Audio: Paul Delvaux, La Vénus endormie
Paul Delvaux (1897-1994)
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Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more PROPERTY FROM A DISTINGUISHED AMERICAN COLLECTION
Paul Delvaux (1897-1994)

La Vénus endormie

Paul Delvaux (1897-1994)
La Vénus endormie
signed and dated 'P. Delvaux 10.43' (lower right)
oil on canvas
29 1/8 x 62 1/8 in. (74 x 158 cm.)
Painted in October 1943
Robert Giron, Brussels, by 1945.
Roger Vanthournout, Belgium, by 1973.
Private Collection, Belgium, by whom acquired from the above; sale, Christie's, London, 21 June 2005, lot 48.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.

A. Eggermont, 'Les Arts Plastiques' in Le Thyrse, Brussels, 15 February 1945, p. 53.
R. Gaffé, Paul Delvaux ou les rêves éveillés, Brussels, 1945, p. 34 (illustrated pl. 18).
C. Spaak, Paul Delvaux, Antwerp, 1948, no. 11, p. 16 (illustrated).
Exh. cat., XXXVe Salon du Cercle Royal Artistique et Littéraire de Charleroi, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Charleroi, 1961 (illustrated).
Exh. cat., Rétrospective Paul Delvaux, Galerie Krugier, Geneva, September - October 1966, illustrated.
P.A. De Bock, Paul Delvaux, L'homme, le peintre, psychologie d'un art, Brussels, 1967, no. 58, p. 292 (illustrated p. 120).
J. Vovelle, Le Surréalisme en Belgique, Brussels, 1972, p. 188 (illustrated).
R. Hammacher, 'Interview avec Paul Delvaux' in Exh. cat., Paul Delvaux, Rotterdam, 1973, pp. 16-17.
'Ausstellungen: Paul Delvaux Tentoonstelling 14 April - 17 June', in Bulletin Museum Boymans-Van Beuningen, Rotterdam, April 1973, no. 4, p. 26.
P. Sager, 'Paul Delvaux' in Das Kunstwerk, Stuttgart-Berlin-Cologne-Mayence, May 1973, vol. XXVI, no. 3, p. 41.
M. Butor, J. Clair, & S. Houbart-Wilkin, Delvaux, Catalogue de l'oeuvre peint, Brussels, 1975, no. 131, pp. 201-202, illustrated p. 202.
B. Emerson, Delvaux, Paris, 1985, p. 118 (illustrated).
M. Rombaut, Paul Delvaux, Barcelona, 1990, no. 46, p. 126 (illustrated).
Exh. cat., Delvaux and antiquity, Museum of Contemporary Art, The Basil and Elise Goulandris Foundation, Andros, 2009 (illustrated p. 12).
Brussels, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Rétrospective Delvaux, December 1944 - January 1945, no. 36.
Charleroi, Salle de la Bourse, XXXIe Salon du cercle royal artistique et littéraire de Charleroi: Rétrospective Paul Delvaux, March - April 1957, no. 47.
Lille, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Exposition rétrospective des oeuvres de Paul Delvaux, November - December 1966, no. 18 (illustrated; dated 1944).
Rotterdam, Museum Boymans-van Beuningen, Paul Delvaux, April - June 1973, no. 29, p. 131 (illustrated pp. 67 & 131).
Knokke-Heist, Casino, Rétrospective Paul Delvaux, June - September 1973, no. 23 (illustrated pp. 61 and 125).
Ostend, Museum voor Moderne Kunst, From Ensor to Delvaux, Ensor, Spilliaert, Permeke, Magritte, Delvaux, October 1996 - February 1997, p. 352 (illustrated).
Brussels, Royal Museum of Fine Arts of Belgium, Paul Delvaux 1897-1994, March - July 1997, no. 52, p. 109 (illustrated).
Himeji, Himeji City Museum of Art, From Ensor to Delvaux, October - April 2001, no. 69 (illustrated pp. 156-157); this exhibition later travelled to Sakura, Sakura City Museum of Art; Tokyo, Isetan Museum of Art; Osaka, Daimaru Museum and Okazaki, Okazaki City Museum.
Brussels, Musée d'Ixelles, Paul Delvaux, aux sources de l'œuvre, October 2010 - January 2011, no. 104, illustrated.

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. These lots have been imported from outside the EU for sale using a Temporary Import regime. Import VAT is payable (at 5%) on the Hammer price. VAT is also payable (at 20%) on the buyer’s Premium on a VAT inclusive basis. When a buyer of such a lot has registered an EU address but wishes to export the lot or complete the import into another EU country, he must advise Christie's immediately after the auction.
Sale room notice
Please note that the present work has been requested for inclusion in the following exhibition:
Les Belles Endormie. De Bonnard à Balthus.
Musée Bonnard: 6 July - 2 November.

Brought to you by

Giovanna Bertazzoni
Giovanna Bertazzoni

Lot Essay

Painted in 1943, La Vénus endormie is a deeply absorbing and poetic vision of one of Delvaux's most celebrated themes, dating from his greatest period. Asleep outdoors in the midst of a vast and impossible classical temple complex, the Venus of the title is the object of veneration and worship. Strange supplicants, like priestesses, surround her, each seemingly oblivious to the others' presence as they assume their ritualistic positions on the terrace. It is in this disjointedness that Delvaux's art derives its unique power. Unlike the Surrealists, Delvaux invents relatively little, choosing instead to create a peculiarly otherworldly atmosphere in his paintings by the Romanesque idealisation of his women, their apparent lack of relation on to the other, and their dreamlike existence in a perfectly ordered pseudo-classical architectural landscape. These all combine to conjure up a vision of a world filled with its own, unique haunting poetry.

