• The Art Of The Surreal auction at Christies

    Sale 1103

    The Art Of The Surreal

    6 February 2013, London, King Street

  • Lot 115

    Paul Delvaux (1897-1994)

    La première rose

    Price Realised  

    Estimate

    Paul Delvaux (1897-1994)
    La première rose
    signed and dated 'P.DELVAUX 3-47 (lower right); titled 'LA PREMIèRE ROSE' (on the reverse)
    oil on panel
    50 x 50 in. (127 x 127 cm.)
    Painted in March 1947


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    'I have spent all my life trying to change reality into dreams - dreams in which the objects retain their actual appearance, and yet gain a poetic significance. In this way the painting becomes a fiction in which every object has its proper place' (Paul Delvaux, 'Under the Sign of a Dream', 1985, quoted in B. Emerson, Delvaux, Antwerp, 1985, p. 15).


    On a personal level, the years immediately following the Second World War were unhappy ones for Paul Delvaux. Feeling trapped in a loveless marriage, and consequently suffocated by the ennui of daily life, the Belgian painter felt isolated and out of synch with the prevailing mood of liberation and of marking a new beginning that pervaded many of the former occupied countries of Europe. At the same time however, it was from precisely this melancholy post-war period of unhappiness and isolation for him that many of Delvaux's finest pictorial creations were born. In particular, Delvaux's paintings of 1947 are now widely regarded as among the best of his entire career. Representing a synthesis of the artist's 1930s surrealism and the technical advances of his Italian period, it is in these works that his unique pictorial language of somnambulism, quiet eroticism and suburban melancholy reaches its height.

    La première rose (The First Rose) is one of an extraordinary run of paintings, that include Une roue la nuit, Les promeneuses, and La naissance de Venus, all made in one feverish spate of creativity during the first months of 1947. Each of these great works was painted one after the other without a break between them, while the artist spent his nights sleeping on a camp bed set up in his studio in order to completely isolate himself within his working environment. Each of these works is distinguished by its depiction of two dominant female figures engaged in a strange unknown pictorial dialogue with one another.

    La première rose is in fact entirely centred on such a dialogue; here between a fully clothed standing female and a seated nude dominating the foreground. Functioning like some modern day Annunciation, two small roses seem to have magically appeared in the hands of the picture's two contrasting protagonists. Set against a deserted urban background completed with a de Chirico-like train arriving at the city station in the distance, the painting seems to capture a mysterious and undisclosed moment of revelation and wonder.

    Imbuing a deserted domestic Belgian cityscape with a sense of the miraculous, the painting articulates the idea of a poetic mystery or inert magic lying hidden within the seemingly fixed structures and banalities of day-to-day life. It conveys the idea of there being an innate 'surreality' to existence, one that underpins but also that subverts the apparent rigidity and logic of such an otherwise classical and ordered bourgeois scene. 'For me,' Delvaux once said of the influence of Surrealism upon him and his subsequent paintings in this respect, 'Surrealism represented freedom to disobey the rationalist logic that to some extent at least had governed, up to then, the act of painting as well as relations between what I call the elements, as much in nature as in painting. This logic once transcended, these relationships appeared in a new light as much at the intellectual level as the visual, and there suddenly sprang up an awareness of quite different mental relations between objects and people. When I dared paint a Roman triumphal arch with, on the ground, lighted lamps, the decisive step had been taken. That event was an absolutely extraordinary revelation for me. It was a major revelation for me to understand that all constraints on creativity disappeared when painting finally uncovered to my eyes its deepest and thus its most essential revelatory powers. Painting could, I realised, have a meaning of its own, it confirmed in a very special way its capacity to play a major emotional role' (Jacques Meuris 7 dialogues avec Paul Delvaux accompagnés de lettres imaginaires, Paris, Le Soleil Noir, 1971, p. 87).

    Something deeply profound and emotional, as well as inexplicable, appears to have happened in La premìere rose. With its emphasis on the contrast between the naked and clothed figures and its use of the rose - a perennial symbol of love and of the short bloom of life - the enigma that Delvaux articulates appears to be founded upon the idea of some sort of erotic awakening. Any further interpretation, however, is left deliberately as open and as empty as the deep perspectival background of the deserted cityscape.

