René Magritte (1898-1967)
René Magritte (1898-1967)

Les valeurs personnelles

Ren Magritte (1898-1967)
Les valeurs personnelles
signed 'Magritte' (lower right); titled and dated '"LES VALEURS PERSONNELLES" 1952' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
31 x 39.3/8 in. (80 x 100 cm.)
Painted in 1952
Jan Albert Goris, New York (acquired directly from the artist in December 1952).
Harold Diamond, New York.
Acquired from the above by Harry Torczyner in 1969.
Letter from R. Magritte to A. Iolas, 25 April 1952.
Letter from A. Iolas to R. Magritte, 23 June 1952.
Letter from R. Magritte to A. Iolas, 9 July 1952.
Letter from R. Magritte to A. Iolas, 17 July 1952.
Letter from A. Iolas to R. Magritte, 15 October 1952.
Letter from R. Magritte to A. Iolas, 24 October 1952.
Letter from A. Iolas to R. Magritte, 1 January 1953.
La Biennale di Venezia, February 1953, p. 27 (illustrated).
"47 Artists Open Shows This Week," New York Times, 28 February 1960, p. 65.
S. Tillim, "Month in Review," Arts Magazine, December 1961, p. 45.
J. Canaday, "Floating Rocks and Flaming Tubas," Horizon, vol. IV, no. 3, January 1962, p. 82 (illustrated in color, p. 84).
G. Glueck, "A Bottle is a Bottle," New York Times, 19 December 1965, p. X19.
M. Kozloff, "Epiphanies of artifice," The Nation, January 1966, pp. 55-56.
R. Shattuck, "This is not Ren Magritte," Artforum, September 1966, p. 33.
W.S. Rubin, Dada and Surrealist Art, New York, 1968 (illustrated in color on the back of the dust-jacket).
N. Wadley, Cubism: Movements in Modern Art, London, 1970, p. 165, no. 186 (illustrated).
E. Gombrich and R.L. Gregory, eds., Illusion in Nature and Art, New York, 1973, p. 48 (illustrated).
A.M. Hammacher, Ren Magritte, New York and London, 1974, p. 144, pl. 40 (illustrated in color).
N. Calas, "A tough nut to crack," Artforum, May 1975, p. 50.
A. Robbe-Grillet and R. Magritte, La belle captive, Brussels, 1975, p. 83 (illustrated).
Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania, Improbable Furniture, Philadelphia, 1977, p. 7, no. 7 (illustrated).
Letter from P. Colinet to M. Marin, December 1951, in R. Magritte (M. Marin, ed.), La Destination: lettres Marcel Marin (1937-1962), Brussels, 1977, note to no. 238.
Letter from R. Magritte to M. Marin, February 1952, in R. Magritte (M. Marin, ed.), La Destination: lettres Marcel Marin (1937-1962), Brussels, 1977, no. 243.
Letter from R. Magritte to M. Marin, 24 April 1952, in R. Magritte (M. Marin, ed.), La Destination: lettres Marcel Marin (1937-1962), Brussels, 1977, no. 248.
C. Ray Smith, Supermannerism: New Attitudes in Post-Modern Architecture, New York, 1977, pp. 227-229 (illustrated, p. 227).
H. Torczyner, Magritte: Ideas and Images, New York, 1977, p. 233, no. 488 (illustrated in color).
Fellows of Contemporary Art, Vija Celmins: A Survey Exhibition, Pasadena, 1979, p. 24 (illustrated).
D. Watters, "What Shall I Love if not Enigma?," ANIMA, vol. 8, no. 2, 1982, p. 106 (illustrated).
G. Melly, "Bourgeois visionaries," House & Garden, November 1984, p. 52.
L. Fichner-Rathus, Understanding Art, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1986, p. 57 (illustrated).
P. Gimferrer, Magritte, Paris, 1986, pl. 77 (illustrated in color). "L'avocat aux vingt-cinq Magritte," Supplment Arts du Figaro Magazine, no. 476, 12 May 1989 (illustrated in color).
T. Grieder, Artist and Audience, Fort Worth, 1990, p. 78 (illustrated).
J. Meuris, Magritte, New York, 1990, pp. 140-141 (illustrated in color, pls. 238 and 210).
Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania, Vija Celmins, Philadelphia, 1992, p. 16.
D. Sylvester, Magritte, The Silence of the World, New York, 1992, pp. 289-290 (illustrated in color, p. 289).
