Rene Magritte Most Famous Paintings
René Magritte: Iconic Belgian Surrealist Painter
Who is Rene Magritte?
Rene Magritte was a Belgian Surrealist painter best known for creating witty and thought-provoking images. He would often use simple imagery to paint ordinary objects in unusual contexts.
The goal of his work was to give new meaning to familiar things. A bowler hat, a pipe, the clouds, a green apple – these became iconic of the artist’s distinctive style. Rene Magritte played with the perception that the painting of an object could never be the object itself. In one of his most famous works, “The Treachery of Images,” Magritte painted a pipe with a caption below it that said: “this is not a pipe.”
His explanation was simple – that the painting was indeed not a pipe, but the image of a pipe. Rene Magritte was born in 1898 to a working-class family; his father was a tailor and textile merchant. His mother was a troubled woman who often attempted to kill herself. She took her own life in 1912 by drowning in the River Sambre.
When her body was found, her face was covered by part of her dress – an event that inspired several of Magritte’s later paintings that showed people with their faces concealed with a cloth. In 1916, Rene Magritte studied at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Brussels but left school a few years later because he found the classes boring and unsuited to his taste.
He served in the Belgian infantry and later worked at a wallpaper company, painting cabbage roses on wallpaper. It was only in 1926 that his financial situation improved and allowed him to work full time. In the same year, he finished his first surrealist painting “The Lost Jockey” and held his first solo exhibit in Brussels.
He went on to become one of the most iconic and internationally-acclaimed surrealist artists of all time. In 1920, Rene Magritte married his childhood friend, model, and muse Georgette Berger.
Magritte died of pancreatic cancer in 1967 at the age of 68. His strange and extraordinary paintings continue to inspire many modern artists, including Andy Warhol and Jasper Johns.
“To make the most ordinary objects shriek aloud” – this is how Rene Magritte described his body of work.
Here are 20 of Rene Magritte’s most famous paintings:
- The Lovers by René Magritte
- The Son of Man by René Magritte
- The Treachery of Images by René Magritte
- Golconda by René Magritte
- The False Mirror by René Magritte
- Not to Be Reproduced by René Magritte
- The Human Condition by René Magritte
- Personal values by René Magritte
- Time Transfixed by René Magritte
- The Castle of the Pyrenees by René Magritte
- Man in a Bowler Hat by René Magritte
- The Therapist by René Magritte
- Clairvoyance (Self Portrait) by René Magritte
- The Portrait (Magritte) by René Magritte
- The Listening Room by René Magritte
- The Menaced Assassin by René Magritte
- The Mysteries of the Horizon by René Magritte
- 16th September by René Magritte
- The Invention of Life by René Magritte
- Attempting the Impossible by René Magritte
René Magritte Artworks
The Lovers by René Magritte
Finished by Rene Magritte in 1928, The Lovers is an oil on canvass painting showing a close-up of two individuals kissing. They appear to be in a room with blue and red walls and a white ceiling. The male figure wears a black suit while the woman is dressed in a red dress.
The most unsettling part of the painting is that both figures have their faces covered with a white cloth or veil. The white cloth acts as a barrier between the lovers, preventing them from truly being intimate. Enshrouded figures – people with their faces covered in cloth - was a common theme in many of Magritte’s artwork.
Some believe this can be traced back to his mother’s suicide by drowning because when her body was found, her face was concealed partly by her dress. Others believe that it was merely an influence of the times, as most Surrealist painters used a draped veil to conceal identities and what lies beneath.
The Son of Man by René Magritte
The Son of Man is Rene Magritte’s most famous artwork. He painted it in 1946 as a self-portrait. It depicts a man wearing a black overcoat and matching bowler hat. He is standing in front of a low brick wall with the sea and sky behind him.
His face is partially covered by a floating green apple with his eyes peeking out from behind it. Both the bowler hat and green apple are recurring themes in many of Magritte’s work. Some critics believe that The Son of Man hides a religious significance, believing it to be the artist’s interpretation of Jesus Christ’s transfiguration.
But Rene Magritte only explains the painting as such: “Everything we see hides another thing; we always want to see what is hidden by what we see.” In 1970, the famous American painter Normal Rockwell paid homage to Magritte’s The Son of Man through his oil painting entitled Mr Apple.
The painting shows a man with an apple’s head, as opposed to Magritte’s original version where the man's face is merely covered by the apple.
The Treachery of Images by René Magritte
Rene Magritte was 30 years old when he painted The Treachery of Images in 1929. The painting shows a pipe against a lighter background with the caption “ceci n’est pas une pipe” (This is not a pipe).
The painting is an example of a meta-message; a concept similar to Polish scholar Alfred Korzybski’s theory that “the word is not the thing.” In The Treachery of Images, Rene Magritte played with the perception that the painting of an object could never be the object itself.
His explanation was simple – that the painting was indeed not a pipe, but the image of a pipe. When asked about the painting, Magritte replied that it could not be a pipe if you couldn’t even fill it with tobacco. The Treachery of Images currently on display at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in Los Angeles, California.
