This small sample of paintings, taken from the beginning, middle and end of Magritte's career, illustrates that oil on canvas was a medium that this artist kept returning to.

These are also some of his most famous paintings: you may not recognise them instantly by their titles, but you would almost certainly recognise them if you saw them.

The Son of Man depicts a man in a suit and bowler hat with an apple in front of his face. The Treachery of Images is a painting of a pipe with the words 'ceci n'est pas une pipe' (this is not a pipe) written beneath in a flowing script. The Mysteries of the Horizon features three men in a mystical landscape, each looking in a slightly different direction.

Oil was not the only medium that Magritte worked in (he also created lithographs and 'cut out' paintings, for example), however it is clearly one that he felt very comfortable with. This may be because oils gave him the ability to depict very detailed and yet surreal landscapes and human figures.

The heavy texture of oils enabled him to create a sense of solidity and strength to his paintings that added to their realistic aspects.

It may sound ironic, but it is the case that Magritte's dreamlike and surrealist paintings relied on his ability to depict human figures and ordinary objects in a highly realistic manner. This notion will be explored further below.


Perhaps best known for his trademark depictions of pipes, Rene Magritte is a legendary Surrealist artist. Hailing originally from Belgium, he was born in 1898 in the town of Lessines. By the time of his death in Brussels in 1967, he had become one of the leading figures in the world of modern art.

One of the key media in which Magritte worked was oil on canvas. This article explains everything that you need to know about Magritte's oil paintings: their history and style, the techniques he used, the artists that inspired him and the artists that he inspired in their turn.

What techniques did Magritte use for his oil paintings?

As mentioned above, Rene Magritte was one of the foremost surrealist painters of his time (perhaps even of all time) and as a result we can broadly describe his oil painting techniques as 'surrealist'.

What did this entail? Well, one way to think about surrealism is not as the antithesis of realism but as something that incorporates some elements of realism whilst also moving beyond them.

Take a look at Magritte's oil paintings and you will see that his style of working tended to involve painting highly realistic pictures of human figures and everyday objects (clocks, pipes and apples were great favourites here) but then juxtaposing them in an odd and dreamlike way.

Take The Son of Man, for example, which is one of Magritte's very last oil paintings. Here, both the human form and the apple are painted in a realistic style. What makes the painting surreal is that the apple is superimposed over the man's face.

To encapsulate Magritte's technique, then, we can say that the realism is in the execution of the objects; the surrealism is in the juxtaposition of the objects.

He makes the familiar unfamiliar, and this process of making ordinary objects seem strange is precisely what Sigmund Freud defined as 'The Uncanny' in his psychoanalytic essay on the subject at the start of the 20th century. It is highly probable that Magritte's paintings were influenced by his reading of Freud's work. More information about Magritte's influences can be found below.

Magritte painted with oils by hand on canvases of varying sizes. Some of his paintings took a few years to complete, whilst others were completed within the year. Look at all of his oil paintings, though, and you will see that Magritte kept returning to the same themes and objects again and again throughout his career.

Moreover, he had a very definite style: you can look at a Magritte painting and instantly tell who it is by. One theme that constantly recurs in Magritte's art works is that of a covered face (his painting The Lovers depicts two lovers kissing with their heads totally covered by two cloths, for instance).

Many art critics state that this stems from the fact that while he was still young, Magritte saw the corpse of his mother recovered from a lake where she had drowned, and her face had been covered. One might add that the many depictions of faces that are obscured (such as with the apple in The Son of Man) or turned away (such as with the figures in Mysteries of the Horizon) reflect this theme too.

Magritte's oil paintings in context: who inspired him, and whom did he inspire?

It has been suggested above that Magritte's art works were influenced by the writings of the 'grandfather of psychoanalysis', Sigmund Freud.

But, which other artists influenced Magritte? Magritte was greatly influenced by the French thinker André Breton who was an artist working around the same time as Magritte. In 1924, Breton wrote 'The Surrealist Manifesto', a text that guided the works of numerous other surrealist painters, including Magritte.

Other surrealists that had a great influence on Magritte include Salvador Dali, the Catalan painter who is arguably one of the most famous surrealist artists in the world. Nevertheless, there are clear differences between Dali's mythical and distorted depictions of human and animal forms and Magritte's carefully realistic presentation of the world.

Magritte was also influenced by other European artists of his time, including Metzinger, who though they were not surrealists per se were nevertheless the foremost painters and artists of the early and mid twentieth century.

In his turn, Magritte has influenced numerous other artists, both surrealists and those working in other genres. Two of these artists include Jasper Johns and Vija Celmins, for instance, whilst another is Alistair Sooke.

Let's take a quick look at one of them: Vija Celmins. Celmins is a Latvian-American artist who specialises in creating photo-realistic depictions of ordinary objects in strange and unfamiliar settings. Like Magritte, Celmins makes the everyday strange.