<p>In meticulous detail, this oil painting depicts an ordinary bedroom that has extraordinary walls and contains disproportionally large household items. The room has wooden floors that are largely covered by two overlapping Persian rugs. There is a small wooden bed to our left, and a wooden wardrobe with mirrored doors to our right. The yellowing ceiling has deep crown molding, and is cracking in the corners. The walls of the room are either a bright blue sky dotted with fluffy white clouds, or have been wallpapered to create that illusion. Standing on the bed, reaching almost to the ceiling, is a tortoiseshell pocket comb. A shaving brush that would barely fit in the bed rests on top of the wardrobe, and a giant wooden match and brown pill sit on the rugs. Between them, in the middle of the painting, is an aquamarine wineglass as big as the wardrobe.</p>
René Magritte, Les valeurs personnelles (Personal Values), 1952

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.”

Artwork Info

Artwork title
Les valeurs personnelles (Personal Values)
Artist name
René Magritte
Date created
1952
Classification
painting
Medium
oil on canvas
Dimensions
31 1/2 in. x 39 3/8 in. (80.01 cm x 100.01 cm)
Date Acquired
1998
Credit
Collection SFMOMA
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, purchase through a gift of Phyllis C. Wattis
Copyright
© Charly Herscovici, Brussels / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Permanent URL
https://www.sfmoma.org/artwork/98.562
Artwork Status
On view on floor 2 as part of Open Ended: Painting and Sculpture, 1900 to Now

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