Paul Delvaux (1897-1994)
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Paul Delvaux (1897-1994)

Le temple

Paul Delvaux (1897-1994)
Le temple
signed and dated 'P.DELVAUX CHOISEL 3-49' (lower right)
oil on panel
44¾ x 57½ in. (113.7 x 146 cm.)
Painted in 1949
Jean Louis Merckx, Brussels.
Sidney Janis Gallery, New York (no. 3147).
Mme Robiliart, Brussels, by 1969.
Private collection, Geneva.
Gallery Ueda, Tokyo, by 1990.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2004.
P.A. de Bock, Paul Delvaux, l'homme, le peintre, psychologie d'un art, Brussels, 1967, p. 297 (illustrated pl. 97).
J. Dypreau, 'Le Monde de Paul Delvaux', in XXe Siècle, no. 30, Paris, June 1968, p. 61 (illustrated).
Depuis 45, Brussels, 1970, p. 108.
A. Terrasse & J. Saucet, Paul Delvaux, Berlin, 1972, p. 73 (illustrated).
X. Marret, 'Paul Delvaux, Le Temps suspendu', in Vie des Arts, vol. XVII, Montreal, Spring 1973, no. 70, p. 49.
I. Lebeer, Interview avec Paul Delvaux, Brussels, 1974.
M. Butor, J. Clair & S. Houbart-Wilkin, Delvaux, Catalogue de l'oeuvre peint, Brussels, 1975, no. 195, pp. 228-229 (illustrated p. 228).
B. Emerson, Delvaux, Antwerp, 1985, p. 145 (illustrated).
New York, Sidney Janis Gallery, Delvaux, June 1951, no. 7.
Ostend, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Paul Delvaux, July - August 1962, no. 36 (illustrated).
Brussels, Musée d'Ixelles, Paul Delvaux, 1967, no. 23.
Paris, Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Rétrospective Paul Delvaux, May - July 1969, no. 41 (illustrated).
Rotterdam, Museum Boymans-van Beuningen, Delvaux, April - June 1973, no. 45, p. 142 (illustrated); this exhibition later travelled to Knokke-Heist, Casino, June - September 1973, no. 37, pp. 139-140 (illustrated).
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Lot Essay

'In a ruined temple, the broken statue of a god spoke a mysterious language... I wonder if the idea of imagining a god with human traits such as the Greeks conceived in art is not an eternal pretext for discovering many new sources of sensations' (Giorgio de Chirico, 1912, 'Eluard Manuscript', in G. de Chirico, Hebdomeros, London, 1992, p. 190).

Le Temple is one of a sequence of great paintings that Paul Delvaux made in Choisel near Paris in 1949 while he and his lover Tam, whom he was later to marry, were living there in the house of Delvaux's dealer Claude Spaak. As Charles van Deun from the Fondation Paul Delvaux has written of this important period in Delvaux's life, Delvaux and Tam 'stayed there nine months living on Tam's small savings which they could see dwindling. Living on such a bare budget, they collected wood for the fire and lived on love and fresh air. Several masterpieces were born out of this period: Woman at the Temple, The Annunciation, The Temple, and Ecce Homo' (G. Carels & C. Van Deun, Paul Delvaux His Life, Saint Idesbald, 2004, p. 144 ).

With its haunting moonlit image of an illuminated Greek temple and a stone-carved fragment of the head of a beautiful woman strangely adorned with a tiara and bridal veil and confronting a lit oil lamp on a wooden chest, Le Temple is a work of mysterious and timeless poetry. The bizarre confrontation between beautiful, often naked women and ruined cities or illustrious classical buildings is one that proliferates in Delvaux's work of the late 1940s - the period when he is widely regarded to have created many of his finest and most enduring images. For Delvaux, the strange poetry invoked by an encounter between the ancient classical world and the modern was one that lay at the heart of his concept of Surrealism as a whole. 'For me' he once said, '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' (Paul Delvaux, quoted in J. Meuris, '7 dialogues avec Paul Delvaux accompagnés de lettres imaginaires', in Le Soleil Noir, Paris, 1971, p. 87).

Much of the source of mystery and wonder that Delvaux conjures in his paintings, particularly those depicting the world of antiquity, lay in the powerful influence upon him, as for most Surrealist artists, of the work of Giorgio de Chirico. In the same way that de Chirico invoked the magic and mystery of his childhood in Greece through the strange conjunction of classical fragments, marble statues and mundane objects drawn from the modern world, Delvaux too, as Le Temple illustrates, enjoyed what Lautraumont had defined for the Surrealists as 'the beauty of the chance encounter of the sewing machine and the umbrella on the dissecting table'. Here, in Le Temple of 1949, Delvaux echoes earlier de Chirico paintings such as Le rêve transformé of 1913 or Le chant d'amour of 1914 by centering the composition of the painting on the strangely animate encounter between a fragment from a classical statue and a range of other objects, such as the packing crate, the tiara and the purple bow with brooch pins, drawn from a more modern era. In addition there is an overt pictorial play between the animate and the lifeless within the picture. A hauntingly beautiful, but lifeless stone classical fragment depicting a living human figure is contrasted with a sequence of other inanimate but luminescent and, in pictorial terms, lively, elements and objects such as the illuminated oil lamp, the sparkling brooches and the illuminated temple itself.

Indeed, with its architecture eerily illuminated from within, in the manner of so many of Delvaux's nocturnal trains and trams, the accurately detailed Greek temple dominating this work plays a central role in the painting's evocative sense of mystery. Echoing the enigmatic dreamlike quality that de Chirico often bestowed upon Mediterranean antiquity, Le Temple also, in a similar way appears to speak of the fundamental 'mystery and melancholy' of human existence through the ages. As in de Chirico's paintings, within Delvaux's work too there is often the pervasive sense of a crisis of modernity conveyed in his pictorial articulation of a strange or disjunctive antiquity. In addition, like Willhelm Jensen's story of Gradiva which so obsessed André Breton and many other Surrealists' imaginations, there is always in Delvaux's evocation of the antique a sense of mystic continuity between past and present. A sense that, not only is the fragmented and broken nature of the past somehow also a fundamental reflection of the disjointed nature of the contemporary world of the present, but also that, beyond and between these two temporal eras, there stretches another wider and unexplored landscape of lyrical mystery and enduring power. 'I have spent all my life trying to change reality into dreams', Delvaux once wrote, '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', quoted in B. Emerson, Delvaux, Antwerp, 1985, p. 15).

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