Lot 40
  • 40

Paul Delvaux

3,000,000 - 5,000,000 USD
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  • Paul Delvaux
  • Les Cariatides
  • Signed P. Delvaux and dated 2-46 (lower right)

  • Oil on masonite
  • 48 by 72 in.
  • 122 by 183 cm


Emile Langui, Brussels (acquired from the artist)

Private Collection (by descent from the above)

Acquired from the above by the present owner


Antwerp, Salle Artès, Le nu dans l'art belge contemporain, 1947, no. 8

Buenos Aires, Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Arte Belga contemporaneo, 1948, no. 16, illustrated in the catalogue

Verviers, Société Royale des Beaux-Arts, Paul Delvaux, 1949, no. 6, a detail illustrated in the catalogue

Ghent, Musée des Beaux-Arts, 48e Salon quadriennal des Beaux-Arts, 1950, no. 139

Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, Dertien belgische schilders, 1952, no. 37, illustrated in color in the catalogue

Charleroi, Salle de la Bourse, XXXIe Salon du Cercle royal Artistique et Littéraire de Charleroi, 1957, no. 53, illustrated in color in the catalogue

Brussels, Maison Haute, XXIIe Salon, 1957, no. 12

Ostende, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Paul Delvaux, 1962, no. 31, illustrated in color in the catalogue

Mons, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Hainaut Cinq. Hommage à Paul Delvaux, 1965, no. 4, detail illustrated in the catalogue

Humlebæk, Louisiana Museum, 6 Surrealister, 1967, no. 10

Brussels, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Six peintures surréalistes, 1967, no. 22, illustrated in the catalogue

Brussels, Musée d'Ixelles, Paul Delvaux, 1967, no. 16

Paris, Musée des Arts décoratifs, Rétrospective Paul Delvaux, 1969, no. 31, illustrated in color in the catalogue

Malines, Cultureel Centrum, De mensekijke figuur in de kunst, 1971, no. 27

Rotterdam, Museum Boymans-Van Beuningen,  Paul Delvaux, 1973, no. 37, illustrated in color in the catalogue

Knokke-Heist, Casino, Paul Devaux, 1973, no. 29, illustrated in color in the catalogue


Emile Langui, Paul Delvaux, Venice, 1949, illustrated pl. XX

Paul Dewalhens, Delvauxiana, Paris, 1955

A. Marc, "Paul Delvaux: vers la sérénité classique," La Lanterne, Brussels, November 26, 1957, p. 2

Paul-Aloise de Bock, Paul Delvaux. Der Mensch. Der Maler, Hamburg, 1965, illustrated pl. 24

Paul-Aloise de Bock, Paul Delvaux, Brussels, 1967, illustrated pl. 81

José Vovelle, Le Surréalisme en Belgique, Brussels, 1972, discussed notes 26 and 35

Michel Butor, Jean Clair & Suzanne Houbart-Wilkin, Delvaux: Catalogue de l'Oeuvre Peint, Brussels, 1975, no. 168, illustrated p. 216


Very good condition. Oil on masonite supported with the artist's batons. The paint layer is stable and in good condition. Under UV, there are small, scattered retouchings, the majority of which appear to correspond to nails applied prior to painting to secure the board to the batons on the reverse. There is also a small circular retouching and a horizontal area measuring approximately 4 x 1 cm on the grey table-top in the lower left of the composition, and a circular area approximately 1 cm in diameter on the thigh of the reclining nude and a small horizontal line just below this retouching and further small retouchings on her left leg.
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 Les Cariatides is among the most celebrated and widely-known compositions of his oeuvre.  Since its completion in 1946, this monumental picture has come to be regarded as one of the most alluring examples of late Surrealist art.  Although Delvaux's 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, 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.  The blatancy and contextual inappropriateness of their nudity, however, leaves the viewer to contemplate the perplexing narrative of the composition. 

Given the Classical architectural details with caryatids and a Parthenon-style temple and entablature in the background, the scene here seems to be set in ancient Greece.   But the figures' gratuitous nudity, accentuated by the intense realism of the reclining woman's unshaven body, takes this otherwise neo-Classical picture to a level of absurdity 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 palpable sensation of enigmatic uncertainty.

Delaux 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 somewhat unclear, 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, quoted in. p. 22).