Imagining the Impossible: 100 Years of Magritte & Surrealism

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Imagining the Impossible: 100 Years of Magritte & Surrealism

In October of 1924, amidst the anxieties and disillusionment of a post-war world, a revolutionary movement was born: Surrealism. This artistic rebellion, driven by the exploration of the subconscious and the rejection of conventional reality, forever altered the landscape of art. Within its ranks, René Magritte emerged as a master of the unsettling, a weaver of dreamscapes that continue to challenge our understanding of the world.

In celebration of this artistic centennial, we explore Magritte's lasting impact on the art world with Ottavia Marchitelli, Director and Senior Specialist in the Impressionist and Modern Art Department at Christie’s, London.

Magritte: Master of the Unexpected

As relevant today as it was 100 years ago, Surrealism continues to be the cradle between conceptual and contemporary art. And Belgian-born Magritte is undoubtedly one of the movement’s most prominent stars. 

“Magritte is an exceptional artist: of all surrealists, he has the most global appeal.  He managed to distil radical, subversive ideas and convey them in an iconography that is extremely captivating. He paints realist images that the viewer can decipher easily, despite their otherworldliness, thus changing the way that we perceive the world,” Marchitelli remarks. 

Unlike some of his surrealist counterparts, Magritte didn't rely on abstract or jarring imagery. He wielded the brush with masterful precision, crafting familiar scenes imbued with unexpected twists. 


Deciphering the Enigmatic

"He conveys complex ideologies in a visual language that is very easy for the viewer to interpret," Marchitelli continues. This is perhaps the essence of Magritte's genius. He challenges artistic conventions through subtle juxtapositions and visual paradoxes. Take his iconic "The Son of Man," where an apple obscures the subject’s face, inviting the viewer to question identity and individuality.

The simplicity of the image belies its depth, inviting the viewer to ponder complex philosophical ideas. Magritte adopted the now iconic bowler hat in both life and art, projecting the uniform of the Belgian ‘common man’, instantly decipherable, yet multilayered – typically Magritte. 

Magritte's Enduring Appeal

Magritte spent the majority of his prolific artistic career in Brussels, where he created a vast collection of paintings, gouaches, drawings, and even bottles as artworks. A captivating blend of accessibility and complexity, combined with a “mastery of details and hyper-realistic technique” have ensured his popularity for decades, with a steady growth in interest from collectors. His most enduring themes, ‘Empire des Lumières’ and the ‘man in the bowler hat’, continue to draw the deepest competition at auction, with Christie’s most recent offering, “L’ami Intime” (The Intimate Friend) – a mysterious man in a bowler hat facing away from the viewer as a baguette and wine glass cross his back – estimated to achieve between £30-50 million when it goes up for sale in March this year. 

Magritte’s clever use of everyday objects influenced the work of later artists such as Jasper Johns and Damien Hirst, who both cite the great Belgian Surrealist as a major inspiration. Indeed, Magritte’s popularity at the helm of the modern Surrealist expansion has allowed for greater recognition of under-represented Surrealist artists - women in particular “who have been overlooked for a long time, such as Remedios Varo and Leonora Carrington, whose contribution to Surrealism is finally achieving the credit it deserves. This is reflected in the fact that some of their major works have been included in our evening sales in London. We look forward to the next 100 years!” adds Marchitelli.


Looking ahead

Magritte’s legacy is not just in galleries; it’s dotted all over Brussels, from the café he once frequented, to his former home-turned-museum to the newly opened Bar Magritte at Hotel Amigo. As the city celebrates Surrealism 2024, many of his works, alongside those of his compatriots including Salvador Dalí, Joan Miró, Man Ray, and Max Ernst are to be exhibited across two incredible exhibitions - ‘IMAGINE! 100 Years of International Surrealism’ exhibition at the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, and Bozar Museum’s showcase ‘Histoire de ne pas rire. Surrealism in Belgium’. 


Through our special connections across the city, allow our team at Hotel Amigo to create an exclusive and memorable itinerary that will make your trip truly memorable.

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