Sunday 27 October 2019

Surrealism Exhibition: Salvador Dali & Rene Magritte

A highlight of the new show is René Magritte's "Black Magic," from 1945. (Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium) Cover picture: Detail of Salvador Dali's, "The First Days of Spring," 1929 (Collection of The Dali Museum, St. Petersburg FL).

A new exhibition about Salvador Dalí and René Magritte has opened at the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium. Works from forty different museum and private collections around the world have been brought together for the show. The relationship between these two great artists of the Surrealist movement are explored through painting, drawing, sculpture, film and photography, writes Grania Connors

 Salvador Dali, "The Weaning of Furniture-Nutrition," 1934.
(Collection of The Dali Museum, St. Petersburg FL)
A NEW exhibition explores the connection between painters Salvador Dalí and René Magritte. Called 'Dali & Magritte: Two Surrealist Icons in Dialogue,' the show in Brussels features more than a hundred works by the artists, ranging across sixty years and from forty different public and private collections.
After the first world war, both artists questioned early 20th century mores and traditions. They wanted to explore the imagination, experiment with new ways of seeing and deconstruct reality. It was in the spring of 1929, that Salvador Dalí and René Magritte met in Paris, surrounded by other artists who became leaders of the avant-garde. Dalí invited Magritte to come to Cadaqués in the summer, the Spanish painter's home, where he would meet Paul Éluard, Joan Miró and Luis Buñuel.
"Beyond their meeting in 1929, the relationship between Magritte and Dali undoubtedly is one of the most fruitful of the surrealist movement," said Michel Draguet, the director of the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium and curator of the show. "After this encounter, Magritte progressively rids himself of the psychoanalytical charge that probably stemmed from his mother’s suicide, to focus on representation. Increasingly, he starts questioning objects in their everydayness, thereby meeting some of Dalí’s aspirations."

"Beyond their meeting in 1929, the relationship between Magritte and Dali undoubtedly is one of the most fruitful of the surrealist movement."

René Magritte, "Forbidden literature," 1936.
(Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, Brussels)
The paintings by Dalí and Magritte both challenge the way we look at the world and although they initially had similar aims, the Catalan and the Belgian had different personalities and ways of working.

This exhibition at the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, shows the personal, philosophical and aesthetic links between the artists as well as their differences. The cross-pollination of ideas between Dali and Magritte is explored through a wide range of different media from paintings, drawings and sculptures to photographs and films.

The works in the show are lit dramatically against grey and dark-charcoal walls and this enhances the atmospheric paintings that draw the viewer into the surrealist universe. Both artists demonstrate how important the role of surrealism was in the inter-war period, showing the subconscious dealing with the aftermath of conflict. Though their thinking had a common foundation, Dali and Magritte had different ways of painting and their works evoke contrasting emotions. Dali pursued his cohesive vision of metamorphosis with a masterly painterly style and technique. Magritte was highly-skilled but painted forms more as disembodied objects linked by a mysterious juxtaposition that challenges our sense of reality.

"Both artists firmly established their surrealism through research based on the exploration of mimetic representation," said Michel Draguet. "From the mid-twenties, Dalí 'logically' attaches himself to the budding surrealist movement. Between fantasy and the romantic fantastic, his work explore thought open to the revelations of the unconscious."

This exhibition shows the personal, philosophical and aesthetic links between the artists and their  differences through a wide range of works.

Salvador Dali, "Accommodations of Desire,"1929
(The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York)
Dali based himself in Paris as Joan Miró had advised him to do. Here the young painter questioned figurative art and the representation of reality in his new works. Michael Draguet says that inside Dali's mental landscapes, the figures and objects unravel and then "recompose" in what would become his signature hallucinatory way.

Salvador Dali was born in Figueras in 1904 and was already painting by the age of six. He went on to study at Madrid’s Fine Arts Academy and began to experiment with his work. By 1927, when he was only 23 years old he had already developed a personal style. Two years later, Joan Miró introduced him to the Surrealist group in Paris which is where he met René Magritte for the first time.

One of the outstanding aspects of Dalí's work is his virtuoso skill in painting his surrealist visions from his lifelong study of the great Renaissance artists. He abhorred the slackness and lack of direction he observed in some of the Modern art being created around him. By the time of his introduction to Magritte in 1929, he had developed a method which he believed gave him access to the unconscious by analysing the way we project images into shapes when we look at them. Salvador Dali moved to the United States in 1940, when he was already rich and famous (unlike Magritte), and he continued to have a long and successful career.

Joan Miró introduced Salvador Dali to the Surrealist group in Paris which is where he met René Magritte for the first time.

René Magritte, "The key to the fields," 1936.
(Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid)
Meanwhile, René Magritte, six years older than Dali, spent much of his life in his native Belgium. He was seventeen years old when he moved to Brussels to study at the Fine-Arts Academy. Magritte went on to experiment with both Futurism and Cubism before becoming interested in the Dada movement. But it is in 1926 that Magritte is drawn to the Surrealist ethos.

When he saw a reproduction of Giorgio De Chirico’s The Song of Love, it apparently had such a strong effect on him that he changed the direction of his work. He gave up doing extensive research and just painted and explored the subjects most interesting to him.

Magritte turned to creating the illusion of reality with an effective painterly style that still gives a surprising sense of normality but with images that are startlingly surreal. Like Dali, he moved away from the 'automatism' instigated by André Breton who was against the depiction of the real in surrealist painting.

Magritte lived and worked in Brussels and this let him freely experiment without being caught up directly in the flurry of different art movements in Paris. He had a quiet and methodical way of working and being away from the French capital was more suited to him. Although it was a long time before he had a solo exhibition in Paris, at the age of fifty, collectors in the United States embraced his work, as they had already done with Dali, and his role in the Surrealist pantheon was assured.

'Dali & Magritte: Two Surrealist Icons in Dialogue,' runs until February 9th 2020, at the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, Brussels.

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