Magritte for a mere 500 francs  Share

The 500 francs Magritte type, issued 16th April 1998, was the last new note of a series that started some 147 years ago. 1998 was also the first centenary of Magritte’s birthday. To commemorate this Belgian surrealist artist the Brussels Museum of Fine Arts organised an exhibition with no less than 335 pieces out of his vast body of work.

500 francs, Magritte, obverse

500 francs, Magritte, obverse

A series dedicated to Belgian 20th century artists whose works greatly influenced 20th century art

The last series of Belgian banknotes consists of six different values. The first denomination of this series, issued in 1994, bears the portrait of the architect Victor Horta. The painters James Ensor and Constant Permeke decorate the 100 and 1000 F notes issued in 1995 and 1997. The instrument maker Adolphe Sax figures on the 200 F note, issued for the first time in 1996. The following year the portraits of King Albert II and Queen Paola replace the portraits of the deceased King Baudouin and Queen Fabiola on the 10 000 F note. Finally, in 1998, the honour is given to the surrealist painter René Magritte to figure on the 500 F note, the last banknote in Belgian francs.

To meet the requirements of the users it was decided to keep the values of 10 000, 1000, 500 and 100 francs and to introduce new values of 200 and 2 000 francs. This last value replaces the former note of 5000 francs. Together with the 200 F note it will serve as a steppingstone towards the euro, their values being close to 50 and 5 euro.

500 francs, Magritte, reverse

500 francs, Magritte, reverse

René Magritte: his life, his works

Magritte was born at Lessines (Hainaut) on 21 Novembre 1898. From 1916 to 1918 he studied at the Brussels Academy of Fine Arts. From 1918 onwards he tried to paint to his satisfaction after the fashion of cubism and futurism before finding his proper way, that of surrealism. In the meantime he also had to survive and thus he had to occupy himself with some non-artistic works such as movie billposters, advertising, decorations of scores and wallpaper. In 1922 he married Georgette Berger, an old girl friend who also became his principal model. The same year is also marked by the discovery of the painting Love Song by Giorgio De Chirico. This painting, even though he learned to know it as a reproduction, proves to be a turning point in his carreer. Indeed, a few years later, in 1926, he paints The Lost Jockey which is, according to the artist, his first succesful surrealist painting.

During his stay in Paris from 1927 to 1930 he meets, amongst other French surrealist artists, André Breton and Paul Eluard. Back in Belgium, he finds himself a home in Jette (Brussels). During 24 years he lives and works in rue Essegem n° 135 (Museum René Magritte) where half of his works are conceived. During the war he had made a programmatic turn and thus laid the foundations for the impressionist period of his work known as the Période Renoir or Période Plein soleil (1945-1948). In 1948, Magritte made a group of paintings and gouaches distinctly different from the rest of his work for his first solo exhibition in Paris. This series came to be known as his Période Vache. The mural Le Domaine Enchanté, composed of eight paintings and commissioned for the casino of Knokke-le-Zoute in 1953, offers an overview of his works. The first retrospectives dedicated to Magritte’s works were set up in Brussels in 1954 (Palace of Fine Arts) and New York in 1965. Cancer of the pancreas became fatal to Magritte who died in Brussels 15 August 1967.

Security of a note

Museum René Magritte. © Luc Schrobiltgem

Museum René Magritte. © Luc Schrobiltgem

This last series of Belgian notes, conceived and printed at the printing department of the National Bank, is just like the euronotes an example of state-of-the-art security printing. The watermark in the white zone is of a finely drawn portrait of Magritte with his very distinctive signature. The security thread runs vertically through the note and the figure 500 F is repeated over its whole length. The accuracy of the printing can be checked by looking at the keyhole against the light. The coloured areas on the face fit exactly with those on the back. The issuer’s name as well as the value are represented in the three official languages of Belgium, i.e. Dutch, French, German. The language used on the face is the mothertongue of the central figure.

In the top right hand rectangle of the same obverse a greyish rectangle contains the value of the note. This information appears when the note is brought up to eye-level and then tilted towards the light. In the top left-hand corner a group of bars in relief forms a code which can be identified by the visually handicapped. Three horizontal bars represent five, one vertical bar stands for the hundreds. In the lower part of the note the signatures of the Governor and the Treasurer can be identified. The serial number of the note is composed of 11 figures and printed in a fount of which the National Bank has the exclusive right. The figure 500 gleams in the light and changes from green over blue to pink when viewed from different angles.

The note’s paintings

The obverse of the note represents, from left to right, the artist’s portrait accompanied by a man with a bowler hat as his shadow. His right shoulder bears Magritte’s signature. A number of paintings are evoked on the note, like The natural graces with the foliage that changes into birds in the centre of the note. Two outlines of pipes refer to the famous The treachery of images (Ceci n’est pas une pipe) whereas the half-open door evokes The Victory. A tree in the form of a veined leaf is the main element of The search of the absolute. Finally, the key inserted in the keyhole is a reminder of The devil’s smile. This print in register is also partly visible on the reverse.

On the reverse a similar succession of references can be detected. A rain of men wearing bowler hats refers to Golconda, whereas the chair with a lion’s tail is taken from A simple love story. In the background the houses in staggered rows are taken from the canvas The mind’s gaze (Le regard mental). The night illuminated by a quarter of the moon in an outline of a person wearing a bowler hat refers to Man and Night (L’Homme et la Nuit) whereas the masked apple is taken from The married priest. The right border with the curtain from La Peine Perdue on the right border ends, just like in theatre, the spectacle.

Valérie Pede
Museum guide

Sources:

  • Information leaflet on the 500 F note Magritte type, 1998.
  • Paquet M., Magritte, Taschen, Köln, 2000.
  • Te Boekhorst B., Danneel M. & Randaxhe Y., Adieu franc. La Belgique et sa monnaie, une belle histoire, Lannoo, Tielt, 2001.