About This Artwork

René Magritte
Belgian, 1898–1967

Time Transfixed, 1938

Oil on canvas
57 7/8 x 38 7/8 in. (147 x 98.7 cm)
Signed, l.r.: "Magritte"

Joseph Winterbotham Collection, 1970.426

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

Impressed by René Magritte’s submissions to the 1936 International Surrealist Exhibition, the collector Edward James invited the artist to paint canvases for the ballroom of his London home. In response, Magritte conceived On the Threshold of Liberty (in the collection of the Art Institute) and his now-famous Time Transfixed. The artist later explained this picture: “I decided to paint the image of a locomotive. . . . In order for its mystery to be evoked, another immediately familiar image without mystery—the image of a dining room fireplace—was joined.” The surprising juxtaposition and scale of unrelated elements, heightened by Magritte’s precise realism, gives the picture its perplexity and allure. The artist transformed the stovepipe of a coal-burning stove into a charging locomotive, situating the train in a fireplace vent so that it appears to be emerging from a railway tunnel. Magritte was unhappy with the English translation of the original French, La durée poignardé, which literally means “ongoing time stabbed by a dagger.” He hoped that the painting would be installed at the bottom of the collector’s staircase so that the train would “stab” guests on their way up to the ballroom. Ironically, James installed it over his fireplace instead.

Exhibition, Publication and Ownership Histories

Exhibition History

New York, Museum of Modern Art, Réne Magritte, December 15, 1965–February 27, 1966, no. 38, p. 37 (ill.); traveled to Waltham, Massachusetts, Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University, April 3–May 1, 1966; Chicago, Art Institute, May 30–July 3, 1966; Pasadena, Art Museum, August 1–September 4, 1966; Berkley, University Art Museum, October 1–November 1, 1966.

London, Tate Gallery, René Magritte, February 14–April 2, 1969, no. 62, p. 81 (ill.).

London, Hayward Gallery, Southbank Centre, Rene Magritte, May 19–August 2, 1992; traveled to New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, September 9–November 22, 1992; Houston, Menil Collection, December 15, 1992–February 21, 1993; and Chicago, Art Institute, March 16–May 30, 1993.

Brussels, Musées Royaux des Beaux Arts de Belgique, Réne Magritte, March 6–June 28, 1998.

Paris, Centre Georges Pompidou, La Revolution Surrealiste, February 27–June 24, 2003; traveled to Dusseldorf, Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfallen, July 20–November 24, 2002.

Los Angeles County Museum of Art, René Magritte and Contemporary Art: The Treachery of Images, December 10, 2006–March 4, 2007, pg. 146 (ill.).

Kansas City, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Art in the Age of Steam: Europe, America and the Railway, 1830–1960, September 13, 2008–January 18, 2009.

Liverpool, Tate Liverpool, René Magritte: The Pleasure Principle, June 24, 2011-Febuary 26, 2012.

New York, Museum of Modern Art, Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926-1938, September 28, 2013-January 12, 2014, no. 126; traveled to Houston, The Menil Collection, February 14-June 1, 2014, and Chicago, Art Institute, June 24-October 13, 2014.

Paris, Centre Georges Pompidou, Magritte, la trahison des images, September 21, 2016–January 23, 2017, no cat. no., Frankfurt, Schirn Kunsthalle, Feb. 10–June 5, 2017 (Paris only).

Publication History

James Thrall Soby, René Magritte (New York, 1965), p. 37 (ill.).

Patrick Waldberg, René Magritte, translated by Austryn Wainhouse (Brussels, 1965), p. 37 (ill.).

The Collections of the Tate Gallery (London, 1967), p. 162.

David Sylvester, Magritte (New York and Washington, 1969), pp. 2, 81 (ill.).

Simon Watson Taylor, “René Magritte and André Breton,” Studio International, CLXXVII (February 1969) p. 69 (ill.).

Burlington Magazine, CXII (September 1970), p. lxxviii (ill.).

Arts Magazine, CXII (September 1970), ill.

“So Real Surrealism,” The Detroit News (January 12, 1971), ill.

Anne D’Harnoncourt, “Acquisitions of Modern Art by Museums,” Burlington Magazine, CXIV (February 1972), p. 123 (ill.).

José Vovelle, Le Surrealisme en Belgique (Brussels, 1972), p. 116 (ill.).

A. M. Hammacher, René Magritte, translated by James Brockway (New York, 1973), p. 114 (ill.).

Sarah Whitfield, Magritte (London: South Bank Centre, 1992), no. 155.

David Sylvester and Sarah Whitfield, René Magritte: Catalogue Raisonné, vol. 2 (Houston: The Menil Foundation, 1993).

Magritte A bis Z, ed. Christoph Grunrmberg and Darren Pih, Exh. cat. (Alberina Publishing, 2012), p. 8, ill. 232, ill. 233, ill. 235, p. 259.

Magritte A to Z, ed. Christoph Grunenberg and Darren Pih, Exh. cat. (Tate Publishing, 2012), ill. 58, p. 59, 195, 204.

Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926-1938, ed. Anne Umland, Exh. cat. (The Museum of Modern Art, 2013), ill. 223.

Didier Ottinger, Magritte : La trahison des images, exh. cat. (Centre Pompidou, 2016), pp. 39 (color ill.); 221.

Ownership History

Edward James, London, until 1970. Purchased by Art Institute, October 1970.

View mobile website