About This Artwork

René Magritte
Belgian, 1898–1967

On the Threshold of Liberty, February–March 1937

Oil on canvas
94 x 73 in. (238.8 x 185.4 cm)

Gift of Mary and Leigh Block, 1988.141.10

© 2018 C. Herscovici, London / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

One of Surrealism’s most important patrons, Edward James was a willing collaborator whose sense of play initiated commissions for his homes from such artists as René Magritte and Salvador Dalí, including the latter’s iconic lobster telephone and Mae West lips sofa. James was impressed with Magritte’s work in the 1936 International Surrealist Exhibition in London and invited the artist to paint three canvases for his London home. Magritte made On the Threshold of Liberty during his stay there in 1937, reworking the motif of a cannon aimed at a female torso from an earlier horizontal painting of the same title (now in the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam) into a vertical format in order to meet the specifications of the work’s destined site in James’s ballroom.

— Permanent collection label

Exhibition, Publication and Ownership Histories

Exhibition History

London, Hayward Gallery, Southbank Centre, Rene Magritte, no. 155; traveled to New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, September 9–November 22, 1992; Houston, Menil Collection, December 15, 1992–February 21, 1993; Chicago, Art Institute, March 16–May 30, 1993.

New York, Museum of Modern Art, Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926-1938, September 28, 2013-January 12, 2014, no. 117; traveled to Houston, The Menil Collection, February 14-June 1, 2014, and Chicago, Art Institute, June 24-October 13, 2014.

Publication History

Kroniek van hedendaagsche kunst en kultuur (Amsterdam), 4th year, no. 19–20 (August 15, 1939), p. 315.

David Sylvester, ed., René Magritte: Catalogue Raisonné, v. 2 (Houston: The Menil Foundation, 1993), no. 430, pp. 239 (ill.), 240.

Magritte A to Z, ed. Christoph Grunenberg and Darren Pih, Exh. cat. (Tate Publishing, 2012) p. 30, 59, 88, 195, 204.

Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926-1938, ed. Anne Umland, Exh. cat. (The Museum of Modern Art, 2013), ill. 212.

Ownership History

Commissioned by Edward James, London, 1937–1972. Private collection, 1972–81. Private collection, 1981–88. Gift to Art Institute, 1988.

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