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Au seuil de la liberté

Au seuil de la liberté

René Magritte (in 1930)

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  • qwert asked

    What is the importance and significance of this work?

  • Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen answered

    Hi, The image is characteristic for the surrealist movement: it’s a reality which could not actually exist except in dreams and in the realm of imagination.

    After ‘Au seuil de la liberté’. Magritte painted another famous painting in 1937: ‘La reproduction interdite’. Magritte based that painting on a photograph he made of Edward James looking at ‘Au seuil de la liberté’. You can read more about this subject on, where you can find an in-depth text on Surrealism.

    So, ‘Au seuil de la liberté’ is not only typically surrealistic, it has also been the basis for another important painting that Magritte made. Best, Daphne

  • Amandine asked

    Is this painting from the series « canvas-words »?

  • Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen answered

    Dear Amandine, no this work is not an example of Magritte's 'word paintings'. Best Rianne


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More information

The painting shows a canon in a room, the walls of which show various images: clouds, the torso of a woman, several planks, or a façade with windows. The title of this work by René Magritte was suggested by his friend Paul Nougé. The title is probably borrowed from a quotation from the book Prester John by John Buchnan: 'The clear air of dawn was like wine in my blood. I was not free, but I was on the threshold of freedom'. In fact, the painting is really a promise.

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Collection book

Collection book Order


Title Au seuil de la liberté
Material and technique Oil on canvas
Object type
Painting > Painting > Two-dimensional object > Art object
Location This object is in storage
Dimensions Width 146 cm
Height 114 cm
Artists Kunstenaar: René Magritte
Accession number 2709 (MK)
Credits Aankoop / Purchase: 1966
Department Modern Art
Acquisition date 1966
Age artist About 32 years old
Exhibitions Een prikkelcollectie (2000)
Gek van surrealisme (2017)
De collectie als tijdmachine (2017)
The Collection Enriched (2011)
External exhibitions Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary 1926-1938 (2013)
Surreal Encounters - Collecting the Marvellous (2016)
Dalí, Ernst, Miró, Magritte... (2016)
Dal nulla al sogno (2018)
Geographical origin Belgium > Western Europe > Europe

Please note: The metadata of this object have not been checked.
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Author: Marijke Peyser

René Magritte made this version of Au seuil de la liberté in 1930 for his first solo exhibition in Galerie Goemans in Paris, where he lived from September 1927 to July 1930. Unfortunately the exhibition was cancelled: the gallery did not survive the crisis that followed the global stock market crash of October 1929 and had to close its doors.[1] Les six éléments (The Six Elements), a work made in 1929, is a ‘run-up’ to Au seuil de la liberté: a horizontal canvas that is divided into six parts and contains images that are like those in Au seuil de la liberté.

Magritte described Au seuil de la liberté to his friend the art dealer E.L.T. Mesens in a letter dated 10 June 1930: ‘Room with walls made up of sky, fire, a paper cut-out, a house façade, a woman’s breasts, forest, planks. On the floor stands a large canon aimed at these things.’[2] The title probably refers to a passage from a French translation of John Buchan’s novel Prester John (1927): ‘The clear air of dawn was like wine in my blood. I was not free, but I was on the threshold of freedom.’[3] The scenes in the eight panels depicted on the canvas refer to different traditional genres and painting techniques. The sky and the woods reference landscape painting. The female torso alludes to the nude; the façade to townscapes. Magritte expert Bram Hammacher believes that the three ‘walls’ of Au seuil de la liberté depict a number of aspects from nature and things from man’s everyday life.[4]

Au seuil de la liberté was shown at the International Surrealist Exhibition in London in 1936. The exhibition introduced Surrealism into Great Britain. It was where the English patron and collector Edward James got to know Magritte and saw his work. Six months later James invited the artist to make a triptych in his house in London. In an improvised studio Magritte painted a larger and more vertical version of Au seuil de la liberté, which forms the middle panel of the triptych.[5] The 1930 version was acquired for Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in 1966, along with Max Ernst’s Le couple and Giorgio de Chirico’s Il trovatore from the collection of the Belgian collectors Bertie and Gigi Urvater (see Le couple and Il trovatore).[6] Later many more Surrealist purchases would follow, including a number of prominent works by Salvador Dalí and Magritte from James’s former collection.



[1] Gibson 1997b, p. 258.

[2] Sylvester 1992b, pp. 347-48: The remark about the size of the canon (bearing Magritte’s signature) refers to a number of allusions in letters from Magritte to friends to the ‘canon bibitale/my private gun’.

[3] Ibid., p. 348.

[4] Hammacher 1995, p. 98.

[5] Gassner in Rotterdam 2017, p. 175, fig. 33.

[6] See Van Kampen-Prein in this publication, pp. 24-25.

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All about the artist

René Magritte

Lessen 1898 - Schaarbeek 1967

René Magritte studied at the academy in Brussels. He began as pattern designer in a carpet factory and as painter by painting and designing advertising posters...

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