A skeleton in the closet or What are women waiting for in Paul Delvaux’s paintings?
What’s behind the open doors and the rails, what’s the conspiracy among the skeletons, and what the female subjects of his canvases are silent about — come and read the direct reportage guide to the world of Paul Delvaux’s endless fantasy.
He painted stories rather than things or objects. From the very childhood, some things worried Paul Delvaux (1897—1994) especially acutely. Stations and trains, human "carcasses", women, the ancient Greek pantheon and the adventures sung by Homer… He managed to twist all these into a single Universe of numerous roads leading to the understanding of his images.
Turn back and you will wake up on the railsAt the beginning of the journey through the artist’s universe, as expected, we meet a station. It is not in France, but in Brussels. At the time of passion for and neo-impressionism, at the first stages of his creativity, Paul Delvaux was nicknamed the station artist, because his imagination was agitated by the parallels of rails, stations and trains from his youth; he used to watch them from the window of his nursery. Painted in a cool brown-grey scheme, they resemble film reminiscences. He painted people in railway decorations faceless, as if he were taking them out of memory, recalling only the general features of silhouettes.
Painted in a cool brown-grey color scheme, they resemble film reminiscences. He painted people in railway decorations faceless, as if he were taking them out of memory, recalling only the general features of silhouettes.
Later, Delvaux used night platforms in surrealist paintings, along with lonely female figures, standing in a half-turn or with their backs turned to the viewer. They are like somnambulists from nowhere. It is not awake people who wander, but their unheard subconscious, set free by sound sleep.
Go to the left, and you will find womenOne of the stories from the Siestas collection of world classic of Argentine literature Julio Cortázar is about an illustrated album by an unknown author, on which "… women go somewhere or sit, or lie on the grass or even right in the station’s waiting room, look at each other with their huge eyes in the full moon, but the moon is not visible in the pictures. Full moon is everywhere, naked women are everywhere, they walk towards each other like blind, as if they see nothing and no one, as if they are completely alone, and sometimes some men in black suits or grey coats watch these women walk back and forth, and other men, all in bowlers for some reason, are examining some rare gems through a magnifying glass…" All of them seem to get to the story from Delvaux’s paintings.
The French poet and writer André Breton believed that the artist turns the world into a "kingdom of women". Biographers explain this by the fact that Delvaux’s mother was rather strict, she did not allow him for intimate communication with the opposite sex. That is why the woman has become an inaccessible object of painful lust. In the 30s, the author experienced a difficult parting with his beloved Tam, which was again caused by pressure from the family. 20 years later, the relationship resumed, but this was preceded by years of painful passive eroticism.
First, Delvaux painted his failed wedding, and then he began to open the door to the world of female homosexuality, which became a constant in his paintings and drawings.
He perceived lesbian relationships as something more intimate and spontaneous than those between opposite sexes. In his Girlfriends painting, the male character, the prototype of which is the artist himself, remains as though outside, emphasizing the inaccessibility of women for the author.
The reverse side of the medal is female rivalry, to which Delvaux dedicated the Disputes cycle.
…Music, free halls turning into moonlit alleys, stretching out the snow-white hands of the feminine rebels from the canvases… This is where I really wanted to stay, follow them, become a part of their matriarchal and irrational macrocosm. And sometimes — on the contrary, to be in the role of the bewildered hero of Marcello Mastroiani from Fellini’s fantasmagoria, City of Women, trapped in a mysterious and hostile world.
Go to the right, and Odysseus will take you awayAs a teenager, Delvaux did not fall asleep without another chapter of Iliad or Odyssey, and afterwards he painted countless battle scenes from the life of Roman soldiers. Nothing satisfied his aesthetic needs and craving for harmony so much as antiquity.
In 1925, the artist took on the first painting inspired by antiquity, The Return of Ulysses. Since then, the focus of his fantasy has been transferred to the ancient world, manifesting in real canvases through patterns of architectural feats, sculptural poses of heroines and mythological subjects. The Palace in Ruins is the first serious work that clearly demonstrates the author’s craving for the distant past and his passion for the paintings of Giorgio de Chirico with his classic Italian plazas and theatrical and poetic atmosphere. In addition, a new direction is definitely read, . So he gradually found himself in his own . By the way, architecture preceded painting in Delvaux’s life: he first studied architecture at the Brussels Royal Academy of Arts.
What the artist saw, read and lived was transformed into a unique outlook. Among the most often used by him architectural elements were stairs, columns, vaults.
Go straight, and you will find a skeletonDuring his school years, Delvaux bypassed his music class in which the skeleton was kept. Later, when close acquaintance became inevitable, the exhibit he saw became so ingrained in his mind that he carried it through many works, using both at the end of his Expressionist period and at the end of the 50s.
In the "skeletal Cantini hall", the characters of the "X-ray artist" go about their business as if nothing had happened — they shoot a duel (Duel of Skeletons, 1934), dance, sit in the library. Later, Delvaux adds religious motives to his "skeletal adventures".
The canvases seem to breathe a mystical premonition into the viewer’s lungs. The atmosphere of incomprehensible expectation, the state of sleep, the juxtaposition of seemingly incomparable elements in his painting fit Delvaux into a surrealistic context. Certainly, he artist knew Salvador Dalí, Max Ernst, René Magritte and the creator of the surrealist manifesto, André Breton. But except for a few cases (for example, the international exhibition of surrealists in Paris) he kept himself apart. Thus, the character, unique in the history of Belgian art, retained his creative independence.
The IntimateSince the late 1920s, Paul Delvaux has been painting women. Melancholic and pensive are they on the canvases Woman in the Mirror, Bust of a Young Woman Reclining, transparent on watercolours Leda, A Study for Pygmalion…
In the painting Acropolis (1966), naked virgins begin to prepare for a ritual known only to them, as if they were members of a secret society.
The Sleeping Venus painting (1944) was made during the bombing of Germany. The restlessness of the general atmosphere is contrasted with the calm and serene sleep of Venus.
Another variant of the Sleeping Venus allows us to be voyeurists. Along with us, the lying naked woman is examined by dressed people. The author often resorts to this technique, which further emphasizes nudity.
…but if you do get lost, look for open doors — there are many of them in Delvaux’s paintings. Just don’t forget to come back!