Golconda by René Magritte
Golconda is an oil on canvass painting finished by Rene Magritte in 1953. It shows several identical men dressed in black overcoats and bowler hats who appear to be either floating in the air or falling like raindrops.
Some of the men are faced towards the viewer while the others are turned away. In the background, we see several houses with red roofs against a blue cloudy sky. The name of the painting “Golconda” was given by Rene Magritte’s friend Louse Scutenaire, a Belgian poet.
Golconda was the name of a once-wealthy city in India which was the center of the country’s diamond industry. In the dictionary, the word “Golconda” is synonymous with “mine of wealth.” Golconda is currently housed at the Menil Collection in Houston, Texas.
The False Mirror by René Magritte
The False Mirror was painted by Rene Magritte in Paris in 1928, between World War I and World War II. The painting depicts a giant eye looking out towards the viewer. The pupil is black but the rest of the eye is made up of a blue sky with fluffy floating white clouds.
This allegorical painting was a style of art that came to be known as “Magic Realism.” Aside from Rene Magritte, other Surrealist painters of the time used eyes as a major theme in their artwork. Artists like Man Ray, Salvador Dali, and Max Ernst used a similar art style. The False Mirror is currently on display at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
Not to Be Reproduced by René Magritte
Not To Be Reproduced was painted by Rene Magritte in 1937. The work shows a man in a black suit standing in front of a mirror with his back towards the viewer. In a table in front of him, there is a copy of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket” which is also reflected in the mirror.
What is strange about the painting is that since the man is looking at the mirror, we expect to see the man’s face reflected back. But instead, what we see is the man’s back twice. The painting was commissioned by the eccentric wealthy Englishman Edward James. James was a good friend of Magritte and acted as a benefactor for both Magritte and another famous artist Salvador Dali. It was one of three of Magritte’s works that were to be placed in James’ home in London.
The other two are: The Red Model and Time Transfixed. The painting was intended to be a portrait of James, although his face is not shown. At present, Not To Be Reproduced can be found in the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam, Netherlands.
The Human Condition by René Magritte
The Human Condition is an oil on canvass painting done by Rene Magritte in 1933. He produced another painting of the same name and with a similar them in 1953. The painting depicts an artist’s easel in front of a window with brown curtains.
On the easel, we see an unframed canvass showing a landscape view similar to the view outside the window: trees and grass amidst a cloudy blue sky. At first glance, it seems that the painting and the outside views are the same or at least a continuation of the other. It is an optical illusion: it seems that the view is both inside and outside of the window.
The painting utilizes one of Magritte’s most common artistic devices: the use of objects to hide what lies behind them, similar to the style used in his other painting The Son of Man. The Human Condition is currently part of the collection in the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC.
Personal values by René Magritte
Personal Values is a painting completed by Rene Magritte in 1952. The painting depicts a bedroom that is filled with everyday objects: a matchstick, a bar of soap, a comb, a wineglass, and a makeup brush. These objects are given human proportions so that the room seems disoriented yet occupied.
For instance, the comb is leaning on the bed in the same way that an ordinary person would. The wallpaper of the bedroom shows a blue sky with clouds, giving a sense of calmness and serenity.
Like most of his other works, Magritte’s goal is to challenge the viewer’s perspective of reality. Altering the scale of ordinary objects is a method based on famous surrealist Paul Nouge’s “Theory of Disturbing Objects.”
Time Transfixed by René Magritte
Time Transfixed is an oil on canvass painting completed by Rene Magritte in 1938. The painting depicts an old fashioned train (4-6-0 locomotive) coming out of a fireplace. It appears to be floating in the air as it rides on in full steam. Above the fireplace is a large antique mirror.
On top of the fireplace, there are two candlesticks and a small clock that are both reflected in the mirror. The painting was commissioned by the eccentric wealthy Englishman Edward James. James was a good friend of Magritte and acted as a benefactor for both Magritte and another famous artist Salvador Dali.
It was one of three of Magritte’s works that were to be placed in James’ home in London. The other two are: The Red Model and Not To Be Reproduced. Magritte hoped that James would place the painting on the staircase, but he installed it instead over his fireplace in the ballroom.
The Castle of the Pyrenees by René Magritte
The Castle of the Pyrenees was a 1959 oil on canvass painting done by Rene Magritte. In the artwork, Magritte has painted a regal stone castle on top of a large rock. The castle and the rock on which it stands appear to be magically floating on air. We see the contrast of colors as the painting shows a clear blue sky with an angry, black sea in the bottom.
The painting was commissioned by one of Magritte’s closest friends – international lawyer, poet and author Harry Torczyner. While Magritte ultimately had the freedom of choosing what to paint, Torczyner chose the particular scene of a castle on top of a rock and suggested a raging sea below it. The exchange between Magritte and Torczyner are well documented in their letters that were preserved and published by the Israel Museum in 1991.
Man in a Bowler Hat by René Magritte
Man in a Bowler Hat was created in 1964 by Rene Magritte and featured two of his most favorite and commonly used subjects – a dark overcoat and a bowler hat. The painting is one of many self-portraits of the artist wherein he wears his signature bowler hat.
