In Brussels, you can't walk away from René

New museum honours Magritte

In an almost surrealist gesture, the clouds and the bright blue sky have been removed from Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts. For the past 15 months this canvas has covered building work on Brussels' new Magritte gallery, known rather cumbersomely as the Musée Magritte Museum. This Tuesday, the world's biggest collection of paintings by the city's most famous artist will be unveiled to the public.

But I'm not there. I'm standing in front of a three-storey terraced house, 135 Rue Esseghem, in the suburb of Jette, six miles away. There's a streetlamp outside that I've seen before. This ornate piece of ironwork features in Magritte's L'empire des lumières. Everyone knows this house. When I go to the door a small black Bakelite plate above the bell reads MAGRITTE. Here, René and Georgette Magritte lived from 1930 to 1954, when he painted most of the works for which he is famous.

I find the parlour painted the blue of a Magritte sky. This was the artist's choice. And I recognise that fireplace.

Magritte painted it frequently, most famously with a steam train emerging from it. Meanwhile the curved top of the front window is most definitely the one featured in La condition humaine and there's Magritte's easel, the same one featured in those landscapes where the canvas in front of us seems to be a continuation of the scene beyond.

Brussels' newest gallery may be about to unveil 200 Magritte works, but this unremarkable house, which opened as a museum in 1999, remains a unique insight into the man.

Magritte also sought inspiration in Brussels' bars. The Tavern Greenwich in St Géry is where he used to play chess and sold some early pictures. It's dusty now and still very much a haunt for chess players. La Fleur en Papier Doré, near the Académie where Magritte trained during the First World War, displays a photo of him with Georgette and several other surrealists. How very respectable they all looked. A convocation of bankers couldn't have dressed better. In those days radicalism was in the art, not the clothes.

Magritte is everywhere in Brussels. The theatre in Galeries St-Hubert has a ceiling painted by him in 1951 and you can see his influence in the restaurant La Roue D'Or, off Grand Place, where green apples float across a ceiling full of white clouds raining bowler-hatted men. Café Vaudeville has flying light fittings based on Magritte's birds and the Eurostar terminal at Brussels Midi is decorated with furled umbrellas.

In the 1940s Magritte's American champion Alexander Iolas cannily advised his impecunious Belgian client to concentrate on a few saleable images. He probably never gave better advice. René Magritte is now a brand, his work defining French-speaking Belgium. The Gallerie René Magritte is long awaited but the city is already his museum.

COMPACT FACTS

How to get there

Rail Europe (0844 848 4070; raileurope.co.uk) offers returns from London to Brussels from £59. Hotel Amigo (00 800 7666 6667; roccofortecollection.com) has a Magritte Package from €293 per room per night with breakfast, based on two sharing (includes museum tickets, copy of the exhibition book and customised Magritte-Amigo umbrella, plus a welcome cocktail in the Amigo Bar).

Further information

belgiumtheplaceto.be

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    SFL Group: Video Project Manager

    £24,000 pa, plus benefits: SFL Group: Looking for a hard-working and self-moti...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel Reservations Assistant - French Speaking

    £16000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This rapidly expanding travel c...

    Recruitment Genius: Duty Manager - World-Famous London Museum

    £24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Do you have a strong record of ...

    Recruitment Genius: Personal Assistant

    £24000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will have demonstrable unde...

    Day In a Page

    The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

    The saffron censorship that governs India

    Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
    Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

    How did fandom get so dark?

    Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
    The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
    The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

    Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

    Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
    Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

    Disney's mega money-making formula

    'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
    Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

    Lobster has gone mainstream

    Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
    Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

    14 best Easter decorations

    Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
    Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

    Paul Scholes column

    Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
    Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

    The future of GM

    The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
    Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

    Britain's mild winters could be numbered

    Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
    Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

    The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

    The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
    Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

    Cowslips vs honeysuckle

    It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
    Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss