René Magritte

Belgian (Lessines, Belgium, 1898 - 1967, Schaerbeek, Belgium)

Les valeurs personnelles (Personal Values)

painting | oil on canvas
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  • Les valeurs personnelles (Personal Values)

    René Magritte, Les valeurs personnelles (Personal Values), 1952; oil on canvas, 31 1/2 in. x 39 3/8 in. (80.01 cm x 100.01 cm); Collection SFMOMA, Purchase through a gift of Phyllis C. Wattis; © Charly Herscovici, Brussels / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Although he is often grouped with Surrealists such as Salvador Dalí, Max Ernst, and Yves Tanguy, Magritte took a somewhat different approach to painting. Rather than creating fantasy imagery, he evoked the strangeness and ambiguity latent in reality. "I don't paint visions," he once said. "To the best of my capability, by painterly means, I describe objects — and the mutual relationship of objects — in such a way that none of our habitual concepts or feelings is necessarily linked with them."

Here, the artist presents a room filled with familiar things, but he gives human proportions to these formerly unassuming props of everyday life, creating a sense of disorientation and incongruity. Inside and out are inverted by his rendering of a skyscape on the interior walls of the room. The familiar becomes unfamiliar, the normal, strange; Magritte creates a paradoxical world that is, in his own words, "a defiance of common sense."

When he first saw this painting, Magritte's dealer, Alexander Iolas, was violently upset by it. Tellingly, the artist replied, "In my picture, the comb (and the other objects as well) has specifically lost its 'social character,' it has become an object of useless luxury, which may, as you say, leave the spectator feeling helpless or even make him ill. Well, this is proof of the effectiveness of the picture."

31 1/2 in. x 39 3/8 in. (80.01 cm x 100.01 cm)
Acquired 1998
Collection SFMOMA
Purchase through a gift of Phyllis C. Wattis
© Charly Herscovici, Brussels / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York


Surrealism, clouds, bedrooms, combs, wineglasses, shaving cream brushes, powder puffs, matches, beds, rugs, mirrors, cabinets, armoires, oversized, proportions, interiors, domestic

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