Rene Magritte is one of the most renowned and influential members of the Surrealist movement. Born in Lessines, Belgium in 1898, the young Magritte attended the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Brussels. After finishing school, he worked in a wallpaper factory in Brussels while pursuing painting. He briefly explored the Cubist and Futurist schools of art before becoming attracted to the work and ideas of the Surrealists.
In the 1920s, Magritte joined a group of young artists in Brussels who were interested in Dada and Surrealism. This collective wanted their art to portray an irrational world: the world of dreams or the subconscious. They were interested in displaying the fantastic. In 1926, Magritte became an official member of the Surrealist movement. A year later he left for Paris, where he would spend three years with this city's Surrealist group. These years would prove to be the most important to the development of the artist's style.
Magritte's work is minutely realistic, his images are quasi-photographic. His technique creates a contrast between the extreme reality with which the images are portrayed and the completely unreal, dreamlike subject matter. This blurring of the lines between rationality and irrationality was meant to appeal to the human unconscious. Magritte also commonly used the 'picture within a picture' technique, indicating the ambivalent relationship between image and reality. Although he often chose to paint residential interiors or street scenes, he created the fantastic from the ordinary by juxtaposing images and even scrambling night and day. Critics often use the term 'Magic Realism' to describe this style.
Another important and distinct element of Magritte's style is his breaking down of normal associations between objects or images and their names. By presenting one image and labelling it with a totally disassociated word, he evokes the Surrealist reality and questions the construction of identity. His painting, Wind and the Song, in which a simple and highly realistic picture of a pipe is labelled 'This is not a Pipe' is a perfect example of this technique. The viewer is seeing not a pipe, but a representation of this object.
In 1930, the artist returned to Brussels, where he would remain. Despite a brief Impressionistic period in the 1940s, Magritte continued to work as a Surrealist throughout his life. He died in 1967.
Among the Surrealists, Magritte has had the greatest influence on contemporary art. His work asks questions about the relationship between reality and fantasy which resonate in the world of modern art.