Like many Surrealists, Magritte was deeply engaged with literature. He created drawings for texts by poet Paul Éluard, fiction writer Georges Bataille, and the Marquis de Sade, the famed S&M chronicler.
Magritte also worked in advertising, designing ads for clients in industries from cars to fashion. As in his commercial design, Magritte employed a neat, flat finish in his art. Just decades afterwards,
would follow a similar trajectory, more clearly infusing his prints, paintings, and sculptures with evidence of his days as a commercial draftsman. Magritte also used his professional skills for political ends, making graphics and posters for the Belgian Communist Party.
Throughout the German occupation of Belgium during World War II, Magritte produced photographs and short films. Instead of thematizing the violence and fascism that infiltrated his country, the artist turned toward more pleasant sources of inspiration. “I live in a very disagreeable world, and my work is meant as a counter-offensive,” he once wrote. This quote, argues art historian Abigail Solomon-Godeau in her SFMOMA catalogue essay, is a bit disingenuous. “His statements need not mean that the war and occupation did not produce cultural or psychic symptoms in his oeuvre,” she writes, asserting that his work from this era was in actuality charmless: She sees plenty of “violence and disgust,” with references to “fecal, phallic, and castration imagery.” A counter-offensive, indeed.