imuse_header

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Magritte, René


L'Invention de la vie (The Invention of Life)
1928
oil on canvas
81 x 116 cm
location unknown

Magritte, in this painting, gives visual form to the notions of life and death. Using two female figures set in a somber landscape, one shrouded in gray fabric as the other eerily stares out at the viewer, Magritte evokes the very fragility of human life. As it has been noted that the female figure resembles the artist’s mother, who committed suicide(*) when Magritte was a boy, this work may conjure Magritte’s own struggles with the death of his mother. (*) In 1912, his mother committed suicide by drowning herself in the River Sambre. Magritte was present when her body was retrieved from the water. The image of his mother floating, her dress obscuring her face, may have influenced a series of paintings of people with cloth obscuring their faces, but Magritte disliked this explanation.

"If the dream is a translation of waking life, waking life is also a translation of the dream." (Magritte)
Magritte described his paintings as "visible images which conceal nothing; they evoke mystery and, indeed, when one sees one of my pictures, one asks oneself this simple question, 'What does that mean?'. It does not mean anything, because mystery means nothing either, it is unknowable."

"Everything leads us to believe that there exists a state of mind where life and death, the real and the imaginary, the past and future, the communicable and the incommunicable, high and low, no longer seem contradictory" (Andre Breton, The Surrealist Manifesto, 1924)

Rene Francois Ghislain Magritte (1898-1967) was a Belgian surrealist artist. He became well known for a number of witty and thought-provoking images that fell under the umbrella of surrealism. His work challenges observers' preconditioned perceptions of reality. His Belgian brand of Surrealism deals in clear visions with unclear meanings. Unlike the fantastic dreamscapes of Paris Surrealists such as Salvador Dali, his settings are strangely normal, and his protagonists are bourgeois gentlemen in ties and bowler hats. Yet he specialized in permanent irresolution, in mysteries without a key.

He was born on the 21st November, 1898 in Belgium. His father was a tailor and a merchant. As his business did not go well the family had to move often. Rene lost his mother early and tragically, she committed suicide by drowning herself in the River when Rene was only 14 years old. This was not her first attempt; she had made many over a number of years, driving her husband Leopold to lock her into her bedroom. One day she escaped, and was missing for days. She was later discovered a mile or so down the nearby river, dead.

After studying in the Royal Academy of Arts in Brussels, he became a wallpaper designer and commercial artist. His early painting works were executed under the influence of the Cubism and Futurism, then he was inspired by the Purists and Fernand Leger. The acquaintance with Giorgio de Chirico and Dadaistic poetry constituted an important artistic turning-point for Magritte. In 1927-30 Magritte lived in France, where he participated in the activities of the Surrealists, establishing a close friendship in particular with Max Ernst, Dali, Andre Breton and especially with Paul Eluard. In Paris, Magritte's system of conceptual painting was formed, it remained almost unchanged until the end of his life. His painting manner, intentionally dry and academic, "polished in the technical sense" with precise and clean draughtsmanship demonstrated a paradoxical ability to depict trustworthy an unreal, unthinkable reality. He was fond of philosophy and literature. Many of his paintings reflect his impressions of literature works, illusions and philosophical metaphors. Magritte died of pancreatic cancer on August 15, 1967 in his own bed in Brussels at the age of 69, and was interred in Schaerbeek Cemetery, Evere, Brussels. Popular interest in Magritte's work rose considerably in the 1960s, and his imagery has influenced pop, minimalist and conceptual art.