H. Torczyner, L'ami Magritte: correspondance et souvenirs, Antwerp, 1992, p. 29 (illustrated in color), p. 128 (illustrated), pp. 141, 171, 389.
H. Kramer, "Magritte: The Enigma Variations," MD, vol. 37, no. 1, January 1993, p. 41 (illustrated in color).
D. Sylvester, S. Whitfield and M. Raeburn, Ren Magritte, Catalogue Raisonn, London, 1993, vol. III (Oil Paintings, Objects and Bronzes 1949-1967), pp. 191-193, no. 773 (illustrated, p. 191).
R. Magritte, Magritte/Torczyner: Letters Between Friends, New York, 1994, p. 136 (illustrated).
A. Sumedho, "Noticing Space," Tricycle: The Buddhist Review, autumn 1995, pp. 22-24 (illustrated).
H. Haddad, Magritte, 1996, p. 120 (illustrated in color).
Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Ren Magritte Die kunst der konversation, Dusseldorf, 1996, p. 13 (illustrated in color).
P. Zelanski and M.P. Fisher, Design Principles and Problems, New York, 1996, p. 90 (illustrated).
New York, Festival Galleries, As a tribute to the United Nations: paintings, sculpture and folk art from thirty-nine member countries of the United Nations, October-November 1958.
Dallas, Museum for Contemporary Arts, and Houston, Museum of Fine Arts, Ren Magritte in America, December 1960-March 1961, no. 15.
New York, Albert Landry Galleries, Ren Magritte in New York Private Collections, October-November 1961, no. 15.
Minneapolis, Walker Art Center, The Vision of Ren Magritte, September-October 1962, no. 40 (illustrated).
New York, The Museum of Modern Art; Waltham, Massachusetts, Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University; The Art Institute of Chicago; Pasadena, Art Museum, and Berkeley, University Art Museum, University of California, Ren Magritte, December 1965-November 1966, p. 49, no. 57 (illustrated).
New York, The Museum of Modern Art; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and The Art Institute of Chicago, Dada, Surrealism and their Heritage, March-December 1968, p. 237, no. 180 (illustrated, p. 122). London, Arts Council of Great Britain (Tate Gallery), Magritte, February-March 1969, pp. 84-85, no. 79 (illustrated in color).
London, Marlborough Fine Art, Ltd., Magritte, October-November 1973, no. 63.
Sydney, Art Gallery of New South Wales; Melbourne, National Gallery of Victoria, and New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Modern Masters: Manet to Matisse, April-September 1975, pp. 198 and 265, no. 56 (illustrated, p. 99).
New York, Sidney Janis Gallery, Magritte, December 1976-January 1977, no. 13.
Brussels, Palais des Beaux-Arts, and Paris, Muse National d'Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Rtrospective Magritte, October 1978-April 1979, no. 152 (illustrated).
New York, Sidney Janis Gallery, The Picasso Generation, December 1980-February 1981.
New York, The Museum of Modern Art; The Art Institute of Chicago, and Los Angeles, Museum of Contemporary Art, High & Low: Modern Art and Popular Culture, October 1990-September 1991, p. 358, no. 201 (illustrated in color).
New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Magritte, September-November 1992, no. 108 (illustrated in color).
Montreal, Museum of Fine Arts, Magritte, June-October 1996, pp. 17, 41 and 155, no. 72 (illustrated, pp. 17 and 41; illustrated in color, p. 155).
New York, The Museum of Modern Art, Objects of Desire: The Modern Still Life, May-August 1997, p. 156, no. 87 (illustrated in color).
Sale room notice
This painting has been requested for the exhibition Magritte: Precursor of Conceptual Art to be held at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebaek and traveling to Edinburgh, National Gallery of Art, August 1999-early 2000.

