René Magritte was a Belgian surrealist artist known for his thought-provoking and enigmatic paintings. His unique style challenged the boundaries of reality and challenged viewers to question the meaning and interpretation of art. While many people are familiar with his famous works such as “The Son of Man” or “The Treachery of Images,” there are several lesser-known facts about Magritte that showcase the depth of his artistic prowess and his intriguing personality. In this article, we delve into ten things you probably didn’t know about René Magritte.

1. Magritte’s Early Influences

Before gaining recognition as a surrealist artist, Magritte was influenced by a range of artistic movements. Initially, he experimented with Impressionism, working with vibrant colors and capturing scenes from nature. Later, he shifted towards Cubism, influenced by the works of Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque. Eventually, Magritte found his distinctive style by combining elements from both movements, leading to his unique approach to art.

Throughout his career, Magritte also drew inspiration from the works of Italian Renaissance artists, particularly Giorgio de Chirico. Magritte admired de Chirico’s ability to create a sense of mystery in his paintings, and this fascination with enigma is an evident theme throughout Magritte’s own body of work.

2. His Secret Life as a Commercial Artist

While Magritte is best known for his surrealist paintings, he initially supported himself through commercial art. From 1922 to 1926, Magritte worked as a graphic designer, creating advertisements, book covers, and publicity materials. This period of his life allowed him to develop skills in precision and attention to detail, which later influenced his surrealist works.

Interestingly, Magritte’s commercial art often featured similar motifs that would later appear in his surrealistic paintings. Elements such as floating objects or obscured faces can be traced back to his early commercial works, demonstrating his persistent exploration of the unconscious and the mysterious in his art.

3. The Meaning Behind the Bowler Hat and Apple

Two recurring symbols in Magritte’s paintings are the bowler hat and the apple. The bowler hat is often depicted on faceless men, and it represents conformity and anonymity. Magritte saw the hat as a tool for hiding individuality and personality, reflecting his own belief that everyone wears a figurative mask in society.

On the other hand, the apple represents juxtaposition and contradiction. While commonly associated with health and vitality, Magritte often placed the apple in unexpected contexts or combined it with unrelated objects, challenging the viewer’s perception of reality. This symbolic playfulness epitomizes Magritte’s surrealist style, encouraging audiences to question the inherent meanings assigned to everyday objects.

4. Magritte’s Use of Titles

Magritte believed that the titles of his paintings played a crucial role in shaping the viewer’s interpretation. Rather than using descriptive titles that guide the audience towards a specific meaning, he opted for unconventional and sometimes unrelated names. By distancing his works from literal explanations, Magritte wanted viewers to engage with the paintings on a subjective level, interpreting them through their own experiences and emotions.

His intentional ambiguity regarding titles highlights the artist’s desire to foster a sense of open-endedness and personal exploration within his art. This approach invites viewers to contemplate the complexities of existence, stimulating their imaginations and challenging their preconceived notions.

5. The Mysteries of ‘The Son of Man’

One of Magritte’s most famous paintings, ‘The Son of Man,’ is shrouded in mystery and symbolism. Featuring a man in a business suit with his face obscured by a green apple, the painting invites viewers to ponder its meaning. While Magritte himself never explicitly explained this enigmatic image, numerous interpretations have emerged over the years.

Some theories suggest that the apple represents secrecy or hidden desires, while others argue that it symbolizes the barrier between the conscious and unconscious mind. Regardless of the interpretation, ‘The Son of Man’ exemplifies Magritte’s ability to create visually captivating works that provoke introspection and curiosity.

6. Magritte’s Fascination with Clouds

Clouds frequently appeared in Magritte’s paintings as a recurring motif. He believed that clouds symbolized the nature of mystery itself, representing the unknowable aspects of existence. In his work ‘The Empire of Light,’ clouds dominate the sky during daylight, which defies conventional expectations since the painting depicts a nighttime scene on the ground.

Magritte’s use of clouds challenges the traditional notions of reality and disorients the audience by juxtaposing contradictory elements. By infusing his paintings with clouds, he aimed to highlight the vast realm of the unconscious and the boundless imagination of human perception.

7. The Influence of Magritte’s Mother’s Suicide

When Magritte was just fourteen years old, his mother committed suicide. This tragic event had a profound impact on the artist’s life and subsequently influenced his work. Elements of ambiguity, hidden meanings, and the sense of a mystery to be discovered can often be traced back to this painful experience with his mother’s death.

Psychologists have linked Magritte’s inclination towards depicting hidden faces in paintings to his unconscious desire to uncover hidden truths and reconcile with the trauma of his mother’s suicide. Magritte’s art became a therapeutic medium through which he tried to make sense of existential questions and confront the nature of reality.

8. Magritte and His Period of “Période Vache”

In the late 1940s, Magritte experienced a period that he called “Période Vache,” translated as “Cabbage Period.” During this period, he deviated from his usual style and produced a series of whimsical and nonsensical paintings. These works contained absurd and exaggerated elements, often featuring crude brushwork and bright colors.

Magritte’s “Période Vache” was a departure from his more serious and cerebral works. Displaying a playful and satirical side, these paintings were created as a reaction against the art world’s expectations and to challenge the notions of taste and convention. Despite being less recognized, this period showcases Magritte’s versatility and his ability to experiment with different artistic approaches.

9. Book Illustration and Collaboration

Apart from his paintings, Magritte also worked on book illustrations. He collaborated with esteemed writers and poets in the creation of illustrated books, creating visual interpretations of their written works. These collaborations allowed Magritte to explore the symbiotic relationship between literature and art, blending worlds of imagination to create deeply layered narratives.

By incorporating text and visuals, Magritte expanded the possibilities of storytelling and further blurred the boundaries between reality and the surreal. His collaborations were not limited to renowned authors but also extended to lesser-known poets, allowing him to champion emerging talent within the artistic community.

10. Magritte’s Legacy and Influence

René Magritte’s artistic legacy is profound and far-reaching. His cerebral and introspective approach to surrealist art has influenced generations of artists and continues to inspire contemporary artistic movements. The enigmatic nature of his paintings, combined with his unconventional use of imagery, has left an indelible mark on the art world.

Magritte’s exploration of the subconscious and the juxtaposition of familiar objects in unexpected ways has invited viewers to question their own perceptions of reality. His innovative techniques and thought-provoking themes continue to captivate audiences and serve as a testament to the enduring power of his art.

Learn more about René Magritte’s life and art on the official Magritte Museum website

Discover more about René Magritte’s contributions to the art world on The Art Story