, the reintroduction of the subject but in a very particular sense, that of the strange and illogical.'

In 1939 Delvaux visited Italy and was deeply impressed with the architecture in Rome. His love of architecture can be seen in many of his works, where beautiful often nude young women are placed in front of meticulously rendered buildings.

Female Subjects

Fellow Belgian Surrealist, Rene Magritte, was another important influence on Delvaux, although they were not personal friends. There was even a suggestion that Magritte harboured a secret jealousy of Delvaux's drawing ability. Even so, Magritte's mixture of reality and unreality (Magic Realism) greatly appealed to his Belgian compatriot. The paintings Delvaux became famous for were his female nudes and other dressed figures who stare blankly as if in a trance. Sometimes skeletons, or men in bowler hats accompany the women - a theme Delvaux would repeat for the remainder of his life.

The juxtapositioning of objects, people and situations to create a dreamlike setting was something he took from Magritte. From De Chirico, he adopted the use of dramatic settings, classical architecture and receding diagonals. It an almost theatre like fashion, he created a classical world that never in fact existed - but it could have, in a dream, if you could only remember it. In his painting The Great Sirens (1947, Metropolitan Museum of Art) the architecture is reminiscent of Greek temples, but do not represent any known buildings. Several nude women sit and stand, underneath the temple, at night. In the far distance, a man in a bowler hat (a favourite motif of Magritte) is mesmerized by a group of mermaids. The meaning of the painting is not clear, perhaps something to do with love and erotic fantasy. Measuring 6 feet by 9 feet high, it is one of the largest ever executed by the artist. Yet, despite these obvious similarities to the Surrealist group, Delvaux saw himself more of a painter in the realism tradition, following in the tradition of early realist artists like Jan van Eyck (1395-1441), Hans

Memling (1430-1494) and others.

Mature Career

Delvaux's first retrospective was held at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels in 1944. In 1949 he was appointed professor at the Ecole Superieure d'Art et d'Architecture, a position he retained until 1962. Throughout the 1940s he continued to paint nudes situated in night scenes, including his Sleeping Venus (1944, Tate Gallery, London). In this painting a woman lies naked sleeping peacefully in a Greek-style courtyard. A skeleton, a fully dressed woman and another naked figure, surround her. The


artist later explained that it was painted in Brussels during the war when the city was being bombed. "The psychology of that moment was very exceptional, full of drama and anguish", he recalled. "I wanted to express this anguish in the picture, contrasted with the calm of the Venus". During the late 1950s Delvaux produced a series of night scenes, in which a little girl watches trains. Not overly Surrealistic, the paintings are nevertheless quite haunting in their illusionary detail. The artist wrote of his paintings: "Each subject was preceded by long, elaborate work before achieving the harmony and balance that I tried to put in it... First, through the architecture the painting includes, and next, because of the choice of colours that related to the poetic expression that one wants to give it." See also the Canadian Magic Realist painter Alex Colville (b.1920).

During the 1950s and 1960s, Delvaux produced a number of mural commissions and created his first works of lithography. Retrospectives of his work were held in 1965, at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Lille, in 1969, at the Museum of Decorative Arts in Paris, and in 1973, at the Museum Boymans-van Beuningen in Rotterdam. This was followed by retrospectives at the National Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo and the National Museum of Modern Art of Kyoto in 1975. In 1977 the artist became an associate member of the Academy of Fine Arts in Paris. Because of failing eyesight, Delvaux stopped painting in 1986 and died eight years later in 1994.

Delvaux's painting Le rendez-vous d'Ephese (1967) sold for $1,292,000 at auction in 2008, at

Christie's London. A watercolour, pen and ink drawing by the artist, Woman at the Lamp (1973), sold at Christies New York, in 2010, for $56,250. His works can be seen in several of the best art museums on both sides of the Atlantic.


Jane Graverol


The daughter of the painter and symbolist illustrator Alexandre Graverol, Jane Graverol attended courses by the symbolist/monumental painters Constant Montald and Jean Delville at the Académie de Brussels. She held her first solo exhibition in 1927. She met Magritte in 1949 and was invited by him to exhibit the following year at the gallery Lou Cosyn in Brussels. She subsequently became an integral part of the group whose aim was to distance itself from Breton’s increasing tendency to

mysticism. This is perhaps most explicitly depicted in Graverol’s sober group portrait of the surrealists entitled Goutte d’eau [Drop of Water] (1964).

During the organization of a Magritte exhibition in 1953 she made the acquaintance of Marcel Mariën, who became her partner of ten years and who, like Magritte and Paul Nougé, became a major

influence on her art. She experimented and worked in a variety of media ranging from oils and pastels to gouache and collage. She was a co- founder of two significant surrealist publications; in 1952, together with André Blavier, she founded the review, Temps mêlés, and in 1954 she founded, along with Mariën and Nougé, the avant-garde review Les Lèvres nues (which emerged out of an important conference on the surrealist icon Majakovskij, organised by Graverol and Mariën). She subsequently also became director of the avant-garde publishing house Les Lèvres nues.


In the 1960s, she made the acquaintance of André Breton, and later Marcel Duchamp in New York. Even though she subsequently moved to France, she stayed in close contact with the Belgian surrealist artists and exhibited in Belgium every year.


