Magritte’s impact on 20th century art was undeniably significant, both during his lifetime and beyond. He was popular in surrealist art circles, and peers and with the gatekeeper to the surrealist group – the writer André Breton – who admitted Magritte into the surrealist circle. However, as Magritte continued to develop professionally, he and several other Belgian contemporaries branched out to create “surrealism in full sunlight” in 1946, a reaction to the depressing pessimism with which Magritte viewed post-WWII Belgium and the broader aspects of surrealism. A counter-approach to the darkness and darkly abstract nature of traditional surrealism (which had roots in Dadaism), Magritte’s approach tended towards lighter, brighter palettes and a gentler tone.
Magritte’s distinctive development of his “surrealism in full sunlight”, often saw everyday and commonplace objects placed in unexpected settings, setting up philosophical conundrums, paradoxes and propositions of wonderment. This artistic approach, which transforms the banality of everyday and celebrates the mystery of the ordinary with a critique of consumerism, proved to be of particular interest to the pop artists, with the likes of Andy Warhol and John Baldessari said to have been inspired by Magritte’s clear, symbolic and allegorical style. His approach would also foreshadow later movements such as minimalism and conceptual art.
One of Magritte’s most recognisable works and celebrated pieces was a 1951 project, which saw him paint the walls of a Belgium casino, leading to other commissions throughout the country. By the mid-1960s, he had also had further exhibitions in New York, including at the Museum of Modern Art. Despite a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer in 1963, Magritte continued painting and travelling for his work up until his death in 1967.
Today, his work remains as significant as ever, with people continually returning to explore how he represented and re-represented 20th century visual culture. The legacy he left behind inspired a generation of artists to come and his surreal yet distinctive approach remains hugely popular for those seeking to map the evolution of contemporary art that revises the banality of the everyday. “Art evokes the mystery without which the world would not exist”, he is quoted – and that sums up Magritte’s approach to art quite nicely.
Things to ponder about Magritte as you’re exploring “The Revealing Image” at the new ArtisTree:
- What evidence can be seen in his work that suggests he influenced later movements?
- What do you think Magritte’s subject matter and style say about his influences? Is there a common theme across the collection?
The new ArtisTree and Ludion, in collaboration with The Magritte Foundation Belgium, presents René Magritte: The Revealing Image – Photos and Films.
19 January – 19 February 2018
See the programme page for more details.
Follow @artistreehk on Instagram for all the #Magritte_Artistree action
Credit: René Magritte and The Barbarian (Le Barbare), London Gallery, London, 1938
Private collection, Courtesy Brachot Gallery, Brussels