Magritte, René François Ghislain (1898–1967) By Marson, Jann
René Magritte was a Belgian artist who gained notoriety during the interwar period as a painter and for his involvement with Surrealism. His epigrammatic approach to painting, using collage-like juxtapositions and absurd transformations, developed from his preference for figurative representation and interest in the relation of images to poetic language. Although Magritte presented himself as contentedly bourgeois, his paintings were often intended to shock viewers by showing them what he called “the mystery of the world.” Magritte was born in the town of Lessines, but grew up in Châtelet where his father had become successful in the edible oil industry. Here he experienced a great childhood loss upon his mother’s suicide. Magritte first discovered painting as a boy, having encountered a painter working outdoors at an abandoned cemetery. In 1915, Magritte relocated to Brussels and soon undertook a brief period of study at the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts until 1918. Magritte’s paintings during the early 1920s exhibited Futurist and Cubist influences. Collaborating closely during this period, Magritte and the abstract painter Victor Servranckx published an essay in 1922 entitled “Pure Art: A Defence of the Aesthetic.” Uneasy, however, with abstract painting’s reception as art for art’s sake, Magritte was deeply affected, in 1923, by what he called the “triumphant poetry” of certain Giorgio de Chirico paintings emphasizing the stillness and isolation of figures and objects. Magritte thereafter developed a similar approach to composition, as seen in The Lost Jockey (1926).