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The first major biography of the pathbreaking, perpetually influential surrealist artist and iconoclast whose inspiration can be seen in everyone from Jasper Johns to Beyoncé—by the celebrated biographer of Cézanne and Braque
In this thought-provoking life of René Magritte (1898-1967), Alex Danchev makes a compelling case for Magritte as the single most significant purveyor of images to the modern world. Magritte’s surreal sensibility, deadpan melodrama, and fine-tuned outrageousness have become an inescapable part of our visual landscape, through such legendary works as The Treachery of Images (Ceci n’est pas une pipe) and his celebrated iterations of Man in a Bowler Hat.
Danchev explores the path of this highly unconventional artist from his middle-class Belgian beginnings to the years during which he led a small, brilliant band of surrealists (and famously clashed with André Breton) to his first major retrospective, which traveled to the United States in 1965 and gave rise to his international reputation.
Using 50 color images and more than 160 black-and-white illustrations, Danchev delves deeply into Magritte’s artistic development and the profound questions he raised in his work about the very nature of authenticity. This is a vital biography for our time that plumbs the mystery of an iconoclast whose influence can be seen in everyone from Jasper Johns to Beyoncé.
About the Author
ALEX DANCHEV is the author of the biographies Georges Braque: A Life and Cézanne: A Life; a translation of The Letters of Paul Cézanne; and the essay collections On Art and War and Terror, On Good and Evil and the Grey Zone, and 100 Artists’ Manifestos: From the Futurists to the Stuckists. For three years before his death in 2016 (as he was finishing this biography), Danchev was a professor of international relations at the University of St. Andrews, in Scotland.
SARAH WHITFIELD is an art historian. She is the co-editor of René Magritte: Catalogue Raisonné, and she serves on the René Magritte authentication committee.
“Lavish, authoritative . . . A superb account of one enigmatic, enduring artist, a gratifying addition to our cultural literature, and an ode to modernity's contradictions . . . We see ourselves in [Magritte’s] compositions, and we are unnerved.” —Hamilton Cain, Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Danchev’s familiarity with francophone culture and Whitfield’s decades of Magritte expertise shine through in this absorbing, masterful biography . . . Magritte: A Life recounts the artist’s life in a sympathetic and comprehensive manner, never reducing the mystery of one of the most influential of modern artists.” —Alexander Adams, The Art Newspaper
“Far from underestimating Magritte, Danchev’s picture of him is pointillist and enormous in scope. It is full of shock.” —Jo Livingstone, The New Republic
“Thoroughly and gruesomely entertaining . . . Danchev is right to call Magritte ‘the dream merchant of our time.’ Magritte’s studiously underplayed paintings are a modern image bank, and we draw on it unknowingly every time we see the Apple logo . . . A fascinating biography.” —Dominic Green, The Wall Street Journal
“Clouds, pipes, bowler hats, umbrellas and green apples: the thought-provoking works of Belgian surrealist artist René Magritte continue to fascinate. The late Alex Danchev offers enthralling insight into the man behind the easel.” —The Herald
“Sinuous . . . [Danchev] has uncovered a life that was by turns quirky, controversial, and tinged by tragedy . . . This book leaves no doubt that the image Magritte maintained of himself as a regular citizen living a quiet life in a nondescript Brussels neighborhood was indeed performance art of the highest order.” —Tobias Grey, Airmail
“Diligent and insightful . . . Danchev proved an indefatigable researcher, and Sarah Whitfield does full justice to his labors in completing [the] final chapter of Magritte’s life.” —Tim Adams, The Guardian
“Monumental . . . A fascinating study of a man whose ‘stunning imagination ha[s] revolutionized what we see and how we understand’ . . . Sure to be the definitive account of the extraordinary artist’s life.” —Publishers Weekly