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

Le vicinal

Paul Delvaux (1897-1994)
Le vicinal
signed and dated 'P.DELVAUX 5-59' (lower right); signed again and titled 'P.DELVAUX LE VICINAL EXPOSITION STEAMPFLI NEW-YORK' (on the reverse)
oil on panel
48¼ x 66 7/8 in. (122.5 x 169.9 cm.)
Painted in 1959
M. Holmquist, New York.
Staempfli Gallery, New York (no. C280).
Mr & Mrs Leonard Lauder, New York.
Gerrit Lansing, New York.
Galerie Isy Brachot, Brussels (no. B159), by 1986.
Acquired by the present owner in the late 1980s.
'Reviews and Previews - Paul Delvaux', in Art News, vol. 58, no. 7, New York, November 1959, no. 12.
Feuille d'avis de Lausanne Magazine, 29 November 1961, p. 4 (illustrated).
The New York Times, Sunday 23 June 1963 (illustrated).
J.C. Guilbert, 'Het fantastische realisme, 40 europese schilders van de verbeelding', in La Haye, p. 41 (illustrated).
'Art: Mindscape Painter', in Newsweek, vol. LXII, no. 1, Washington D.C., 1 July 1963, p. 46 (illustrated).
P.A. de Bock, Paul Delvaux, Brussels, 1967, no. 134, pp. 298-299 (illustrated p. 208).
'Paul Delvaux at Staempfli', in Arts Magazine, vol. 43, no. 5, New York, March 1969, p. 25.
J. Vovelle, Le Surréalisme en Belgique, Brussels, 1972, p. 205.
H. Bauchau, 'Le Vicinal', in Ecriture 9, Lausanne, 1973, p. 149.
J.C. Guilbert, Le réalisme fantastique, 40 peintres européens de l'imaginaire, Paris, 1973, p. 41.
M. Butor, J. Clair & S. Houbart-Wilkin, Delvaux, Catalogue de l'oeuvre peint, Brussels, 1975, no. 245, pp. 248-249 (illustrated p. 249).
New York, Staempfli Gallery, Paul Delvaux, October - November 1959, no. 26 (illustrated).
New York, Parke Bernet Galleries, The Arts of Belgium, New York, June - August 1960, no. 33.
New York, Staempfli Gallery, Paul Delvaux, Selected Paintings, June - July 1963.
New York, Staempfli Gallery, Paul Delvaux, March 1969, no. 11 (illustrated).
New York, Staempfli Gallery, Paul Delvaux - Paul Wunderlich, February - March 1971, no. 3.
Tokyo, Isetan Museum of Art, Surrealism, February - March 1982, no. 62.
Paris, Galerie Isy Brachot, Surréalisme en Belgique, April - July 1986; this exhibition later travelled to Cologne, Galerie Isy Brachot, August - November 1986; and Basel, Galerie Isy Brachot, June 1987.
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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.
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Lot Essay

'I loved trains and my nostalgia for them has stayed with me, a memory from youth. I don't attach any special significance to that, nothing to do with departure, but more an expression of a feeling. I paint the trains of my childhood and through them that childhood itself. the pictures of stations and trains do not represent reality. There remains the strange, a spectacle perhaps? I know that despite the pleasure I have in painting them, railways and stations are somewhat limiting subjects, but wrenching them out of normality has the opposite effect and pushes the subject towards the universal' (Paul Delvaux, quoted in Paul Delvaux 1897-1994, exh. cat., Royal Museum of Fine Arts Belgium, Brussels, 1997, p. 27).

Strange nocturnal encounters between young girls or lone wandering women and steam trains, electric trams, deserted railway stations and suburban tram form one of the recurring motifs in the mysterious poetics of Paul Delvaux's art. Painted in May 1959, Le vicinal is a large work dating from a period in the late 1950s and early 1960s when Delvaux repeatedly reinvented the subject of a young girl encountering a night-time train in a wide variety of ways that emphasized its enduring hold on his imagination.

