- Paul Delvaux
- Le Nu et le mannequin (Le nu au mannequin)
- Signed and dated P. Delvaux 12-47 (lower right)
- Oil on canvas
- 61 1/4 by 88 1/2 in.
- 155 by 225 cm
Claude Spaak, Choisel
Staempfli Gallery, New York
Estate of Emily B. Staempfli, New York
Sale: Christie's, London, June 24, 2003, lot 37
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner
Paris, Galerie René Drouin, Paul Delvaux, 1948, no. 19
Luxembourg, Musées de l’Etat, Artistes wallons, contemporains, 1949, no. 52
Vervier, Société Royale des Beaux-Arts, Paul Delvaux: Tableaux, Dessins, Aquarelles, 1949, no. 10
Lyon, Musées des Beaux-Arts, La peinture belge contemporaine, 1950, no. 25
Milan, Palazzo della Permanente, Pittura Belga contemporanea, 1954, no. 129
New York, Staempfli Gallery, Paul Delvaux, 1959, no. 17
New York, Staempfli Gallery, Paul Delvaux (selected paintings), 1963
Rotterdam, Museum Boymans-Van Beuningen, Delvaux, 1973, no. 44
Knokke-Heist, Casino, Delvaux, 1973, no. 36
Emil Langui, Paul Delvaux, Venice, 1949, p. 16, illustrated pl. XXXI
Paul-Aloise de Bock, Paul Delvaux. Der Mensch. Der Maler, Hamburg, 1965, illustrated pl. 26
Paul-Aloise de Bock, Paul Delvaux, Brussels, 1967, no. 90, p. 295, illustrated p. 160 (as seen in the artist’s studio on the rue d’Ecosse) and pl. 161
Jardin des Arts, May 1969, illustrated p. 75
José Vovelle, Le Surréalisme en Belgique, Brussels, 1972, no. 227, pp. 188 and 200
Jean Ache, “Alice au pays des surréalistes”, Pilote, recueil 58, no. 700, April 1973, illustrated p.38
I. Lebeer, Interview avec Paul Delvaux, Brussels, 1974
Michel Butor, Jean Clair and Suzanne Houbart-Wilkin, Delvaux: Catalogue de l’Oeuvre Peint, Brussels, 1975, no. 186, illustrated p. 225
Marc Rombaut, Paul Delvaux, New York, 1990, no. 67, illustrated
The mysterious paintings of Paul Delvaux are regarded as some of the most alluring examples of late Surrealist art. Although his paintings are renowned for their hallucinatory scenarios and dream-like imagery, the artist claimed not to be a proponent of the writings of Sigmund Freud and did not invest his compositions with the blatantly psychoanalytic references that were favored by Dalí, Miró and his fellow Belgian, René Magritte. Delvaux’s approach to painting was more subtle in its representation of the uncanny: without being overtly grotesque or offensive with his imagery, he would interrupt the peacefulness and banality of a given scene with instances of the bizarre. Many of these pictures present a conventional architectural setting, like a railway station or a street corner, that is populated by expressionless and oddly lifeless women, usually depicted in the nude (see fig. 1). The passivity of these women recalls the gentle beauty of a Botticelli or the flawlessness of a Bouguereau (see fig. 2) and adds a certain sense of timelessness to an otherwise localized scene. The blatancy and contextual inappropriateness of their nudity, however, overshadows any eroticism that can be derived from these pictures, leaving the viewer to contemplate the perplexing narrative of the composition.
The scene here seems to be set in an unspecified European city in contemporary times, given the generic, neo-Renaissance architectural details with a giant telephone pole and electric lighting in the background. But this otherwise conventional scene is dramatically offset by the unexplained presence of the reclining nude and the dressmaker's mannequin. The reference to Alexandre Cabanel's saccharine Naissance de Vénus (see fig. 3), and the intense realism of the woman's unshaven nudity, takes this otherwise generic scene to a level of absurdity that can only be achieved by a master Surrealist. Like the ominous street scenes of de Chirico (see fig. 4), the rigidity of the architecture and dramatic shadowing create a palpable sensation of danger and uncertainty and allude to whatever lurks beyond the boundaries of the picture.
Delvaux was always fascinated with the effects of light and shadow in his pictures, and his mastery at manipulating color to this end is demonstrated quite beautifully in this picture. As the glow of the setting sun casts a golden light over the horizon, the figures cast imposing shadows. The scene as a whole takes on an unsettling incandescence, and the viewer is thus left to consider the oddities of this ‘twilight zone.’ Discussing Delvaux’s fascination with light in his paintings, Barbara Emerson has written, “Delvaux uses light to great effect, almost as if he were manipulating theatrical equipment of spots and dimmers. With consummate skill, he contrasts cool white shafts of moonlight with the warm, gentle glow from an oil lamp” (Barbara Emerson, Delvaux, Paris and Antwerp, 1985, p. 174).
As with most of his pictures, the meaning behind this scene is somewhat unclear, and several hypotheses can be made about the symbolism of juxtaposing a mannequin and a nude. But throughout his lifetime, the artist was resistant to provide any sort of narrative for these pictures, stating quite clearly “I do not feel the need to give a temporal explanation of what I do, neither do I feel the need to account for my human subjects who exist only for the purpose of my painting. These figures recount no history: they are. Further, they express nothing in themselves...” (Paul Delvaux, 1897-1984 (exhibition catalogue), Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Brussels, 1997, quoted in. p. 22).
Fig. 1, Paul Delvaux, La Vénus endormie, 1944, oil on canvas, The Tate Gallery, London
Fig. 2, Adolphe-William Bouguereau, Le Nymphaneum, 1878, oil on canvas, The Haggin Museum, Stockton, California
Fig. 3, Alexandre Cabanel, La Naissance de Vénus, circa 1863, oil on canvas, Musée d'Orsay, Paris
Fig. 4, Giorgio de Chirico, The Disturbing Muses, 1925, oil on canvas, Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna, Rome, Isabella Pakszwer de Chirico Donation