René Magritte (1898–1967) was born in Lessines,
Hainaut, Belgium. Aside from a few facts, almost nothing is known of
Magritte's childhood. We know that the family's financial status was
comfortable because Léopold, ostensibly a tailor, made handsome profits
from his investments in edible oils and bouillon cubes.
We also know that young René sketched and painted
early on, and began taking formal lessons in drawing in 1910 — the
same year that he produced his first oil painting. Anecdotally, he was
said to be a lackluster student in school. The artist himself had little
to say about his childhood beyond a few vivid memories that shaped his
way of seeing.
Perhaps this relative silence about his early life
was born when his mother committed suicide in 1912. Régina had been
suffering from depression for an undocumented number of years, and was
so badly affected that she was usually kept in a locked room. On the
night she escaped, she immediately went to the nearest bridge and threw
herself into the River Sambre that flowed behind the Magritte's property.
Régina was missing for days before her body was discovered a mile or
Legend has it that Régina's nightgown had wrapped
itself around her head by the time her corpse was recovered, and an
acquaintance of René's later started the story that he was present
when his mother was pulled from the river. He was certainly not there.
The only public comment he ever made on the subject was that he'd felt
guiltily happy to be the focal point of sensation and sympathy, both at
school and in his neighborhood. However, veils, curtains, faceless people,
and headless faces and torsos did become recurring themes in his paintings.
In 1916 Magritte enrolled in the Academie des
Beaux-Arts in Brussels seeking inspiration and a safe distance from the
WWI German invasion. He found none of the former but one of his classmates
at the Academie introduced him to Cubism, Futurism, and Purism, three
movements he found exciting. On a less visionary note, he emerged from
the Academie qualified to do commercial art. Although creating ads and
designs can be boring, it is steady work. Commercial jobs kept Magritte's
bills paid until, decades into the future, he was able to paint
“seriously” full time. agritte died on August 15, 1967 in
Schaerbeek, Brussels, Belgium.