As Delvaux was quick to point out, these paintings with their nocturnal scenes of suburban railways had nothing to do with invoking any metaphysical sense of departure, a longing for travel, nor with Freudian symbols of male sexuality nor occult references to death as some critics at the time suggested. Like most of the artist's work, his paintings of trains, trams and train-yards were pictorial invocations of the profound sense of wonder at the enduring magic of reality that Delvaux had himself experienced when first encountering the trains and trams of Brussels as a child.

In accordance with Charles Baudelaire's dictum that 'genius is childhood recalled at will', Delvaux, as an adult painter, sought deliberately to infuse his art with the most powerful images and memories from his own childhood in the hope of creating works that could eloquently convey a sense of a latent poetry underpinning the world of everyday life. As he recalled nearly ninety years later of his first thrill at seeing the trams and trains of Brussels as a child, these magnificent machines were the 'mobile furniture' of his childhood memories of Brussels. 'On the first floor there was a balcony and on the balcony, I remember it clearly, I watched the first electric trams go past. Then I would imitate those trams with brushes. I would move the brushes along the balcony rail imitating the trams I saw go past at the end of the street in the rue de la Regence. I was three then, it was 1900. All those images that entered my head at that time remained and I watched the trams in Brussels because the trams were part of the mobile furniture of the streets of Brussels. As important as a house, a monument, a public square or any other urban element' (Paul Delvaux speaking in Paul Delvaux; the Sleepwalker of Saint Idesbald, a film by Adrian Maben).

The formal origins of the painting and its manifest mystery or enigma, lie, as for all of Delvaux's images of young women encountering trains, in the work of Giorgio de Chirico. De Chirico's images of steam trains silently entering towns in conjunction with seemingly animated and awakening statues of Ariadne are a common theme that must surely have served as a precedent for Delvaux. But, it was de Chirico's 1914 painting, Mystery and Melancholy of the Street that had first provided the shock in the early 1930s that awakened Delvaux to a full realisation of the poetic possibilities of painting and which had led to the radical transformation of his art. Delvaux often directly transcribed elements from de Chirico's paintings into the framework of his own work. The figure of the little girl with the hoop running happily towards the ominous shadow of the statue in an Italian piazza from de Chirico's Mystery and Melancholy of the Street for instance, was transformed by Delvaux into a figure based on his own childhood memories. In Delvaux's paintings, this unknown faceless young girl, sometimes accompanied by her double, is repeatedly shown entering with wonderment and shy curiosity into the strange world of trams, trains, railway yards and stations that Delvaux himself had loved as a boy.

Le vicinal, which takes its name from the Belgian word for a local tram or rail route is a lyrical variation on this theme of a wondrous encounter with the enigma of reality that here takes place on the outskirts of the city. It depicts a brick-lined and moonlit country road disappearing into the nocturnal horizon alongside a narrow gauge local railway complete with a small, illuminated, but seemingly empty, local train. In the foreground, this seemingly silent and peaceful suburban landscape is observed by a young girl dressed rather formally for the time of night in what appears to be either school uniform or her Sunday best. Her presence in the picture, with her back to the viewer, creates, almost in the manner of a Magritte painting, a strange sense of synchronicity and geometry. For her figure is compositionally aligned with a radiant crescent moon rising directly above her and the neat avenue of trees she is looking down and through which the train will soon pass. Together all these elements combine to generate a powerful and pervasive atmosphere of mystery and expectation in this otherwise completely mundane suburban landscape. 'I returned to the tranquil railway stations in the forest glades where antique engines pull the trains of our grandparents time,' Delvaux said of paintings such as Le vicinal (Paul Delvaux, quoted in B. Emerson, Delvaux, Antwerp, 1985, p. 163). 'The childhood impressions return' he said of these works, 'they are not unhappy ones - and they touch me deeply, bathed as they are in mystery' (ibid.).

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