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
© 2008 C. Herscovici, London / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

The Surrealist movement, which developed in the 1920s, was based on images from the world of dreams and the subconscious. The typical Surrealist device of juxtaposing common objects in unexpected contexts appealed to the Belgian painter René Magritte. During a three-year stay in Paris, Magritte, whose native city was Brussels, associated with the French Surrealists. Though influenced by the Paris group, he did not share their flamboyant, publicity-seeking tactics. A quiet and thoughtful man who preferred anonymity, he spent most of his career in Brussels, developing a meticulous, realistic painting style that reflected his early training in commercial art, painting false marble and wood paneling for residences.

In explaining Time Transfixed, Magritte said: "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." It is in the surprising juxtaposition and scale shift of these common and unrelated images that their mystery and magic arises. The artist transformed the pipe 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. The tiny engine races out into the stillness of a sparsely furnished dining room, its smoke neatly floating up the chimney, suggesting in turn the smoke of coal in the stove.