Belgian Surrealist artist Ren Magritte

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Belgian Surrealist artist René Magritte was a master not only of the obvious, but of the obscure as well. In his artwork, Magritte toyed with everyday objects, human habits and emotions, placing them in foreign contexts and questioning their familiar meanings. He suggested new interpretations of old things in his deceivingly simple paintings, making the commonplace profound and the rational irrational. He painted his canvasses in the same manner as he lived his life -- in strange modesty and under constant analysis. Magritte was born in 1898 in the small town of Lessines, a cosmopolitan area of Belgium that was greatly influenced by the French. Twelve years later, Magritte, along with his parents and two younger brothers, moved to Châtelet, where the future artist studied sketching.

 On vacations with his grandmother and Aunt Flora during the summer months, Magritte frequented an old cemetery at Soignies. In this cemetery, Magritte often played with a little girl, opening trap doors and descending into underground vaults. This experience would prove a great influence upon his later artwork, as wooden caskets and granite tombstones recur in many of his paintings. Magritte also developed a fascination with religion around this time, often dressing up as a priest and holding mock mass services in complete seriousness. In 1912, Régina Bertinchamp, Magritte's mother, committed suicide by drowning herself in the Sambre River. The night of her suicide, the Magrittes followed Bertinchamp's footprints to the river, where they found her dead with her nightgown wrapped around her face. Magritte was 14 at the time. He would claim years later that his only recollection of his mother's death was his pride at being the center of attention and his subsequent identity formation as the "son of a dead woman." Some critics point out that several of the subjects in Magritte's paintings are veiled in white sheets as a reference to his mother's suicide.

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A year later, Magritte's father moved the family to Charleroi. It was in Charleroi that Magritte would meet his future wife Georgette Berger on a carousel at the town fair. However, the two would not see one another again until a chance meeting in Brussels years later. In Charleroi, Magritte quickly lost interest in his studies and asked his father for permission to study at the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Brussels. After receiving his father's permission, Magritte studied there from 1916 to 1918. While in Brussels, he met several other painters, poets and philosophers, collaborated on a short-lived ...

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