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René Magritte Artworks

Belgian Painter

René Magritte Photo
Movements and Styles: Surrealism, Magic Realism, Conceptual Art

Born: November 21, 1898 - Lessines, Belgium

Died: August 15, 1967 - Brussels, Belgium

Artworks by René Magritte

The below artworks are the most important by René Magritte - that both overview the major creative periods, and highlight the greatest achievements by the artist.

Bather (1925)

This elegant work is a fine example of Magritte's early attempts to find a restrained, illustrative style. It bears comparison with contemporary Belgian Expressionism and also with the classicizing modernist styles that were then popular throughout Europe. We can recognize many of the elements that characterized his later paintings, such as the prominence of the sea and the mysterious sphere in the background. This work also bears the influence of Magritte's professional forays into the world of fashion advertising, and his interest in the works of Fernand Léger. Bather can be compared to his painting The Bather between Light and Darkness (1935-36), which explores the same scene in the artist's mature style. In 1930, the artist gifted the picture to his sister-in-law, Leontine Berger.

Familiar Objects (1928)

Here, the viewer is confronted by five men - or perhaps five views of the same man - each corresponding to a seemingly random object. These bland portraits with indistinct clothes, features, and expressions are characteristic of Magritte. The objects, on the other hand, are unique and command more attention than the figures who stare blankly at them. Several pictures that predate this attest to Magritte's interest in depicting objects in his work, but this is the first in which the objects appear alongside figures and are associated with the mental states of those figures. In this regard it shows the artist's growing interest in the Surrealist idea of the unconscious. Magritte's way of placing the objects in relation to the figures also enabled him to partially occlude their faces, a strategy which he would often employ in later work.

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The Treachery of Images (1929)

The Treachery of Images cleverly highlights the gap between language and meaning. Magritte combined the words and image in such a fashion that he forces us to question the importance of the sentence and the word. "Pipe," for instance, is no more an actual pipe than a picture of a pipe can be smoked. Magritte likely borrowed the pipe motif from Le Corbusier's book Vers une architecture (1923), since he was an admirer of the architect and painter, but he may also have been inspired by a comical sign he knew in an art gallery, which read, "Ceci n'est pas de l'Art." The painting is the subject of a famous book-length analysis by Michel Foucault. One might also compare it with Joseph Kosuth's handling of a similar problem of image, text, and reality in his 1965 installation One and Three Chairs.

The Ocean (1933)

The bright colors and casual brushwork of The Ocean typifies a series of satirical pictures Magritte painted in the style of late Pierre-Auguste Renoir, whose pictures were intended to mock the conservative tastes of the French public. The pose of the river god in this picture borrows directly from a late work by Renoir. As the Second World War drew to a close, he turned away from the more macabre subjects of Surrealism and embraced a radiant palette and, as he put it, "bewitching subjects." The artist wrote that he wanted to paint pictures "that will arouse what remains of our instinct for pleasure." Three years later in 1946, he signed the manifesto Surrealism in Full Sunlight that his Belgian friends had written to outline such principles. But the pictures in this style attracted considerable criticism from his Surrealist friends.

The Pebble (1948)

The Pebble was included in Magritte's first Paris exhibition in 1948, where he shocked critics and public alike with an uncharacteristic group of his "vache" works. This group of around thirty pictures was painted rapidly in only a few weeks. It borrowed from the sketchy style of comics and caricatures, but some elements were also derived from Édouard Manet and Fauvism (the background in this picture may come from Henri Matisse). It also borrows the Venus de Milo motif that Magritte had used before. Perhaps unfortunately for the artist, the exhibition achieved its perverse effect, and was both financially and critically devastating to him. However, he remained attached to the work, and later gave this piece to his wife.

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Empire of Light (1953-1954)

The Empire of Light exemplifies the sort of simple paradox that characterizes Magritte's most successful works. Dusk has fallen in the bottom half of the picture and a streetlamp glows peacefully. Above, cheerful white clouds hang in a baby-blue sky. Although both elements of night and day are calming and lovely considered on their own, their juxtaposition is eerie and unnerving. As Magritte once said of Max Ernst's and Giorgio de Chirico's work, the darker statement similarly applies to strains of Magritte's own work: "the spectator might recognize his own isolation and hear the silence of the world." The overall impression of this scene is one that powerfully stays in the mind of the viewer.

Overall, Magritte's rather 'straightforward' rendition of the uncanny - one that resembles reportage in its simplicity - certainly owes something to the artist's experience working in commercial art. The style, and the handling of the paint - restrained and illustrative - may also have been inspired by the emphasis on clarity and impact in commercial art.

Related Artists and Major Works

The Child's Brain (1914)

Artist: Giorgio De Chirico

The Child's Brain was a favorite of Surrealism's founder André Breton, who bought the painting reportedly after it caused him to get off his bus when he saw it hanging in a gallery window. One can appreciate its impact on Breton, for almost a decade before the Surrealists had begun to speak about the power of dreams and the unconscious, de Chirico was painting images such as this that spoke about exactly these themes. Breton said that in conversations with de Chirico, the painter revealed that the man depicted in this image was his father. The bookmark inserted into the book on the table symbolizes his parents' lovemaking - the bookmark positioned so as to represent the phallus. On another level, the man in the painting, whether modeled upon de Chirico's father or not, is meant as a portrait of the young, sexually ambivalent and virile Dionysus. Breton and the Surrealists had interpreted de Chirico's work through their readings of psychoanalysis, but Freud was unknown to de Chirico until the 1920s.

Ubu Imperator (1923)

Artist: Max Ernst (Read Full Artist Overview, Biography, and Artworks pages)

This is a relatively small canvas in comparison to Ernst's other works although it radiates a commanding presence beyond its scale. At center, dominating the composition is a tower-like form with human arms extended and a head constructed as an architectural form. The tower is balanced precariously as if a spinning top which has been halted. The stability of architecture versus the instability of the tower's base, and its movement, places the object in internal conflict. Ernst has placed the body/building within a bare desert, with just an abandoned scythe in the background, which would prove futile in such a setting. The title, "Ubu Imperator," translates as the Commander, yet the central figure lacks the stability and authority a leader usually commands in both art and life.

La Joconde aux Cles (Mona Lisa with Keys) (1930)

Artist: Fernand Léger (Read Full Artist Overview, Biography, and Artworks pages)

This is one of Léger's most experimental canvases, one of the few in which he shows influence from Surrealism. The objects depicted have no support, but rather simply float in space as in works by Joan Miro. The influence of Surrealism is further evident in the bizarre juxtaposition of objects, chosen specifically because of their lack of relation to one another and in that sense the work harkens back to his interest in dissonance and contrast. Léger had made numerous paintings that included keys in the late 1920s and said of this painting: "One day, after drawing a bunch of keys, I asked myself what element was furthest removed from the bunch of keys, and I said to myself: 'It's the human face.' I went out into the street and saw in a shop window the portrait of Mona Lisa. . . . No contrast has ever been sharper than between this bunch of keys and Mona Lisa." He considered this "risky picture" a success and kept it for himself.

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