It shares many similar elements with his other painting The Son of Man. In this painting, the artist’s face is completely concealed by a flying white dove. Interestingly, the viewer does not see the man’s eyes but can see the dove’s left eye. The bird is shown flying towards the left. The paining shows a beautiful contrast of light and dark, as the man’s face is partially covered on the right by shadow.
The Therapist by René Magritte
The Therapist is a painting by Rene Magritte in 1937. In the painting, the viewer sees a man sitting on the shore, the blue sky and calm sea behind him. He has no face or head but wears a wide-brimmed brown hat. He holds a cane on his right hand and a burlap sack on his left.
He wears a red cloak that is spread open. But instead of seeing his stomach or torso, there is in its place a steel cage with two white pigeons; one on the inside and the other outside. Like many of Magritte’s works, The Therapist was highly influenced by the work of Austrian neurologist Sigmund Freud.
Clairvoyance (Self Portrait) by René Magritte
Clairvoyance was one of many self-portraits of Rene Magritte and was completed in 1936. Unlike most of Magritte’s self-portraits where his face is completely obscured by an apple or a dove, Clairvoyance shows the side of his face. Here, he is shown painting a blackbird with its wings spread out.
His face is turned left toward a table with an unhatched egg on top. The title “Clairvoyance” is used to describe Magritte in the painting: he uses the unhatched egg as a reference point for painting a fully grown bird. This particular work resonates with Magritte’s ability to convey the future through his art.
The Portrait (Magritte) by René Magritte
The Portrait (Magritte) is an oil on canvass painting by Rene Magritte completed in 1935. In the painting, Magritte depicts a fully laid out meal: a wine glass with a bottle of wine, and a plate with matching fork and knife.
On the plate is a slice of ham. We then get a hint of Magic Realism as Magritte has added a single eye on the ham – wide open and looking out towards the viewer. The unsettling nature of the painting was said to cause paranoia in those who looked at it for more than five minutes.
It was part of the private painting of another surrealist painter Kay Sage. She later donated it to the Museum of Modern Art in New York City where it can still be found until today.
The Listening Room by René Magritte
The Listening Room was painted by Rene Magritte in 1952. The painting features one of Magritte’s most common and recognizable motifs – the green apple. Here, we see a plain room with wooden floors and a glass window.
In the middle is a green apple is shown in abnormally large proportion, taking up all the space in the entire room. Like in many of his paintings, Rene Magritte would often use simple imagery to paint ordinary objects in unusual contexts. The Listening Room is currently part of the Menil Collection in Houston, Texas.
The Menaced Assassin by René Magritte
The Menaced Assassin is one of Rene Magritte’s most unsettling and strange paintings and was finished in 1927. In the painting, the viewer sees a naked woman lying on the couch; she is presumably dead as we see blood on her neck.
In the same room, we see a man in a suit who is believed to be the titular assassin. He has left his overcoat on a chair and an attaché case on the floor. He appears to be listening to music on a gold gramophone. In the foreground outside the room, two men are positioned with a club and a net who appear to be waiting for the assassin to come out.
The Mysteries of the Horizon by René Magritte
The Mysteries of the Horizon is a painting by Rene Magritte in 1955. The painting shows three identical men wearing matching dark overcoats and bowler hats. Above each of them is a crescent moon.
Two of the men are turned away from the viewer, seemingly looking away towards the horizon behind them. The man on the far right has part of his face shown to the viewer as he turns toward the right.
Like Magritte’s other painting Golconda, this one also features identical men in overcoats and bowler hats – a common motif in many of his artworks. In 1964, Magritte made another painting with a similar subject matter and the same title.
16th September by René Magritte
16th September was painted by Rene Magritte in 1956. Here, Magritte has painted a huge tree full of leaves. It appears to be nighttime as the background shows a clear night sky. The Surrealist touch comes in the form of a bright crescent moon in front of the tree, instead of above it.
The title was given by Magritte’s friend, Surrealist poet Louis Scutenaire. Referring to the painting, Magritte said: “Growing from the earth to the sun, a tree is an image of certain happiness. To perceive this image we must be immobile like the tree.”
The Invention of Life by René Magritte
The Invention of Life is one of Rene Magritte’s earliest works, completed in 1928. The painting shows two figures beside each other in front of a dark, somber background with trees.
The one on the right is covered in covered entirely in a grey veil that it is impossible to tell whether it is a man or a woman. The figure on the right is a woman with black hair wearing a dark dress who stares eerily towards the viewer.
Art critics have interpreted the painting as a representation of life and death. Some believe that the woman is a portrait of Magritte’s mother who committed suicide by drowning when Magritte was a young boy.
Attempting the Impossible by René Magritte
Attempting the Impossible is one of Magritte’s self-portraits and was done in 1928. Here, Magritte is shown painting a naked woman out of thin air, seemingly bringing her to life.
The naked woman in the painting is believed to be Magritte’s wife, Georgette Berger, who was his childhood friend and muse.
Rene Magritte Paintings - Art Slideshow
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