Magritte worked in both the commercial field and “high art”, producing some of the most recognised images in the world. Today they are often recycled by advertisers and his work has become a means by which the revolutionary Surrealist movement was tamed and co-opted by capitalism. After shocking the art world – including the official Surrealist movement – his work was used to sell chocolate and beer.
His works date from before the First World War through to the 1960s and evolved and changed in response to world events and art’s reaction to them. He was a painter who reflected the inner world of the subconscious as well as the world of art movements and political events. He embraced Surrealism in 1926 and worked closely with André Breton until 1938.
Magritte’s disturbing pictures blend dream-like states, with objects represented in a naturalistic way in juxtapositions that belie nature. He was often visually obsessed with death and sex. Many of his early works feature the female nude. Later in the 1940s he used kitsch art to attack “high art” in his “Vache” period. “Vache” means cow – but in this context it meant a kitsch, loutish and peasant-like attack on snobbish Parisian art. When he was unfashionable he got by making fake Picassos, Braques, Chicos and later false banknotes.
The Surrealist movement joined the Trotskyist Fourth International in 1938 but shortly after the movement transferred to New York and Mexico. In 1938 Breton and Trotsky issued the Manifesto for an Independent Revolutionary Art. Magritte split with Breton and stayed in Belgium during the war.
Although Magritte’s works exist in their own surreal world they remain very much part of this history. It is a shame therefore that these paintings are shown thematically rather than historically. Nonetheless, this is still a great exhibition that will appeal equally to people who know nothing about Magritte’s art and people who are more familiar with it.
Magritte: the Pleasure Principle is at Tate Liverpool until 25 September
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