Magritte’s imagery has entered the popular imagination, not least through its extraordinary influence on commercial advertising and design.
This is perhaps unsurprising. Magritte is able to create memorable images which succinctly articulate an apparently simple idea - a monumentally sized apple in a room, for example, or night reconciled with day - which at the same time as being arresting hold the viewer captivated. Magritte’s mysterious imagery has been borrowed and adapted for a variety of uses, particularly for record covers - for example The Jeff Beck Group’s Beck-Ola (1969). His painting The Human Condition 1933 was paraphrased for the sleeve of Paul McCartneys’s bagpipe-laden folk anthem Mull of Kintyre (see below). Consider, too, Magritte’s influence on Storm Thorgerson (see the TateShots film), who designed album covers for Pink Floyd.
What is comparatively unknown is that Magritte himself moonlighted as a commercial artist. This activity spanned almost fifty years (1918–66) and encompassed advertising and wallpaper design, propaganda posters, fashion illustration. Examples of these are included in our exhibition at Tate Liverpool. Undertaking projects largely out of financial necessity, his relationship to commercial design was somewhat ambiguous, once describing it as ‘idiotic work’ while at the same time feeling confident enough to show it to André Breton, who reputedly liked it.
In 1930 financial considerations led Magritte to join forces with his brother Paul to establish ‘Studio Dongo’, a commercial design enterprise which operated out of a shed at the bottom of his garden in Rue Esseghem, Brussels. On display at Tate Liverpool is a poster created for the Comité de vigilance des intellectuels antifascists. It shows Léon Degrelle, leader of the Belgian fascist party, holding a mirror in which we see the face of Hitler.
Some of the most interesting of Magritte’s commercial designs are his fashion illustrations for Norine, a Brussels couture house established in 1916 by Paul-Gustave van Hecke and Honorine ‘Norine’ Deschryver. Stylistically these experiment with Cubo-Futurist and Art Deco approaches, suggesting the influence of Robert Delauney and reflecting the artistic and cultural dynamism of the Roaring Twenties. His designs for the furrier Samuel et Cie have a close affinity to some of his Surrealist painting of the period. Both deploy mannequin-like skittle forms of the female figures, their heads truncated, or replaced with featureless machine-turned orbs as seen on shop-window mannequins.
Can readers suggest other examples of Magritte’s influence on commercial design?