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Le poison

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  • Friedrich asked

    I wanted to ask about an other work, also called 'Le poison' and created 1939. However, it features an open door with a cloud that seems to leave for the beach. Why do both works have the same name? What is their significance and relationship? What does the picture with the cloud tell?
    Thank you very much!

  • Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen answered

    Hi Friedrich, Thank you for your question. Magritte made several works with more or less the same motif and gave them different titles. And on the other hand he used the same title for different motifs. The image with the door and the cloud has other variations titled La Prophetie and La Victoire. One of the main themes in Magritte's work is that what we humans call 'reality' is constructed by our minds. We call an object a pipe, and we also call the image of the object a pipe, but are the object and the image of it the same thing or is this just a convention? By playing around with images and words, Magritte tried to disturb our sense of reality, making us realize about our cultural conventions. By playing around with paintings and titles, he makes us realize how much we are dependent on language to interpret what we see. I hope this is helpful, kind regards, Els

  • Young asked

    Why is the title " poison "?
    What does it mean?

  • Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen answered

    Hello Nina, Thanks for asking. 'Le poison' means the poison and in the word also resembles the French word for fish (poisson). But it is unclear what this title has to do with the image René Magritte created. Magritte's intention was to confuse make you think twice about reality and the conventions we have invented to deal with it. It is known that he often picked his titles at random from the dictionary. Sometimes he also asked friends to make up a title. I hope this information is helpful. Kind regards, Els

  • Marzia Tachis asked

    come mai l'opera si chiama Le Poison?

  • Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen answered

    Dear Marzia, unfortunately my Italian is not sufficient to answer, hopefully English will do. In his paintings Magritte tried to cast doubt on reality, precisely by starting from reality, In The Poison a daytime sky is combined with the impression of night. And Magritte wanted to disturb perception even further by choosing a title that has nothing to do with the image, not just in this work but all the time. To find such titles he picked words at random from a dictionary or asked friends to come up with something without seeing the work. I hope this is helpful. All best, Els


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More information


Title Le poison
Material and technique Gouache on paper
Object type
Drawing > Two-dimensional object > Art object
Location This object is in storage
Dimensions Height Error: 33,5 is not a valid BCD value cm
Width Error: 40,7 is not a valid BCD value cm
Artists Artist: René Magritte
Accession number 2943 (MK)
Credits Purchased 1977
Department Modern Art
Acquisition date 1977
Creation date in 1939
Provenance Edward James, Chichester 1939-64; Edward James Foundation, Chichester 1964-77
Exhibitions Brussels 1939; London 1973a; Rotterdam 1996a; Brighton 1998; Porto 2001; Rotterdam 2006; Lille 2012-13; Edinburgh/Hamburg/Rotterdam 2016-17
Internal exhibitions TEFAF - Collecting Collectors (2016)
Gek van surrealisme (2017)
External exhibitions The Magical City (2012)
Surreal Encounters - Collecting the Marvellous (2016)
De Melancholieke Metropool: stadsbeelden tussen magie en realisme, 1925-1950 (2013)
Dalí, Ernst, Miró, Magritte... (2016)
Dal nulla al sogno (2018)
Surrealist Art - Masterpieces from Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen (2021)
Dalí, Magritte, Man Ray and Surrealism. Highlights from Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen (2023)
Only the Marvelous is Beautiful (2022)
A Surreal Shock. Masterpieces from Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen (2023)
A Surreal Shock – Masterpieces from Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen (2021)
Research Show research A dream collection - Surrealism in Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen
Literature Hammacher 1973, p. 130; London 1973, p. 42 (as La bonne avonture), cat. no. 42; Sylvester 1994, p. 33, cat. no. 1142; Edinburgh 2016, pp. 215, 248, 259, cat. no. 101
Gouache > Drawing technique > Technique > Material and technique
Geographical origin Belgium > Western Europe > Europe

Entry catalogue A dream collection - Surrealism in Museum Boijmans Van beuningen

Author: Marijke Peyser

Max Ernst, 'Day and Night', 1941-42, oil on canvas, 112.4 x 146.1 cm. Houston, The Menil Collection

Le poison was the first in a series of works known as L’empire des lumières (The Empire of Lights). The gouache shows silhouettes of houses with lighted windows. The moon shines and the stars twinkle on the walls of the houses, but at the same time the sky is as light as during the day. The simultaneous rendering of day and night, with a light blue sky and dark façades visible because of artificial light, would inspire the artist for a long time. René Magritte made variations on this theme in no fewer than seventeen oil paintings and ten gouaches over a period of more than ten years (from the late 1940s to the early 1960s).

In 1956 Magritte spoke about it in a TV programme: ‘For me, the concept of a painting is an idea of a thing or many things that can be made visible by my painting … the idea is not visible in the painting: an idea cannot be seen with the eyes. What is represented in a picture is what is visible to the eyes; it is the thing or things that were needed for the idea. So what are represented in L’empire des lumières are the things that gave me my idea, that is to say a nocturnal landscape and a sky we see in broad daylight … This evocation of night and day seems to me endowed with the power to surprise and enchant us. I call this power: poetry.’[1] In his work Magritte strove to cast doubt on reality, precisely by starting from reality. The basis of the L’empire des lumières series is the opposition of real extremes, which, admittedly, tolerate one another, but create an ominous atmosphere. In the series he also refers to other Surrealist writers and artists, like André Breton and Max Ernst.[2] Breton’s influence is revealed from an extract from the lecture that Magritte gave in London in 1937. Based on a short text by Breton he showed that an image could replace a word.[3] The text read ‘Si seulement …’, but for the benefit of the English audience it was freely translated as ‘If only the sun would shine tonight’, where the word ‘sun’ can be replaced by a drawing of a sun.[4] ‘Si seulement’ are the first words of Breton’s poem L’aigrette in the collection of poems Claire de terre (1923). Breton’s poetic yearning for the union of day and night is mirrored in Magritte’s works in the L’empire des lumières series. Ernst’s influence, on the other hand, can be seen in the contrast of day and night, which is also present in reverse in Ernst’s Day and Night (1941-42).

In an undated letter to his friend, the artist Suzi Gablik, Magritte wrote about a ‘problem’ that often vexed him: finding the right title. A friend had suggested the title Le salon de Dieu (God’s Parlour) for works in the L’empire des lumières series. Magritte dismissed this proposal and gave as the main reason that it was absolutely forbidden to say anything about God. He added that he actually was able to think of a sun-drenched landscape with a night sky, but it was only possible to depict this thought in paint if one was God. The last words of the letter read: ‘While waiting to become Him, I abandoned the project’.[5]



[1] Magritte/Blavier 1979, pp. 422-23. The TV programme, which was part of the series Arts, sciences et lettres de Belgique was broadcast on 13 June 1956.

[2] Allmer 2009, p. 108.

[3] Ibid., p. 90.

[4] Magritte/Blavier 1979, p. 96.

[5] Ibid., p. 423.

Show research A dream collection - Surrealism in Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen
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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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