Lot 52
  • 52

Paul Delvaux

3,000,000 - 5,000,000 USD
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  • Paul Delvaux
  • Nus à la statue
  • Signed P. Delvaux and dated 4-46 (lower right)
  • Oil on masonite
  • 48 by 72 in.
  • 122 by 183 cm


Private Collection, New York

Jean Krebs, Brussels (by 1975)

Acquired by the present owner in 2004


Brussels, U.L.B., Congrès international d'électromyographie, 1971

Knokke-Heist, Casino, Paul Devaux, 1973, no. 32, illustrated in the catalogue

New York, The New York Cultural Center & Houston, The Museum of Fine Arts, Painters of the Mind's Eye.  Belgian Symbolists and Surrealists, 1974, no. 78, illustrated in the catalogue

London, Acrois, The Surrealist Art Center, Surrealist Masters 1974, 1974, no. 20, illustrated in color in the catalogue

Tokyo, Musée National d'Art Moderne & Kyoto, Musée National d'Art Moderne, Paul Delvaux, 1975, no. 20, illustrated in color in the catalogue



G. Zwang, Le Sexe de la femme, Paris, 1967, illustrated p. 396

Apollo, London, 1974, no. 148, illustrated p. 165

Michel Butor, Jean Clair & Suzanne Houbart-Wilkin, Delvaux, Catalogue de l'oeuvre peint, Lausanne & Paris, 1975, no. 172, illustrated p. 218


Very good condition. The masonite is cradled and stable. There are some minor paint losses due to original pins at intervals along all framing edges and throughout corresponding to the cradling on the reverse. There are some protruding nails throughout. Under ultra-violet light, there appears to be a minor retouching to the frontal figure’s right thigh, one retouching on her chest and another small retouching to the lower back of the right figure, otherwise this work is in very good condition.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

Delvaux's spectacular Nus à la statue is among the most sensuous compositions of his oeuvre and an alluring example of Surrealist art.  Although Delvaux's paintings are renowned for their hallucinatory 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 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 modern architectural setting, like a railway station, loggia or a street corner, that is populated by expressionless and oddly lifeless women, usually depicted in the nude.  The passivity of these women recalls the gentle beauty of a Botticelli or the flawlessness of a Bouguereau and adds a certain sense of timelessness to the composition. 

Given the Classical architectural details with doric columns and statue in the background that closely resembles the Equestrian monument to the Emperor Marcus Aurelius, the scene evokes ancient Rome.  But the figures' nudity, accentuated by the intense realism of the reclining woman's genitalia, takes this otherwise neo-Classical picture into enigmatic territory that can only be achieved by a master Surrealist.  Like the ominous street scenes of de Chirico, the rigidity of the architecture and dramatic shadowing create a palpably enigmatic sensation.

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 work.  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 paintings, the meaning behind this scene is mysterious, and several hypotheses can be made about the relationship between the two women.  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..." (quoted in Paul Delvaux, 1897-1984 (exhibition catalogue), Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Brussels, 1997, p. 22).