Delvaux's art benefited from two great epiphanies, both of which came within the space of a few years of each other. One was his exposure to Surrealism and the art of Giorgio de Chirico. However, by far the greatest influence was the Grand Musée anatomique ethnologique du Dr P. Spitzner. In the midst of a bustling fair, this was a dark and gloomy exhibition of models and curiosities. Skeletons and automatons were crowded within the gloomy confines alongside wax reproductions of diseased organs. Delvaux was struck by Spitzner Museum's gloom in the midst of the fun and frolics of the fair, and he repeatedly insisted that this strange contrast was the original and most influential inspiration for his pictures.

Amongst all the objects on display was the model of a sleeping Venus, much celebrated in the exhibition's cataloguing:

'Reclining Venus, modelled from life. Artistic masterpiece that was awarded two medals at the Vienna Exhibition. The first... for the remarkable progress it achieved in the art of modelling; the second for the ingenious mechanism inside the breast giving the subject the appearance of being alive. This masterpiece surpasses anything that has been done previously and uniquely justifies the use of these three words: ART, SCIENCE, PROGRESS' (Spitzner cataloguing, quoted in Paul Delvaux 1897-1994,, Brussels, 1997, p. 17).

Of all the exhibits in the Spitzner Museum, the Venus in particular fascinated Delvaux, and he returned many times to see it again and again. Even before his exposure to Surrealism, he tried to capture its strange qualities in several early pictures. The figure of the Sleeping Venus would recur again and again as the focus of some of his greatest paintings. La Vénus endormie is one of a small group of paintings on the subject that were executed in the early 1940s, the high-point of his art, when he began to consolidate his unique visual poetry. He distilled the juxtapositions of Magritte and the atmosphere of de Chirico, mixing them with his haunting memories of the Spitzner Museum, to create paintings that were striking in their confidence and their discreet novelty. The quality of the works from this rich, early period is reflected in the number of paintings, including several on the same theme as La Vénus endormie, that are in museum collections throughout the world, not least the Tate in London. The quality of these works, and the attention that they gained, was reflected in Delvaux's increasing recognition both in Belgium and internationally. This resulted in his first major retrospective taking place in 1944 in Brussels. The importance of La Vénus endormie is reflected in its inclusion in this retrospective, only the year after it was painted.

Delvaux's treatments of La Vénus endormie as a subject vary hugely, be it in the features of the Venus or in the arrangements and scenery around her. The painting on the same theme in the Tate, for instance, has a markedly oppressive atmosphere of containment, with a skeleton looming in the foreground. However, regardless of these differences, Delvaux was insistent that 'All my Sleeping Venuses originate there... [They are] an exact transcription of the Sleeping Venus of the Spitzner Museum, but with Greek temples or with models - anything you like. It is different, but the understanding is the same' (Delvaux, quoted in Paul Delvaux 1897-1994,, Brussels, 1997, p. 18). That the Venus motif derives from his memories of an automaton adds to the eerily ambiguous of the vision before us, Delvaux deliberately introducing the unsettling possibility of the Venus being a simulacrum, sharpening the hallucinatory quality of the image.

Despite their lack of relation the one to the other and their statuesque coolness, Delvaux did not believe that the austerity of his female figures excluded the possibility of his works being erotic. The reclining young woman in La Vénus endormie is prone in her sleep both to the gaze of the viewer, and to whatever menaces might lurk in her world. Nothing is arbitrary in Delvaux's art, and the half-naked figure in this picture is expressly erotic: 'Naturally there is eroticism. Without eroticism I would find painting impossible. The painting of the nude in particular. A nude is erotic even when indifferent, when glacial. What else would it be? The eroticism of my work resides in its evocation of youth and desire' (Delvaux, quoted in Paul Delvaux 1897-1994,, Brussels, 1997, p. 23). By deliberately introducing the confusing presence of this eroticism to the cool and rational architecture of La Vénus endormie and the ritualistic positioning of the bystanders, Delvaux reinforces the painting's atmosphere of incongruity and its intense strangeness.

This evocation of a hidden yet epic world hovering just beyond the veil of our vision and understanding is one of the greatest legacies of de Chirico's art in the paintings of Delvaux. While the classical architecture recalls the piazzas and towers of de Chirico's metaphysical masterpieces, it is the strange and potent quality of stimmung that Delvaux mainly gleaned from his predecessor. Delvaux has distilled a new version of the timelessness and stillness of de Chirico's painting to evoke a world that cannot exist within our realm of being. This timelessness, the absence of history and of movement in La Vénus endormie, is all the more pertinent considering the historical backdrop against which La Vénus endormie was painted, with Belgium still under Nazi control. During this time, Delvaux avoided Brussels as much as possible, staying instead in Knokke. Thus the world of the Venus appears to exist parallel to the stressful world of its inception, for despite the alien architecture and the alien rituals at work in that world, it is the flat, shadowless light of off-season Belgian resorts that permeates La Vénus endormie.

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