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This is not a museum

A new Magritte Museum opens in Brussels.

Magritte (1898-1967) acquired in the years following his death the dubious fame of being the artist most used in advertising, and that has clearly contributed to the health of the Magritte Foundation. Charlie Herscovici, a Belgian who befriended Magritte’s widow when he was just 17, now owns the world reproduction rights on the artist and runs the foundation. He worked with Draguet in setting up the museum under the auspices of the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium.

Herscovici ensured that a number of private collectors loaned major pieces. Those pieces on loan, along with the Museum of Fine Arts' own holdings, now make up the world’s largest collection of Magrittes, including the statues of his later years, photographs, letters and films.

On the surface, Magritte and the love of his life, blue-eyed Georgette, lived unobtrusively in a home furnished in heavy Belgian style — velvet couches, oak tables. They had no children, although they were very attached to a succession of Pomeranian dogs. Unlike the militantly vociferous French Surrealists, led by Andre Breton, they followed a quiet routine with their poet and musician Surrealist friends.

The Belgians viewed Surrrealism as an underground revolution that would change by stealth the way people saw the world around them. Magritte was the group’s only painter and he worked with his friends on ideas and titles for his paintings that were aimed to shock, rattle and provoke people out of conventional thinking.

“I strive never to be conventional when I paint,” Magritte declared, “and when I am not painting, I appear to be playing a conventional game: painting, for example, or living in a house, eating meals at the proper time, and so on.”

Magritte said his principal activitity was thinking and then producing images that contained the mystery he had first encountered in the metaphysical paintings of Giorgio de Chirico. He liked to be perplexed by his own work years after it had been completed, comparing his feelings to those of a parent who doesn’t quite understand his grown children.

Magritte said he suffered from a profound existential ennui, and among his tongue-in-cheek declarations claimed that he preferred postcard reproductions of paintings to the originals. He might be amused to find so many of his own works now for sale in that humble medium at the museum bearing his name.

The new Magritte Museum opens June 2.

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Tintin: The boy who never grows old gets bigger

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