Our René Magritte exhibition is now open. In previous posts you have seen how we have built the exhibition space, received artwork into the gallery and the ‘behind the scenes’ of a press view.
My posts are going to examine the artist in more depth - this post is about René Magritte and how he came to be known in the United Kingdom. E.L.T. Mesens played a vital role in bringing Magritte and his work to audiences on these shores. Magritte first met Mesens on the occasion of his first exhibition in Brussels in 1920. He ensured that the artist was well represented in the first major international Surrealist exhibition in the United Kingdom, staged in London during the summer of 1936. It was through Mesens that Magritte met the English aristocrat and Surrealist patron Edward James. Time Transfixed, currently on display at Tate Liverpool, was composed with James in mind and shows the fireplace of the patron’s London home (see below).
In early 1938 Mesens relocated from Brussels to London. In partnership with Roland Penrose, he took over the running of the London Gallery. Its inaugural exhibition was devoted to Magritte - some forty-six works, most from Mesens’ own collection.The private view began at midnight on 31 March and was opened with a long announcement by the artist Julian Trevelyan. Bearing a placard on which was inscribed ‘Totally Blind’, Trevelyan wore a sun-helmet, red gloves and enormous mirror-lens glasses. ‘I am an explorer,’ he declared, ‘Passing through Belgium, I heard voices. Loudest of all, the paintings of Magritte - the paintings that are now here.’
This shows Magritte in a publicity photograph taken at the time. He adopts the pose of Fantômas, the masked anti-hero famous from silent movies and pulp novels. His visage can be seen in the painting The Barbarian, which was destroyed along with other works during the London Blitz in autumn 1940.
Under Mesens, the London Gallery became the headquarters of Surrealism in England. The Liverpool-born jazz musician, critic and bon vivant George Melly also worked at the gallery after the Second World War. His interest in Surrealism led him to collect works by Magritte.
Finally, I wanted to show you some extraordinary installation images of Magritte’s exhibition in 1969, which occupied the Duveen Galleries at the Tate Gallery in London. Curated by David Sylvester, this was the first major museum exhibition after the artist’s death in 1967. The painting above is included in our current exhibition at Tate Liverpool.