I have lived in Belgium long enough to know that René Magritte is the artist who best captures the spirit of this country. You can check this out simply by searching the internet for the opening hours of the Magritte Museum in Brussels.
It turns out that there are two Magritte Museums in Brussels. One is called the Magritte Museum. The other is called the René Magritte Museum.
How very surreal, you might think, but this is just the way things are in Belgium. If you tried to find the real Magritte museum by contacting the Brussels tourist office, you would quickly find that there are three different organisations calling themselves the Brussels tourist office.
I decided to start with the René Magritte Museum, located in the suburb of Jette. The tram dropped me off at a stop named Cimetière de Jette, which put me in a suitably morbid mood for an artist who once poked fun at Jacques-Louis David’s famous painting of Madame Récamier, in which she reclines haughtily on a sofa, by replacing Madame with a coffin.
The René Magritte Museum is located in a quiet suburban street. The local authority has helpfully placed a Magritte-style lamp post outside the house where he lived. You can read the name Magritte on a simple nameplate below the doorbell, as if the painter was still in residence. I rang the bell and waited, half expecting
Madame Magritte to open the door, perhaps with a giant grey mullet hovering above her head.
The door was opened by a woman, certainly, but there was no mullet. She provided a short and informative guided tour, indicating the fireplace that appears in Magritte’s painting of a steam train emerging from a wall and other domestic details that inspired the artist.
After exploring the house, I returned on the tram to the other Magritte Museum on Place Royale, where I admired the extensive collection of paintings, photographs and films. At the end of the visit, I went to the shop to buy a postcard, selecting the famous image of a pipe to which Magritte has added the words “Ceci n’est pas un pipe” (“This is not a pipe.”)
I was waiting patiently at the desk to pay when I noticed a sign attached to the counter. “This is not a cash desk,” it read. I sighed, and suddenly realised that a large green apple was hovering above my head.