Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Exhibition review: Magritte at the Magritte Museum

As part of Saturday's day trip to Brussels (courtesy of Eurostar), I visited the Magritte Museum. This is a new museum which opened in June of this year and is the dedicated centre for the art of Belgium's famous surrealist artist, René Magritte (1898 - 1967).

The entrance to the Magritte Museum
in the Place Royale Brussels
all photos Katherine Tyrrell

If you're wondering which artist I'm talking about a quick look at the images behind this link will remind you about Magritte's work.
It's taken Belgium some 40 years to wake up the fact that one of its greatest artists might be something of a tourist attraction (along with Tin Tin who has also been awarded a new museum to the south of Brussels). I've visited Brussels twice before and never remember seeing anything about Magritte on previous visits.
Les Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, in collaboration with Groupe Suez and the Fondation Magritte, have been working to establish the world's largest museum devoted to the artist in Brussels, capital of Europe and the city in which Magritte developed his art.
Foundation Magritte
The new museum provides three floors as home to a chronological account of the development of his work.
  • The top floor deals with 1898 - 1929 and his earliest works, his work as a graphic designer and his discovery of Chirico. As we got to the end of the trail it was interesting to see how his approaches to creating art - eg. the cut out - remained constant through out his career.
artists who acknowledged De Chirico's influence include Max Ernst, Salvador Dalí, Giorgio Morandi, Carlo Carrà, René Magritte, and Philip Guston. De Chirico strongly influenced the Surrealist movement.
wikipedia - Giorgio de Chirico
  • the second floor deals with 1930-1050 and the impact of the depression and war on his work - including his brief flirtation with "full sunlight" surrealism which is really very odd indeed.
  • the ground floor takes the collection from 1951 to 1967 and has been supplemented by loans. It contains some of the more famous works.
This is the website's view of the collection - by floor. It groups the pictures by floor. Click on a small group of the pictures and that will tell you about the work. I know at least one person who will be cheering when she sees this!

The website of the Magritte Foundation also provides a virtual gallery of some of his work.

My feeling is that the Magritte Museum's website is going to be good but it needs a good edit of some of the pages where a better quality English translation would communicate more effectively. The language is too often stilted so that it lacks impact and fails to convey meaning. It's evident that there is going to be a lot more content in the future and that this is very much a developing site so my overall rating would be to give it a big thumbs up for creating it in the first place.


I knew next to nothing about Magritte before I went other than that he was a surrealist painter and that his paintings were about pipes, bowler hats, apples and doves.
"and I make use of painting to render thoughts visible"
René Magritte
We had a guide in the exhibition - however I'm not very good at listening to guides as I need to be able to follow the visual clues at a pace which suits me (I can't stand still for any length of time because of the dodgy feet) and consequently tend always to prefer an audio guide (which was available).

I did found the annotated labels for the different works quite helpful for a country where English is often left out of translation (as might be expected in a country where virtually everything has to be expressed in two languages as a matter of routine). I'm still not sure I understand him now and I am never going to find it easy to say anything about a surrealist painter.

However I did find that, like the Picasso Museum in Paris, a chronological trail which follows the development of the work helps enormously in understanding how art emerges at different points in time. I did however wish that some of the quotations painted on the wall had had a translation somewhere in the room.

Interestingly, apart from some of the paintings of the major motifs, what I remember best from the visit are some of the very small photos which used to be created by his circle of surrealist friends at weekends. They were little gems of what can be accomplished with some thought and flexible and creative friends! It was an interesting insight into how a surrealist work can be composed and designed - particularly as a number of the paintings seemed to be worked out as photographs in the first instance.

I was also very struck by how he had his eyes closed for his passport/ID photo!

I can now also appreciate how artists have been influenced by his work. The artist which kept springing to mind as I walked round was Andy Warhol.

This museum will greatly interest all those stimulated by the surrealism movement and contemporary art. However if you are only fluent in English can I suggest you get an audio guide! It's also worth keeping an eye on the development of the website which is still very new.

See what else I got up to on Saturday in A Little Art Break in Brussels

Making a Mark reviews......

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