- Arts and Design
Rene Magritte, Fine Artist
One of the many version of the "Man in the Bowler Hat"
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.
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.