    With regards to Delvaux's personal life in 1947, the series of paintings to which La première rose belongs is also fascinating in that, with their concentration on an apparently unknown dialogue existing between two women, these works may in fact unconsciously project images of a dialogue taking place in his own mind at this time. Now unhappy in his marriage, but financially supported by his wife so that he could work full-time on his painting, Delvaux knew himself to still be in love with Anne Marie de Martelaere ('Tam'), whom he had met at art college in 1920s. Created during a period of intense isolation and awareness of his unhappiness, a painting such as La première rose in some ways seems to externalize these emotions and articulate them. It may even be, in this respect, prophetic of the synchronicity of the extraordinary, life-changing encounter Delvaux was soon afterwards to have, on the 13 August 1947, when he met 'Tam' once again, purely by chance and for the first time in seventeen years in Saint Idelsbald. Recognising their continued love for each other, from this synchronous encounter onwards Delvaux and Tam were to commit spending the rest of their lives together.

    Special Notice

    Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent.


    Provenance

    Claude Spaak, Paris.
    Alex Salkin, New York, by 1948.
    Jean Louis Merckx, Brussels.
    Sidney Janis Gallery, New York.
    Margareth Krebs, Brussels.
    Galerie Robert Finck, Brussels.
    Acquired from the above by the family of the present owner, circa 1961.


    Pre-Lot Text

    PROPERTY FROM AN IMPORTANT PRIVATE EUROPEAN COLLECTION


    Literature

    Les Arts plastiques, Brussels, 1948, no. 1-2, p. 43 (illustrated pl. 29).
    A. Salkin, Modern Painting in Belgium, New York, 1948, illustrated p. 59.
    E. Langui, Paul Delvaux, Venice, 1949, p. 11 (illustrated pl. XVII).
    De Meridiaan, Brussels, 1954, no. 1, illustrated p. 37.
    Les Beaux-Arts, Brussels, 29 June 1962, no. 984, illustrated p. 10. P. Caso, 'La rétrospective Paul Delvaux au Musée d'Ostende', in Le Soir, Brussels, 11 August 1962.
    P.-A. de Bock, Paul Delvaux. Der Mensch. Der Maler, Hamburg, 1965 (illustrated pl. 27).
    P. Caso, 'Une rétrospective fascinante, Paul Delvaux à Lille', in Le Soir, Brussels, 25-26 December 1966, p. 2.
    Les Beaux-Arts, Brussels, 5 May 1967, no. 935, illustrated p. 6. P.-A. de Bock, Paul Delvaux, Brussels, 1967, p. 294 (illustrated pl. 84).
    J.P. Hodin, 'Surrealism', in Encyclopedia of World Art, vol. XIII, New York, 1967, no. 729.
    A. Glavimans, 'Overzichtstentoonstelling te Rijsel', in De Nieuwe Gids, Brussels, 1 January 1967, p. 8 (illustrated). Elseviers Weekblad, Amsterdam, 17 February 1968, illustrated p. 73. J. Meuris, 7 dialogues avec Paul Delvaux accompagnés de 7 lettres imaginaires, Paris, 1971, pp. 10 & 16 (illustrated).
    A. Terrasse, Paul Delvaux, Paris, 1972, p. 44 (illustrated).
    A. Terrasse & J. Saucet, Paul Delvaux, Berlin, 1972, p. 44 (illustrated).
    M. Butor, J. Clair & S. Houbart-Wilkin, Delvaux, Catalogue de l'oeuvre peint, Brussels, 1975, no. 181, p. 222 (illustrated).


    Exhibited

    Antwerp, Salle des fêtes, L'Art contemporain. Salon 1947, 1947, no. 73.
    Minneapolis, Walker Art Center, Reality and Fantasy, 1900-1954, May - July 1954, no. 47 (illustrated).
    New York, Staempfli Gallery, Paul Delvaux, October - November 1959, no. 14 (illustrated).
    Brussels, Galerie Robert Finck, Exposition de peinture belge moderne. Sélection à travers quatre générations, May 1961, no. 51 (illustrated).
    Ostend, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Paul Delvaux, July - August 1962, no. 19.
    Lille, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Exposition rétrospective des oeuvres de Paul Delvaux, November - December 1966, no. 22 (illustrated).
    Brussels, Musée d'Ixelles, Paul Delvaux, 1967, no. 18 (illustrated).
    Paris, Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Rétrospective Paul Delvaux, May - July 1969, no. 36 (illustrated).