Lot Essay

Les valeurs personnelles is widely considered one of Magritte's greatest masterpieces, notable for both its unique imagery and its especially beautiful execution. Magritte began the painting at the end of 1951, when Colinet enclosed a sketch of it in a letter to Marin (fig. 1); he completed it by February of 1952 when he wrote to Marin that he had started two additional works featuring oversized objects entrapped in small rooms (fig. 2, and Sylvester, appendix no. 109; private collection). Magritte offered Les valeurs personnelles to his dealer Alexander Iolas in April, and shipped it to him in July of that year. Iolas was violently upset by the picture and wrote to Magritte complaining that it made him feel "sick...depressed...helpless...confused." Iolas begged the artist, "Be an angel and explain it to me" (quoted in D. Sylvester et al., op. cit., p. 192).

This request prompted an extraordinary letter from Magritte, containing one of his most complete explanations of a picture:

About the picture Personal Values--let me tell you first that it was not hurriedly painted, as you say: I worked on it for at least two months, and every detail was reconsidered and revised until a certain state of grace was achieved (it is not the traditional state of grace). I therefore attribute the judgment you express to your haste; as soon as you look at this picture with the approach necessary for the acceptance of a work of art whatever it may be like, you will certainly change your mind. Such an approach is impossible if the mind is preoccupied with irrelevant, utilitarian and rationalistic considerations. Indeed, from the point of view of immediate utility, of what relevance is the notion that, for instance, a sky is chasing around the walls of a bedroom or a gigantic match [is] lying on the carpet or an enormous comb [is] standing upright on the bed?... 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. A picture which is really alive should make the spectator feel ill, and if the spectators aren't ill, it is because 1) they are too insensitive, 2) they have got used to this uneasy feeling, which they take to be pleasure... Contact with reality (not the symbolic reality which allows social exchanges and social violence) always produces this feeling. (Quoted in ibid., p. 192)

Magritte initially called the work Le champ libre (The Clear Field), only adopting the present title in April 1952. It was Paul Noug, Magritte's friend and collaborator, who suggested Les valeurs personnelles. This is especially noteworthy since Noug, in an essay on Magritte, once wrote:

What are the objects, then, that man should consider most important? Without doubt, those that are most common. The human importance of an object is in direct proportion to its banality... The aim is to make contact with the object itself, and to do so in such a way that a kind of enrichment results.

It is in this way that Magritte starts to examine an egg, a door, our gaze, the light, a leaf, a mountain, a house, our hunger, our face, our love...

Here, it is the real that is envisaged; it is not some aggregate of abstract qualities but the dialectical system of almost infinite richness that a thing forms with ourselves at the very moment we are considering it. In such a dynamic whole, exchanges take place between the innumerable sensory, affective and intellectual forces. (Quoted in S. Whitfield, op. cit., exh. cat., New York, 1992, pp. 37-38).

Magritte gave a similar explication of his oeuvre:

My paintings show objects deprived of the sense they usually have. They are shown in unusual contexts... Ordinary objects fascinate me. A door is a familiar object but at the same time it is a bizarre object, full of mystery... I suppose you can call me a surrealist. The word is all right. You have to use one word or another. But one should really say realism, althought that usually refers to daily life in the street. It should be that realism means the real with the mystery that is in the real. ("The Enigmatic Visions of Rene Magritte," Life, 22 April 1966, pp. 113-119; quoted in R. Magritte, Ecrits complets, Paris, 1992, pp. 609-611)

(fig. 1) Drawing by Colinet in a letter to Marin, mid-December 1951.
(fig. 2) Ren Magritte, La chambre d'coute, 1952.
Menil Collection, Houston.

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