Lot 27
  • 27

Paul Delvaux

2,000,000 - 3,000,000 USD
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  • Paul Delvaux
  • La Route de Rome
  • Signed P. Delvaux and dated 5-79 (lower right); signed P. Delvaux and titled [La Route de Rome] (on the stretcher)
  • Oil on canvas
  • 63 by 94 1/2 in.
  • 160 by 240 cm


Fondation Paul Delvaux, Saint-Idesbald, Belgium (a gift from the artist)


San Francisco, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Tuscon, University of Arizona Museum of Art; Montreal, Galerie de l'Université du Québec; Calgary, Alberta, Glenbow Institute & Newport Beach, California, Newport Harbor Art Museum, Paul Delvaux: Oil Paintings, Watercolors, Drawings, Lithographs, Etchings, 1980-81, no. 24

Paris, Galerie Isy Brachot, Paul Delvaux, 1981-82, p. 21 

Ferrara, Palazzo Dei Diamanti, Galleria Civiche d’Arte Moderna, Paul Delvaux, 1986, no. 37, illustrated in color in the catalogue

Martigny, Fondation Pierre Gianadda. P. Delvaux, La Fondation Paul Delvaux à la Fondation Pierre Gianadda, 1987-88, no. 33, illustrated in color in the catalogue

Oostende, P.M.M.K., Museum voor Moderne Kunst, From Ensor to Delvaux: Ensor, Spilliaert, Permeke, Magritte, Delvaux, 1996-97, n.n., illustrated in color in the catalogue

Turin, Palazzo Bricherasio, Il surrealismo di Paul Delvaux tra Magritte e De Chirico, 2005-06, no. I.39, illustrated in color in the catalogue  

St. Idelsbad, Koksijde, Belgium, Fondation Paul Delvaux, Odyssée d'un rêve, 2007, n.n., illustrated in color in the catalogue


Marc Rombaut, Paul Delvaux, New York, 1990, no. 149, illustrated in color p. 120

Catalogue Note

La Route de Rome since its completion in 1979, has come to be regarded as one of the most alluring examples of the artist’s late Surrealist production. 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, which is populated by expressionless and still 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. The blatancy and contextual inappropriateness of their nudity, however, leaves the viewer to contemplate the perplexing narrative of the composition. 

Given the presence of interspersed open doors along a pathway lined by village houses, the location of the scene here remains ambiguous despite the picture’s title. Both the figures' nudity and the intense realism of the lit pathway, takes this otherwise ominous picture to a level of enchantment that can only be achieved by a master Surrealist. Originally trained as an architect studying at the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts in Brussels, the architectural settings of Delvaux’s paintings, such as the one in the present composition, are the hallmark of his work. Much like the haunting street scenes of de Chirico, the rigidity of the architecture creates a palpable sensation of enigmatic uncertainty.

Delvaux was fascinated with the effects of light in his pictures, and his mastery at manipulating color to this end is demonstrated quite beautifully in La Route de Rome. As the subtle glow of the house lights illuminate the foreground, the flickering glow of street lamps lead the viewer’s eye toward the pictorial vanishing point. 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" (B. Emerson, Delvaux, Paris & Antwerp, 1985, p. 174).

As with most of his pictures, the meaning behind the present scene is somewhat unclear, though several hypotheses can be made about the symbolism in the painting in the context of the title. Throughout his lifetime, Delvaux 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, p. 22).

Gisèle Ollinger-Zinque writes of the artist in the context of the Surrealists: "There is no need whatsoever of psychological analyses or psychoanalytical interpretations, which by the way the artist firmly rejected, to understand the world of Paul 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. In this the artist agrees with the thinking of Breton who declared that the more the relationships between two connected realities were distant and exact, the more powerful the image would be. More than Delvaux the painter, it was Delvaux the surrealist poet whom Éluard and Breton hailed because his pictorial universe exists out of time, eludes fashion and defies any attempt at classification" (ibid. p. 27).

For more information on the Foundation Paul Delvaux Museum or The Friends of the Paul Delvaux Museum, please visit www.delvauxmuseum.com.