Brussels turns surreal for René Magritte’s 50th anniversary

Words: Jeanette Farrell

Nothing beats travelling by train.

The luxury of time spent watching the world go by in quiet comfort puts you in a reflective frame of mind – the perfect way to prepare for a weekend of surrealist art in Belgium.

We travelled on to Brussels on the fiftieth anniversary of the death of René Magritte. As an artist, Magritte left an indelible mark not just on the city itself but also on the creative mind of the post war years, both in Europe and to an even greater extent in America.

Surrealism, dark humour, playfulness and intellect were characteristic of many of the Belgians we met, making Brussels itself seem otherworldly. We began our tour of the city at the Royal Museum of Fine Arts Belgium (RMFAB) and their review of the relationship between Magritte and his poetic accomplice, Marcel Broodhaers.

The museum also houses the largest collection of assembled Magritte works in the world.
Some, including perhaps the most famous painting in the exhibition,‘The Treachery of the Image’, were returned to Belgium following an absence of almost fifty years and will no doubt be amongst the biggest draws of this tribute year.

The exhibition is encyclopaedic in scope offering great detail of the artists’ wide ranging and never-stagnant output. From the niche enthusiasm generated by Magritte’s ‘Vache’ period to his later signature bowler hat featured in ‘The Mysteries of the Horizon’, the breadth of Magritee’s work means that there’s something for everyone. The presence of works by Ed Ruscha, Jasper Johns, Keith Haring and Andy Warhol are testimony to the immense influence of both Magritte and Broodhaers on a litany of the most prominent of American artists.

Brussels is a grand city replete with winding streets of Art Nouveau architecture, bursting with nostalgia. RMFAB is located amongst the Mont des Art on a hill of luxurious museums and galleries overlooking the city. It can be difficult to place Magritte’s subversive and humble beginning as an artist in this lavish celebration, and so a trip to the artists’ home of twenty-five years in Jette where he lived with his muse and wife, Georgette, is highly recommended.

Magritte lived in tenement conditions on the ground floor of a terraced house in the Brussels suburbs. After his death in 1967 , followed by Georgette in 1986, the contents of the house were auctioned off and this seminal place forgotten about. Reopened as a perfect replica in 1999 thanks to the devoted recounts of those who had visited, the house Jette has a shrine-like quality to it, like visiting a church of surrealism. It is as wonderful and effortlessly eccentric as you could imagine.

Jette was the birthplace of surrealism, home to a group of visionaries including Paul Nougé, Camille Goemans and Marcel LeComte, Louis Scutenaire and André Souris, who published infamous brochures, hosted events and presented collective exhibitions. This is intimate space highlights the domestic in the work of the arch surrealist, serving as a place of quiet inspiration.

Out in the back garden a very covetable shed housed Magritte’s advertising practice, Studio Dongo, set up with his brother, Paul, to make some money before he became one of the most iconic artists of the 20th century. The opportunity to see the two sides of Magritte at play, the pioneering graphic designer and the great depths of his distorting and sometimes disturbing mind make a trip to this most concealed hotbed of activity very rewarding.

In this year of tribute to René Magritte, Brussels has become a veritable playground of bowler hats and green apples. Thankfully, the appreciation is more than just superficial. Brussels hosts the perfect combination of reverent playfulness and academic rigour, ensuring that the artists’ presence mingles with the splendour of the capital’s streets where his presence is both felt and celebrated.

Eurostar operates up to 11 daily services from London St Pancras International to Brussels with fares
from £29.00 one-way

Once in Brussels, take advantage of 2 for 1 entry into some of the city’s most popular museums and
galleries such as Bozar, Royal Museum of Fine Arts of Belgium and Magritte Museum, all by simply
showing your Eurostar ticket