Just as Delvaux’s work refuses explanation so did the artist himself. Throughout his lifetime, the artist avoided offering a narrative for his compositions: ‘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 paintings. These figures recount no history: they are’ (quoted in Paul Delvaux (exhibition catalogue), Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Brussels, 1997, p. 22).
Delvaux was fascinated with the effects of light and shadow and, as is often the case in his compositions, the source of light in Etude pour 'Jeune fille devant un temple' is ambivalent. Delvaux’s composition is bathed in a milky lunar glow which transforms his anonymous seated woman into a monumental edifice akin to the classical forms which surround her. Yet, long pronounced shadows also imply a possible artificial light source, recalling the theatrical and considered staging of Delvaux’s compositions. As Barbara Emerson writes: ‘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, 1985, p. 174).
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