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Rene Magritte, Fine Artist

Updated on April 28, 2012

One of the many version of the "Man in the Bowler Hat"

The Man in the Bowler Hat by Rene Magritte
The Man in the Bowler Hat by Rene Magritte | Source

Rene Francois Ghislain Magritte (pronounced mah-GREET) was born in Belgium on the cusp of the twentieth century--November 21, 1898. His father was a textile merchant, his mother a dressmaker. It must be that his poor mother had some unresolved mental problems. She attempted suicide many times; her husband locked her in her room. But she escaped, and was discovered floating face down in the River Sambre three days later. Some say it was Rene who discovered his mother. He was 13 years old at the time.

Rene Magritte showed some talent for drawing early on in his life. His father got him drawing lessons from the age of 12 years.

Rene Magritte studied art at the Academie Royale es Beaux-Arts in Brussels, from 1916 to 1918. His early work was Impressionistic, but later on he turned to Cubism, as exampled by Metzinger. He really found himself in the surrealistic paintings of his later work. It allowed him to express his sly sense of humour, and to express his recurring theme that things are just not what they seem. Those later paintings are his most highly valued, witty and original.

Rene Magritte served in the Belgian military from 1920-1921. This was mandatory for men between the ages of 19 years and 25 years. Rene got his year of service out of the way when he was about 22 years of age.

Rene Magritte worked in a wallpaper factory, designing wallpaper, to support his new wife, from 1922 to 1923. He also had a sideline as poster and advertisement designer; finally, a contract with the Galerie le Centaure in Brussels allowed Magritte to paint full time. In 1926, Magritte made his first surreal painting (the Lost Jockey) and held his first exhibition in Brussels, which BOMBED!

Rene Magritte's struggles as an artist were only beginning. He won, then lost, the patronage of Edward James, who allowed Magritte to stay rent-free him his London home, and made a studio for him there. Magritte was homesick, and moved back to Belgium, only to find that the Germans occupied Belgium during World War II, less than a year later. Rene Magritte played with a a variety of styles, hoping to break into the mainstream and make a living as an artist at this time: he did some lush, colorful, "Renoir Period" work, which was not him, not sincere, and did not gain artistic kudos or an audience. Nor did he during his "Vache Period", where he painted crude and provocative nudes of no particular distinction.

During this time, Magritte became an art forge. He painted fake Picassos, fake Braques, and fake Chiricos, cheerfully; he also passed forged banknotes to eat, during those terrible lean hungry years after the war (World War II).

In 1948, he seemed to cast off his artistic fetters, and reverted to his prewar surrealism, with, finally, the degree of artistic success and recognition he craved and deserved. His work was exhibited in the New York Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art. He became collectible!

Rene Magritte died of pancreatic cancer on August 15, 1967, after a long and highly checkered career. He is interred in the Scherbeek Cemetery, in Evere, Brussels, Belgium.

"Clear Ideas" by Rene Magritte
"Clear Ideas" by Rene Magritte | Source

Rene Magritte is now a highly collectible artist. It is so ironic that during most of his life as an artist, he struggled, working in a wallpaper factory, forging banknotes even! But now, Rene Magritte is eminently collectible.

For those in the know, in the world of fine art auctions and art as an investment, the best you can do now is to buy Magritte. His works have appreciated 30% in the last decade and have made a notably consistent trend in the upward direction, ever since the Harry Torczyner collection auctioned at Christie's in 1998. A total of twenty-five paintings and drawings of Magritte's drew 26 million United States dollars.

He was a fairly prolific artist, too. His entire body of work, which is complete since his death in 1967, totals about 1100 pieces of artwork.

Of the many reasons why Magritte is so collectible, is his personal style is immediately recognizable, even to the person off the street. His witty images are painted with a clear, lucid style that make the painting entirely Magritte's.

Magritte's highest selling painting was "The Empire of Light", or, "L'Empire des Lumieres", one of my personal favorites. It sold for 12.7 million United States dollars at Christie's in 2002.

The Lost Jockey

Le jockey perdu, by Rene Magritte
Le jockey perdu, by Rene Magritte | Source

The Empire of Light

L'Empire des Lumieres, by Rene Magritte
L'Empire des Lumieres, by Rene Magritte | Source


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    • Paradise7 profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Upstate New York

      I hope you enjoyed this artist's sense of humour and engaging imagination as much as I have! Thank you for the comment.

    • PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

      Justin W Price 

      6 years ago from Juneau, Alaska

      Nice hub. Thanks for sharing. mI've heard the name of this artist before but, oddly, was unfamiliar with his work until now. Thanks for enlightening me!

