René Magritte: The real surrealist

Surrealism is an art form we both love and the Belgian René Magritte is one of our favourite artists. Yesterday we went to the Magritte Museum in Brussels, where he lived for most of his life. Salvador Dali described him as the first real surrealist, and he introduced many other styles of art and brought about a new way of experiencing art in his artworks. The Magritte Museum only opened in 2009 and since then has lured many art lovers to it. It shows about 200 original Magritte paintings as well as his quotes allowing you to truly appreciate him and understand how he saw life.

Black Magic (1945) by Magritte
Black Magic (1945) by Magritte

Magritte first recalls his passion starting when he saw a painter painting in a cemetery as a child. From that moment on he started drawing and painting. He later went to study in Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts in Brussels where he studied for two years until he left feeling he was heading in a different direction.

Golconda (1953) by Magritte
Golconda (1953) by Magritte

He started off experimenting with abstract painting styles like cubo-futurism, where he learned to paint everyday objects. You can still see this influence in his later career through artworks featuring everyday objects like a bowler hat or a pipe. He quickly realised he wasn’t interested in painting the real world, but wanted to paint a surreal world. In his own words he said, “The Surreal is but reality that has not been disconnected from its mystery.”

The Son of Man (1946) by Magritte who said, “Everything we see hides another thing, we always want to see what is hidden by what we see. There is an interest in that which is hidden and which the visible does not show us. This interest can take the form of a quite intense feeling, a sort of conflict, one might say, between the visible that is hidden and the visible that is present.”

Over the years he tried his hand at impressionism much to the criticism of his peers and admirers. He got disconnected with the french surrealists and distanced himself from them by creating his ‘Vache’ style which drew on comic characteristics with bold colour. Although eventually going back to surrealism, he kept the colourful elements of impressionism in his artworks.

The Ellipse (1948) by Magritte painted during his Vache period.
The Ellipse (1948) by Magritte painted during his Vache period.
The interpretation of dreams (1927) by Magritte shows his exploration between words and objects. Only the last is the same word as the image.
The interpretation of dreams (1927) by Magritte shows his exploration between words and objects. Only the last is the same word as the image.

Known for his words as well as his art, he combined the two with drawing an object and labelling it with a word relating to something else. He was always searching for a way to change peoples concepts into what they saw while maintaining that you shouldn’t analyse his works, “My painting is 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.”

The Treachery of Images (1929) by Magritte who said, “The famous pipe. How people reproached me for it! And yet, could you stuff my pipe? No, it’s just a representation, is it not? So if I had written on my picture “This is a pipe”, I’d have been lying!”

Exploring his mind into the idea of transformation or metamorphosis he said, “I have found a new potential inherent in things — their ability to gradually become something else. This seems to me to be something quite different from a composite object, since there is no break between the two substances.” This was apparent in many of his artworks, where a leaf could form a bird or a mermaid was painted with the opposite parts with human legs and a fish head. This and his obsession with portraying both day and night in the same image in impossible circumstances is also another example of his ability to create mystery.

The collective Invention (1934) by Magritte
The collective Invention (1934) by Magritte
Empire of Light (1950) by Magritte showing his exploration of day and night.
Empire of Light (1950) by Magritte showing his exploration of day and night.

The Magritte Museum takes you on a surreal journey from his early years as a child and his years in advertising, through the evolution of his artworks, to his successful years leading to his death. In true surreal style, you start on the top floor and work your way down. All along the exhibit you find his quotes engraved in the walls around his artworks and memorabilia. The audio guide at only €4 is a steal along with the €8 entry fee and gives you a deeper insight into the multi-facetted mind and life of René Magritte. Although you cannot take photos inside the museum, the toilets seem to be a popular place to take a unique selfie in a Magritte shaped mirror. Situated next to the Royal Museum of Fine Arts, you can get a discount if you go to see both. This area is very picturesque and only a five minute walk from Central Station.

A tapestry of Magritte artworks greet you as you enter the museum.
A tapestry of Magritte artworks greet you as you enter the museum.
Toilets... often a surreal experience!
Toilets… often a surreal experience!

We decided to take a short walk to a famous brown café (traditional Belgian pub) called, ‘La Fleur en Papier Doré’ (French) or ‘Goudblommeke in Papier’ (Dutch) which is iconic in relation to Magritte. As his favourite watering hole, Magritte and his surrealist friends would frequent here and sometimes offer little drawings or writings on the wall as payment for drinks. Other famous Belgians like poet Hugo Claus also didn’t mind hanging out here and neither did we. Now a heritage listed building, you can still see the artworks and words in amongst the typical brown café interior. As well as having great drink choices, the traditional Belgian food is delicious and we recommend the Stoofvlees (Traditional beef and beer stew). Check out their website for more information on the café or upcoming events here.

'The Belgian Surrealists' in front of the café in March 1953. From left to right: Marcel Mariën, Camille Goemans, Gérard Van Bruaene, Irène Hamoir,  Georgette Magritte, E.L.T. Mesens, Louis Scutenaire, René Magritte and Paul Colinet.
‘The Belgian Surrealists’ in front of the café in March 1953. From left to right: Marcel Mariën, Camille Goemans, Gérard Van Bruaene, Irène Hamoir, Georgette Magritte, E.L.T. Mesens, Louis Scutenaire, René Magritte and Paul Colinet.
Inside the beautiful brown café, it has a great atmosphere.
Inside the beautiful brown café, it has a great atmosphere.
Multiple drawings by Magritte for the Brown Café proudly displayed on the wall.
Multiple drawings by Magritte for the Brown Café proudly displayed on the wall.

René Magritte, although finding fame in his later years, maintained a typical Belgian lifestyle. Taking on all forms like painting, drawing, sculpting, film and poetry, he grew more and more popular since his death and he is still a viral sensation. His artworks speak to us all with interpretation being left to the eye of the beholder. Both the museum and the café helped us to get a deeper appreciation and understanding of Magritte and confirmed his place as one of our favourite artists.

To see all paintings by René Magritte in chronological order, click here.

To find out more about our Belgian experiences, click here.

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