Step Inside The World of René Magritte at SFMOMA


Quiz any art enthusiast on surrealist artist René Magritte, and they may immediately reference his iconic 1964 oil painting, “Son of Man.” You know the one: A guy, a bowler hat, a strategially placed apple over the face? The image is undoubtedly one of Magritte’s most iconic works, but what many casual patrons may not know is that the aesthetic was a serious departure from the artist’s earlier style. Magritte painted the piece during the latter half of his career, and it was born from a trying question of conviction the painter faced in the years following World War II.

As a response to the atrocities across Europe, Magritte’s production transformed in ways that surprised even his closest colleagues and advocates. Already in possession of his classic style of painting, honed over the previous two decades, Magritte suddenly began to produce pieces that looked almost nothing like his previous work. The instaibility and upheaval resulting from the German occupation of Belgium had forced him to question the role of art in the world, and he began exploring a new direction as a way to search for meaning and purpose.

René Magritte: The Fifth Season — presented exclusively at SFMOMA from May 19 through October 28, 2018 — focuses on the latter half of Magritte’s career, from approximately 1943 to 1967, a period of intense transformation for the artist. The exhibit is the most complete presentation of Magritte’s late work mounted since the artist’s death in 1967 and includes loans from North and South America, Europe and Asia. SFMOMA is the first U.S. museum to showcase over 20 of the featured works and heavily feature Magritte’s sunlit surrealism and gouaches.

Presented in a series of immersive galleries, the 70 oil paintings and gouaches included in the exhibit provide deeper insight into Magritte’s later career, grappling with paradoxes of life and rebelling against the experience of war and surrealist orthodoxy. Taking its name from one the featured, paintings, the exhibits subtitle, “The Fifth Season,” is a direct reference to the artist’s belief that art has the unique ability to awaken viewers to new possibilities. The pieces evoke a variety of visceral emotions, presenting imagery that is unsettling, humorous, and powerful. Magritte’s work during this period in his career invites viewers into a parallel universe that challenges the concept of reality.  

René Magritte: The Fifth Season, which follows the 50th anniversary of Magritte’s death, builds on SFMOMA’s longstanding relationship with the Magritte Museum in Brussels, Belgium, and was developed in partnership with the Magritte Foundation. SFMOMA is open Friday–Tuesday 10 a.m.–5 p.m. and Thursday 10 a.m.–9 p.m. Closed Wednesday. The special exhibition has an additional surcharge for all visitors 19 years and over: $8 weekdays, $10 weekends. General Admission and special exhibitions for all visitors 18 years and younger is free. The museum is located at 151 Third Street San Francisco, CA 94103. Visit or call 415.357.4000 for more information.

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