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The extraordinary life of Paul Delvaux

Lots to be sold at Uppsala Auktionskammare’s Important Sale: Modern & Contemporary 9 – 10 November 2022

Fascinating a whole world with his night-time scenes of skeletons, portraits of naked women and train stations, Paul Delvaux is regarded as one of the most intriguing artists of the surrealist genre. Yet, he distanced himself from the surrealist movement and did not include psychoanalytical symbols in his compositions like some of his contemporary surrealists. The writer Gisèle Ollinger-Zinque commented: ”There is no need whatsoever for psychological analyses or psychoanalytical interpretations…to understand the world of Delvaux. It is made of simplicity and reality. It is the blossoming and affirmation of poetry by means of the contrasts that exist between the great monumental figures and the anachronistic settings in which they move… His pictorial universe exists out of time, eludes fashion and defies any attempt at classification.” Included in the sale are two drawings by Paul Delvaux, both acquired by the present owner at Galerie Isy Brachot in Paris. 

Architectural elements are often seen in Delvaux’s drawings and paintings, sometimes a hybrid of modern and classical styles featured together with figures. Delvaux studied Latin and Greek, and trained as an architect at the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts in Brussels. This was a compromise agreed on when Delvaux’s parents wished for him to follow in his father’s footsteps and pursue a legal career instead. Delvaux graduated at the age of 27 but it took him almost three more years before he felt confident enough to set up his own studio in Brussels. His self-doubt made him wait until he was in his mid-thirties before he exhibited any of his works. When he first showed a painting of a sleeping Venus he was deeply criticised, and decided to destroy the painting along with several other works from the same period. Very few paintings from his 1920s period have survived, Delvaux recorded the destruction of 50 of his canvases to re-use the frames. 

Delvaux’s drawings and paintings from the 1930s mostly depict women, often portrayed nude, architectural elements and landscapes. He constantly drew inspiration from his own experiences and said: ”Youthful impressions, fixed once and for all in the mind, influence you all your life.” He spent his childhood summers at a house shared by his four aunts and their long dresses with corsets later became a recurring theme in his oeuvre. Paul Delvaux refused to call himself a surrealist artist, although he was highly influenced by some of the movement’s pioneers. In 1926, he visited an exhibition of works by Giorgio de Chirico whose dramatic compositions with their dark palette made a deep impact on him. He was also drawn to the work of artists such as René Magritte, Salvador Dalí and Max Ernst, who all played an important role in shaping his own artistic expression. He said about de Chirico; ”with him I realized what was possible, the climate that had to be developed, the climate of silent streets with shadows of people who can’t be seen, I’ve never asked myself if it’s surrealist or not.” One of the drawings included in the sale dates from 1935, an important time in the artist’s life where he exhibited frequently together with the surrealists. In 1934, Delvaux joined Salvador Dalí, de Chirico and René Magritte in the exhibition ”Minotaure” at the Palais des Beaux-Arts de Bruxells and in 1936 he and Magritte had separate shows at the same venue. In ”Le Pugilat”, two nude women are standing facing each other alone in a room. Characteristic for Delvaux, long shadows dance on the wall behind them as they are standing in an unsettling juxtaposition. The title indicates a struggle between the women, further implied by the dark look etched on the blonde woman’s face as she tries to avoid the embrace. The second drawing depicts two nude women seated facing each other, one of them leaning towards the other resting her head on her chest. While ”Le Pugilat” exudes a dramatic atmosphere, ”Les deux femmes” shows a tender, peaceful and intimate scene. On the back of the sheet of ”Les deux femmes” is yet another intriguing drawing by Paul Delvaux; showing two reclining nude women.

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Jeanna Ahlin


Modern & Contemporary Art
Phone: +46 (0)734-32 41 45

Sofie Bexhed

Head of Sales

Phone: +46 (0)705-22 61 62

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