Alex Danchev, Magritte: A Life – Pantheon, November 2021
This is really welcome news – Danchev’s biographies of Georges Braque and Paul Cézanne were very interesting. This book was left incomplete at the time of his death, but has been completed by Sarah Whitfield ( a little more on this here).
The first major biography of the pathbreaking, perpetually influential surrealist artist René Magritte–from the celebrated biographer of Braque and Cézanne.
In this stimulating life of René Magritte (1898-1967), Alex Danchev makes a case for the artist as the single most significant purveyor of images to the modern world. His surreal sensibility, deadpan melodrama, and fine-tuned outrageousness have all become inescapably part of our visual landscape through legendary works such as The Treachery of Images (aka Ceci n’est pas une pipe), and his iterations of the man in a bowler hat, raining down in multiples from the sky or with an apple where his face should be. Danchev explores the path of this highly unconventional artist from his middle-class Belgian beginnings through the years in which he led a small, brilliant band of Belgian surrealists (and famously clashed with André Breton), through his first major retrospective which traveled the United States in 1965 and gave rise to his international reputation.
Using thirty-two pages of color inserts and black-and-white illustrations throughout the text, Danchev delves into a deep examination of Magritte’s artistic development and the profound questions he raised in his work about the very nature of authenticity. Here is a major biography for our time that plumbs the mystery of an iconoclast whose influence can be seen in everyone from Jasper Johns to Beyoncé.
ALEX DANCHEV, who died as he was finishing this biography, was educated at University College, Oxford; Trinity Hall, Cambridge; and King’s College, London. He was the author of the biographies Georges Braque and Cézanne, as well as a new translation of The Letters of Paul Cézanne. He also wrote the essay collections On Art and War and Terror, On Good and Evil and the Grey Zone, and 100 Artists’ Manifestos. For three years before his death, he was professor of international relations at the University of St Andrews, in Scotland.
SARAH WHITFIELD is an art historian, writer, and curator. She is coauthor of the René Magritte: Catalogue Raisonné, and serves on the authentication committee for the Estate of Francis Bacon.