Belgian surrealist master René Magritte would have turned 125 this year. And although he left the realm of the living in 1967, his legacy lives on. Naturally it goes without saying that Belgium, the country of his birth, has been tirelessly keeping Magritte’s memory alive, particularly in such a poignant year. Street artist Julien de Casabianca, for example, was commissioned to create XXL reproductions of iconic characters that had featured extensively in Magritte’s oeuvre, such as green apples, bowler hats, clouds and pipes, to adorn selected façades in Belgium’s capital. Making the experience even more immersive and accessible, the Magritte Foundation, the Magritte Museum and the city of Brussels itself all teamed up to unveil a special art trail titled, “In the footsteps of Magritte” where the culturally-inclined or curious may walk the very same paths the artist himself trod, in the city he called home for 25 years.
For those among us unable to visit Brussels this year, however, there is an easier (and exceedingly chic) way to infuse a touch of surrealist style into your life. Another icon of Belgium and keen champion of the arts, maison Delvaux, the world’s oldest fine leather goods brand, expanded its iconic Magritte collection with a limited-edition capsule that paid tribute to the artist’s two greatest loves: his art and his wife, Georgette Berger.
But going beyond mere luxurious creations, Delvaux elevated the experience in an extraordinary way by exhibiting a small selection of seven never-before-seen works by Magritte himself in Hong Kong and Seoul, a feat made possible only due to the maison’s unique and long-standing friendship with the Magritte Foundation and to coincide with the collection’s exclusive Asian launch. In Hong Kong, the event was held at the Delvaux store within K11 Musea where privileged guests could view rare pieces like a 1946 gouache work, Le bain de cristal, which featured a giraffe in a crystal glass; Le paysage de Baucis, Magritte’s famous “invisible man”, said to invoke the mythical figure in Ovid’s Metamorphoses; and La Trahison des images, a 1952 drawing that immediately brings to mind his seminal 1929 work, depicting a pipe emblazoned with the contradictory words Ceci n’est pas une pipe (or “This is not a pipe”).
As per typical Magritte fashion, Delvaux’s stunning new pieces likewise made guests give pause to deep reflections about the nature and boundaries of reality and representation, using the most familiar objects but in unexpected contexts. Divided using four key Magritte motifs, Delvaux’s signature silhouettes and designs made for an unexpectedly luxurious canvas upon which to admire and enjoy Magritte’s humanity and genius. L’Amour, inspired by L’Art de la Conversation, a 1950 work that depicts two swans on a moonlit lake, pays obvious tribute to his great love for his wife, muse and favourite model, Berger.
Born in 1898 in the Belgian province of Hainaut, Magritte grew up in the shadow of great trouble and tragedy: the suicide of his mother when he was 13 (she drowned herself in the River Sambre in Châtelet), followed by the unfolding horror that was World War I. The happiness he derived from life can mostly be attributed to Berger, whom he met as a teenager and who supported him as a struggling artist, commercial illustrator and graphic designer. They remained in love and together for the rest of their lives until Magritte’s passing in 1967.
The symbol of temptation, the humble apple is whimsically immortalised in La Pomme, a fruit-shaped, moulded 3D pouch, while those obsessed over the artist’s contrarian and misleading hyperreal depiction of a pipe would delight in L’Humour, a silhouette that debuted in 2008 but gets the surrealist touch here with scripted embroidery emblazoned across the body saying Ceci n’est pas un Delvaux.
Having triumphed over tribulations, persevered through trying times and stayed loyal and true to love, there is much we can identify with in Magritte’s life. But beyond his humanity and hardships, he tempered it all with astute observations, humour and a gift to see the extraordinary within the ordinary. While it can only be a far-fetched dream to own an original Magritte, aficionados and aesthetes can rejoice at how Delvaux has made it possible to inject a little bit of the surrealist master’s representations of love, art, perception and imagination into our every day.
This article first appeared on Sept 18, 2023 in The Edge Malaysia.