René Magritte

Professional forger of both Picassos and bank notes
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Saher Sohail

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Francisco Serrador

Contributor

There’s a lot to thank Belgium for: waffles, chocolate, Brussel sprouts, Audrey Hepburn. You can add René Magritte to the list, too.

He's one of Belgium’s best homegrown brands. Most non-artsy laymen will know his iconic paintings even if they don’t know who he is. It’s Magritte we have to thank every time we see a plaid-clad hipster walking down the street with a “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” (or some satirical appropriation) emblazoned upon a t-shirt...or worse, their arm

While pop culture continually regurgitates Magritte’s artwork into things that can be worn, hung up, advertised or meme’d, it kinda helps to know where Magritte was coming from. This guy got a lot of chuckles and appreciative nods for his witty work, but he didn’t have many lol-worthy moments in his life. When Magritte was 13 his mother, after many unsuccessful attempts, finally succeeded in killing herself by drowning in a river. Some say Magritte saw her when she was pulled out of the river, with her skirt obscuring her face. This morbid sight may have stuck in René’s head and later on inspired images like The Lovers.

Magritte tried his hand at a bunch of trades while growing up, from army life to working in a wallpaper factory to designing posters and ads. He managed to make art his official profession when a local gallery signed a contract with him. But the deal didn’t mean overnight success for this busy Belgian, whose first show at the gallery was hated on hard by critics. Lucky for Magritte though, some Surrealists took him under their wing and he totally thrived with his new set of friends. But when WWII hit Belgium, Magritte had some not-so-proud moments as an artist, resorting to forging Picassos for the sake of sustenance. Rumor has it he even manufactured fake bank notes. In spite of all this, Magritte still managed to make a name for himself in the art world.

Unfortunately, his love life didn’t go as swimmingly. Magritte cheated on his childhood sweetheart turned wife turned muse and model, Georgette Berger. He fell for an artist named Sheila Legg and while he was fooling around with her, Magritte asked a buddy named Paul Colinet to keep Georgette company. Colinet might’ve worked too hard to fulfill this task, because pretty soon he was workin’ Georgette. Forgive my French, but ceci n’est pan une ideal relationship, no? 

 

In 2009, two robbers stole one of Magritte's paintings at gunpoint from the Magritte Museum in Brussels. They later returned the painting because it was too famous and no one wanted to risk buying it from them.

His works have inspired many other artists including: Paul Simon's song "Rene and Georgette Magritte with Their Dog after the War" on the 1983 album Hearts and Bones, cover of the album "The Grand Illusion" by Styx, The Thomas Crown Affair (1999) heavily references “Son of Man”

René Magritte is mentioned on Sartle Blog -