René Magritte, a Brussels icon who captivates the world

René Magritte was born in the province of Hainaut, but Brussels is where he blossomed, found his artistic path, made friends and fell in love and felt at home. In Brussels Magritte became an icon of surrealism, an artist who captivated people and was talked about far beyond Belgium and Europe alone.

  • Brussels, a hotbed of surrealism

  • Born in 1898, René Magritte’s talent was clear very early on: in 1910 he had his first art lessons. But the real development of his talent came later, in 1916, when he went to study at Brussels’ Royal Academy of Fine Arts. There he benefitted not only from his studies, but also from whole host of people, ideas and influences that he encountered in the capital. He absorbed the art movements of the time (impressionism, symbolism, futurism, dadaïsm,...) and they paved the way for surrealism, of which he went on to become one of the figureheads.

  • Living and wandering in Brussels

  • Magritte built a life for himself in Brussels. He married Georgette Berger, his childhood sweetheart from Charleroi and lived in ten different places in the capital. Apart from a brief period spent in Paris – where he met even more great artists of the day – Brussels remained a constant in his life. His house in Jette was his nest and artistic headquarters, which is why it – now the René Magritte museum – continues to attract so many visitors years after his death. Although he had signed a somewhat lucrative contract with the owner of the “Le Centaur” gallery aged only 27, painting was not immediately profitable. To earn a living Magritte worked as an artist in a wallpaper factory and designed posters for advertising campaigns… “stupid work”, in his own words. Only later in life could he live off his artistic career. He passed away on 15 August 1967 in Schaerbeek, where he – and later his wife Georgette – where laid to rest.

  • Two Magritte museums in Brussels

  • You could describe Magritte’s work as poetry in painted form. "For me the development of a piece is about how I can make one or more elements visible through my painting." Magritte would begin with an idea in text form, before putting it onto canvas. But Magritte was more than just painter, he was also a drawer, engraver, sculptor, author and photographer, filmmaker, poster designer, etc. The second Brussels museum to bear the famous surrealist’s name - het Magritte Museum on Place Royale – showcases this versatility through its vast – the largest in the world – and varied collection of the artist’s work.

  • The museum in our heads

  • The pipe from The Treachery of Images, the man in the bowler hat from Golconda, the apple from The Son of Man, the bird from The Sky Bird, which was once the logo of Belgium’s old national airline: Magritte has given us a great many iconic images that are engrained in our collective memory. Maybe this collective memory counts as a third museum, one in our heads this time.