René François Ghislain Magritte (21 November 1898 – 15 August 1967) was a Belgian surrealist artist. He became well known for a number of witty and thought-provoking images that fall under the umbrella of surrealism. His work challenges observers’ preconditioned perceptions of reality.
René Magritte was born in 1898, in the province of Hainaut, Lessines. He was the eldest son of Léopold Magritte, a tailor and textile merchant, and Régina (née Bertinchamps), who was a milliner before she got married. Little is known about Magritte’s early life. He began lessons in drawing in 1910. On 12 March 1912, his mother committed suicide by drowning herself in the River Sambre. This was not her first attempt at taking her own life; she had made many over a number of years, driving her husband Léopold to lock her into her bedroom. One day she escaped, and was missing for days. Her body was later discovered a mile or so down the nearby river. According to a legend, 13-year-old Magritte was present when her body was retrieved from the water, but recent research has discredited this story, which may have originated with the family nurse. Supposedly, when his mother was found, her dress was covering her face, an image that has been suggested as the source of several of Magritte’s paintings in 1927–1928 of people with cloth obscuring their faces, including Les Amants.
Magritte’s earliest paintings, which date from about 1915, were Impressionistic in style. From 1916 to 1918, he studied at the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts in Brussels, under Constant Montald, but found the instruction uninspiring. The paintings he produced during the years 1918–1924 were influenced by Futurism and by the figurative Cubism of Metzinger. Most of his works of this period are female nudes.
In 1922, Magritte married Georgette Berger, whom he had met as a child in 1913. From December 1920 until September 1921, Magritte served in the Belgian infantry in the Flemish town of Beverlo near Leopoldsburg. In 1922–23, he worked as a draughtsman in a wallpaper factory, and was a poster and advertisement designer until 1926, when a contract with Galerie ‘Le Centaure’ in Brussels made it possible for him to paint full-time. In 1926, Magritte produced his first surreal painting, The Lost Jockey (Le jockey perdu), and held his first exhibition in Brussels in 1927. Critics heaped abuse on the exhibition. Depressed by the failure, he moved to Paris where he became friends with André Breton, and became involved in the surrealist group. The illusionistic, dream-like quality is characteristic of Magritte’s version of Surrealism. He became a leading member of the movement after leaving his native Belgium in 1927 for Paris, where he stayed for three years.