Who Are They?

Who is René Magritte?

Faces made of sky? Men falling like raindrops? Enter the dream world that is Magritte's artwork

René Magritte, ‘The Future of Statues’ 1937
René Magritte
The Future of Statues 1937
Tate
© ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2019

Magritte studied at art school in Brussels, Belgium and took various jobs to earn money, including designing wallpaper and fashion adverts.

The sorts of things Magritte painted included:

  • Familiar objects – such as pipes, apples, eggs, birds, clocks or candles
  • Men in suits and bowler hats
  • Blue skies with clouds and views of the sea
  • Windows and doors, picture frames and mirrors
  • Pictures of artists, easels or paints

So his artwork doesn't sound too strange...but where were these objects placed in his artwork? That's when it all gets a bit interesting!

normal objects in weird places

Rather like the adverts we see on TV, Magritte’s bold paintings grabbed peoples attention and stopped them in their tracks. In his work, everyday things such as apples, wine glasses or a man in a bowler hat are placed in strange settings. They are painted in a very realistic way, which makes the scenes seem even more peculiar.

have a go

Pick an everyday item in your room and place it in an unusual setting. For example, a rubber duck from your bathroom in a tree in your garden. Imagine walking past a tree on your walk home from school and seeing a rubber duck in it- how odd would that be!

René Magritte, ‘Man with a Newspaper’ 1928
René Magritte
Man with a Newspaper 1928
Tate
© ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2019

Look at the series of four scenes that make up the image above. Except from the first scene, the other three are seemingly identical. We start wondering what the point of the man in the first scene is- why is he there? What might have happened to him in the other three scenes?

surrealism and dreamy dreams

Magritte was a member of a group of artists and poets called the surrealists. The surrealists celebrated the power of the imagination. They wanted to make their art from the ‘unconscious’ – the thoughts or feelings they believed were buried deep in the brain. These were often dreams!

René Magritte, ‘The Reckless Sleeper’ 1928
René Magritte
The Reckless Sleeper 1928
Tate
© ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2019

The surrealists were very interested in dreams, because when you dream you cannot control what happens. Images from a long time ago can suddenly come to the surface of your mind. Everything is jumbled up, leading to new and unexpected ideas!

Take a look at the picture above by Magritte. A figure covered in a red-brown cloak lies with his eyes closed, in what looks like a wooden box. Could he be asleep and dreaming? Below him we can see a group of different objects that are pressed into a grey shape, which looks a little like a tombstone.

two surrealist games for you to try

1) Stare at an object in your room for as long as you can. Focus on it carefully. What thoughts come to you? Write down whatever springs to mind.

2)Draw a friend’s portrait, but do it with your eyes closed. Don’t look at the paper until you’re finished!

Fancy more art facts and activities like this? Check out Modern Art Journal by Mary Richards.

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