Marcel Mariën


Marcel Mariën is 17 years old when he meets Magritte in 1937. He has everything to charm the painter: his youth, his enthusiasm for recently discovered surrealism, his brilliant mind. He writes and makes collages that mix words and images. They hit it off immediately, and soon Mariën finds himself taken into the painter’s circle, including activities with the surrealist group. In 1943 he publishes the first monograph devoted to Magritte. Together, they put out anonymous tracts:

L’Imbécile, L’Emmerdeur and L’Enculeur (1946). Their friendship ends up estranged, in 1954, when Mariën launches a tri-monthly review, Les Lèvres nues. Differences with Magritte, himself the publisher of La Carte d’après nature since 1952, become more manifest, and the two men take definitive leave of one another. In 1962, Mariën co-authors a tract ostensibly by Magritte, called

Grande Baisse, where his most famous works, made-to-measure, are hawked at cut-rate prices. Mariën thus hammers a final nail in the coffin of their friendship.


Edouard-Léon-Théodore Mesens


In 1920 Magritte meets E.L.T. Mesens, his brother Paul’s piano teacher and astute intellectual who introduces the painter to the dada movement. In 1925 Mesens involves Magritte in the creation of the review Œsophage, then Marie the following year. A founding member of the surrealist group in Belgium, E.L.T. Mesens in 1928 becomes director of the gallery L’Époque in Brussels, owned by Paul-Gustave Van Hecke, couturier, poet and patron of the arts. Mesens organises a solo show for Magritte there in January 1928. In 1931 he presents an exhibition of sixteen of the artist’s canvases at the Salle Giso, in the rooms of an interior decoration firm. Following on from Camille Goemans, who had to close his Parisian gallery, in 1932 he becomes Magritte’s dealer, buying up 150 works by the artist at the forced sale of gallery Le Centaure. Mesens also introduces Magritte to the London art world, where he establishes and inaugurates The London Gallery (together with Roland Penrose), becoming the focal point for surrealist activity in the British capitol. Upon his return to Brussels, in August 1952 E.L.T. Mesens plays a key role in organising the artist’s first post-war retrospective at the casino in Knokke and at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels in 1954. Mesens would remain one of Magritte’s most loyal friends.


What is surrealism?

Surrealism is an artistic movement that officially proclaimed its existence with the publication of the Surrealist Manifesto in 1924. The movement owes its name to French poet Guillaume Apollinaire, who in 1917 uses the term 'sur-réaliste' to describe a form of expression that surpasses realism. Originally, surrealism was essentially a literary phenomenon: the proving-ground of the surrealists, with the French writer and poet André Breton at the fore, consisted in hitherto unheard of language experiments. This principle was rapidly adopted by the plastic arts, by music, film and photography. Surrealism developed in Paris, then world capital of art, and this city proved a magnet for artists coming from elsewhere in Europe and the United States. From 1924, Belgium became the first country outside of France to mount nascent initiatives leading to a fully-fledged surrealist scene. In November 1924, Paul Nougé, Camille Goemans and Marcel Lecomte distributed a series of tracts, Correspondance, albeit addressed to a rather limited audience. A few months later, in March 1925, Edouard Léon Théodore Mesens and René Magritte publish the one-and-only issue of the review Œsophage.

Surrealism finds its roots in feelings of revolt and aversion to the atrocities of the First World War, the same train of thought applying to dada. This goes to explain the link between these two movements: surrealism is in part born of dada, and develops in parallel to it. Dada erupts only sporadically in Belgium, out of synch vis-à-vis this movement’s development in Zurich, Paris and Berlin. Both surrealists and dadaists had a preference for the spontaneous, the subconscious and play, as opposed to the rational. For the two movements, it is the creative process itself that counts artistically, and not the resulting artefact. The main divergence between dada and surrealism is in their view of the past: while dadaism’s creativity had as objective the destruction of and radical rupture with the past, surrealism’s vision did not want to obliterate the past, but rather offer positive alternatives. The surrealist movement aimed to unleash a revolution in human experience, a liberation of the individual from the domination of the rational in matters personal, cultural and social. The works of Sigmund Freud on free association, dream analysis, desire and the subconscious, are of primal importance to the surrealists: their artistic methods of liberating the imagination drew their inspiration here. Max Ernst uses 'frottage' and 'collage', Man Ray develops his 'Rayographs', Joan Miró and Salvador Dalí create symbolic images composed of disparate and unexpected elements. And while the painting of René Magritte also contains dreamlike images, comparisons with the oeuvre of Miró or Dalí remain difficult. Magritte refuses to use the term symbol to describe the objects that appear in his works. They are objects whose 'inappropriate' juxtapositions provoke unease, even terror: they are 'objets bouleversants', as termed by his friend, the Belgian poet Paul Nougé. From the outset, the French and Belgian surrealist groups tread different paths – automatism and analytical experiments for the French, with the Belgians more anchored in reality.

The movement’s maiden group show, La peinture surréaliste, takes place is 1925 in Paris. René Magritte, whose first paintings of a surrealist character date from 1926, does not take part, but will participate in most of the surrealist exhibitions to follow. Surrealism became widely known internationally thanks to exhibitions that took place, among others, at La Louvière (1935), London (1936), New York (1936), Tokyo (1937) and Paris (1938). The immigration to the United States by a large number of surrealists owing to WWII, had a great influence on American art: the oeuvre of the action-painter Jackson Pollock, for example, must be seen in the light of surrealist methods like automatic painting.


Pinpointing the end of the surrealist movement is a matter of disagreement: some art historians see WWII as the end of surrealism, others believe that the death of André Breton in 1966 or that of Salvador Dalí in 1989 marks the movement’s close. Still others maintain that surrealism’s flame has never been extinguished. This also obtains for Belgium, where historians of art recognize, from 1924 up to the present day, succeeding generations of surrealists.




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