We all know the mysterious, spell-binding paintings of the Surrealist artist René Magritte. But who was the man behind the apple? Read on to see which disturbing yet formative experiences brought about the creative inspiration that rendered him legendary…

3 Things to know about René Magritte

1. A tortured childhood

René Magritte’s childhood was a disturbing period in his life. Born in 1898 in Lessines, Belgium, his family often moved due to their financial difficulties. When he was only 12 years old his mother took her own life by jumping into the Sambre. This event was of course impressionable, especially given its timing – during some of the most formative years of his life. Nonetheless, the artist resented the fact that his works were psychoanalysed through this lens.

The Lovers, Magritte, 1928

However, some of the art historical analysis is noteworthy. For example, the veil that covers the woman’s face in The Lovers is similar to the dressing gown in which his mother was found days after her disappearance.

2. René Magritte: a complex personality

Magritte was a paradoxical character. His image is associated with that of a bourgeois man in a bowler hat and suit. Settling down with a woman named Georgette whom he met when the two were just 15 years old, they lived in a house in Brussels. Their former residence has now become the Magritte Museum.

René Magritte with his paintings The Son of Man, photographed by Bill Brandt, 1964. © Bill Brandt

From the outside, everything seemed perfectly fine. Yet inside, he was deeply subversive. He had a mischievous childish side that was often hidden. That said, he enjoyed bringing people together through his art. It is said that he often called philosophers and writers to his studio to study his paintings in search of titles. Magritte was indeed a difficult individual who managed to preserve and hide his inner malice through his art.

3. A particular type of Surrealism

Magritte’s principal source of inspiration came from the work Love Song by Giorgio Chirico. In 1923, he discovered this unique universe in which he would (from that point on) never cease to exist. There is a real “science” behind the random placement of familiar objects which are then rendered foreign in an otherwise normal reality. Both close yet hostile, Magritte’s work disrupted the art world.

Chant d’amour, Chirico (1914)

As a Surrealist artist, Magritte shifts, moves and diverts reality. However, his genre of Surrealism is a bit different from that which began in Paris. In direct “opposition” with André Breton, the Brussels Surrealists advocated for a conscious rendering of their memories, dreams and thoughts whereas the Parisian Surrealists sought to make unconscious creations that leapt from within their psyches.

What’s more, Magritte’s paintings have a certain particularity about them. Without being explicitly Surrealist, his refined compositions had little to do with Dali’s complex paintings. Moreover, he was often quoted saying that everything he wanted to say is already before our eyes. That is to say, no need to dig deeper…

What he said

Everything in my work comes from the feeling of certainty that we belong to an enigmatic universe.

Did you know?

Magritte had several dogs that were all named “Loulou”. No matter their colour or breed, they were called “Loulou”. He is said to have loved his furry companions quite dearly and today they help assign dates the to his photographs.

His greatest works

Magritte’s paintings convey messages. He used elements of reality in the service of mystery. Magritte was an explorer of life’s enigmas and gave way to reflection through his images. For him, they were used to express words. When he named his painting The Treachery of Images, it is clear that it is not a pipe, but rather the image of a pipe…

The Treachery of Images ©René Magritte, 1928-29 / Flickr via calmansi / CC BY 2.0
The Empire of Light ©René Magritte / Flickr via Sharon Mollerus / CC BY 2.0
The False Mirror ©René Magritte / Flickr via Gautier Poupeau / CC BY 2.0
Golconda ©René Magritte, 1953 / Flickr via Ian Burt / CC BY 2.0