    • Paradise7 profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Upstate New York

      Hey Epi!!! So good to hear from you. I'm much better lately, and seem to have got a reprieve on life itself, which makes me happy. How you doing, my friend? I'll have to go visit you, I owe you quite a few visits and love your work. Such fun!

    • epigramman profile image


      6 years ago

      ...first of all , and most importantly , how are you my dear friend?

      And secondly , and even more happily for me - you have made my day and night with this most fabulous surrealist painter (the other famous one being Dali, of course) and certainly one of my favorites - thank you for this one - it's beautifully researched and presented - I see some other hub tributes here on your page I have my eye on - so I am off -

      and sending you sincere warm wishes and good energy to you from the setting sun and lake erie time 6:22pm ontario canada

    • barry1001 profile image


      6 years ago from North Wales

      It just occurs to me that I've seen many pieces of Magrittes work, without even realising who the artist was. Have to check out more of his work now. Good article.

    • Paradise7 profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Upstate New York

      You're welcome. I liked that movie, too.

    • Barbsbitsnpieces profile image

      Barbara Anne Helberg 

      6 years ago from Napoleon, Henry County, Ohio, USA

      @Paradise7...Thanks for the Brosnan-Thomas Crown explanation. I can see it the way you explained it!

    • Paradise7 profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Upstate New York

      Pierce said once in an interview that he lived in Malibu, and it takes sort of a Malibu sort of person to live there (I think anyone living in CA would get that.) I can't help thinking he's sort of a Magritte sort of person, too, or at least his character, Thomas Crowne, certainly was. It takes a Magritte sort of person to be outside the box enough to steal a painting from a museum, and return it, just for fun!

    • Paradise7 profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thank you for the comment, Kitty love. I really like this artist. His life, and his art, get to me. He was really not afraid to move right outside the box and live there!

    • Barbsbitsnpieces profile image

      Barbara Anne Helberg 

      6 years ago from Napoleon, Henry County, Ohio, USA

      @Paradise7...More interesting things to interpret.

      Being a writer of Thoroughbred horse racing, I like "The Lost Jockey". But I also like the Bowler Hat series.

      Why did Pierce Brosnan's character use multiple Bowler Hat men in the movie "The Thomas Crown Affair" to help him steal paintings?

    • kittythedreamer profile image

      Kitty Fields 

      6 years ago from Summerland

      I hadn't heard of this artist until I read your hub, Paradise. What a talented and unique individual! Voted up, interesting, and shared. :)

    • Paradise7 profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thanks for the comment, Alian. That's one of the things I most love about Magritte-his sense of humour.

    • alian346 profile image


      6 years ago from Edinburgh, Scotland

      Hello, Paradise7.

      Thankyou for writing a Hub on this influential artist (and forge!). What I love is his technical brilliance just like that of Dali. I have seen many of his works 'in the flesh' and they just amaze me.

      Initially you can look at one of his paintings and admire it for being a good work and then you will spot his clever humour and do a double take and have a quiet chuckle to yourself.


    • Paradise7 profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thank you for the comment, Dali. I love that "Empire of Light " picture. It gets to me, for some reason.

    • dali48 profile image

      Wolfgang G. Greiner 

      6 years ago from Germany

      Thank you Paradise7, for your Hub about Rene Magritte - My favourite paintings of him are "magriettedove.jpg and magritte_mask.jpg" on Wikipedia. He also reminds me of Salvador Dali and his surrealism, etc...

    • Paradise7 profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Upstate New York

      I like all his bowler hat paintings, and there are several versions. In one, it appears to be raining men in bowler hats. One thing, though--sometimes the facelessness of his main character portraits is a bit disturbing.

    • Paradise7 profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thanks, Tony. I was really struck by not only his artwork but his personal history as a forge. In some ways, he had the perfect excuse!

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 

      6 years ago from south Florida

      I admire Magritte's talent as an artist, Paradise, and even more the sly humor he used to title some of his paintings. 'Man in a Bowler Hat,' for example, instead of 'Man in a Hat with Green Apple Hanging in front of his Face.'

    • tonymead60 profile image

      Tony Mead 

      6 years ago from Yorkshire


      I've come across this guy before, there was recently a TV programme about his work and in particularly how he fooled even the most reliable art experts with his copies.

      I also saw his work when I was at art school and very interested in the work of various surrealists.

      good hub, an interesting read.

      cheers Tony

    • Paradise7 profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thank you for the comment, Pamela.

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 

      6 years ago from Sunny Florida

      Rene Magritte's life sounds like so many other great artists, as he was basically poor and his work became much more popular after his death. Thanks for a very interesting read about this artist's life. Up and interesting. :)


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