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

Les promeneuses

Paul Delvaux (1897-1994)
Les promeneuses
signed and dated 'P. DELVAUX 4-47' (lower right)
oil on panel
511/8 x 707/8in. (130 x 180cm.)
Painted in April 1947
Claude Spaak, Choisel.
Jean E. Flagey, Brussels.
Anon. sale, Sotheby's London, 30 June 1987, Lot 76.
E. Langui, Paul Delvaux, Venice 1949, pp . 13-14 (illustrated pl. XXIX).
Nieuwe Rotterdamse Courant, Rotterdam, 17 September 1949 (detail illustrated).
Vooruit, Ghent, 2 November 1951.
S. Houbart-Wilkin, 'Le dessin de Paul Delvaux: A propos de six dessins offerts aux Musées Royaux par Claude Spaak', Bulletin des Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Brussels 1966, pp. 201-202, no. 3. A. Fermigier, 'Les femmes nues de Paul Delvaux', Le Nouvel Observateur, Paris 3 June 1969, pp. 50-51.
R. C. Kenedy, 'Paul Delvaux', Art and Artists, London 7 October 1969, p. 34 (illustrated).
A. Terrasse & J. Saucet, Paul Delvaux, Paris & Berlin 1972 (illustrated in colour p. 33).
J. Vovelle, Le surraélisme en Belgique, Brussels 1972, pp. 174, 180 & 189.
H. Bauchau, 'Les promeneuses du soir (poème)', Ecriture 9, Lausanne 1973, p. 151.
M. Butor, J. Clair & S. Houbart-Wilkin, Delvaux, Brussels 1975, no. 182 (illustrated p. 222 and illustrated again as a detail in colour on the cover).
Anvers, Meir, Salle des fêtes, L'Art contemporain, Salon 1947, May-June 1947, no. 71.
Paris, Galerie René Drouin, Paul Delvaux, March 1948, no. 15.
Buenos-Aires, Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Arte Belga contemporaneo, October 1948, no. 17.
Verviers, Société Royale des Beaux-Arts, Paul Delvaux; tableaux, dessins, aquarelles, October-November 1949, no. 8.
Sao Paulo, Museu de Arte Moderna, Pavillon Belge, I. Bienal, October-December 1951, no. 13.
Ostend, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Paul Delvaux, July-August 1962, no. 33.
Paris, Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Rétrospective Paul Delvaux, May-July 1969, no. 39 (illustrated).
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Lot Essay

Les Promeneuses is a remarkable nocturnal landscape painted by Delvaux in April 1947. Conjuring the atmosphere of a dream through the sober analytical clarity of his painterly technique and by the juxtaposition of his strange imagery, Delvaux has created in the present work a striking and particularly erotic portrait of the nocturnal landscape of the mind.

In Les Promeneuses, Delvaux has portrayed a deserted town square lit by a full moon with such consummate skill that the strength of the stillness and the quiet of the sleeping city seems almost audible. Delvaux has populated the emptiness of this desolate architectural panorama with a number of spectral-like women who are shown wandering in various states of undress through the midnight landscape as if sleepwalking or caught in some mystic reverie. Orchestrated so as to form a rhythmic compositional pattern that leads the eye through the Town Square, these erotic sirens are distinguished by their elaborate nineteenth century dress. In the foreground two women silently converse with one another through gesture, one figure seemingly explaining the mysteries of the town to her companion. Each wears the elaborate headgear that adorns the women in two other important Delvaux paintings of the same period, Une rue dans la nuit and Les grandes sirénes. Underneath these fanciful hats Delvaux has evidently taken great pleasure in rendering the intricate patterns of their stiff Belgian lacework collars which help to frame their delicate features as well as establishing a dramatic and unusual contrast with the eroticism and overt nakedness of their bodies.

The strangeness of this deliberate and surprising contrast is echoed in other areas throughout the painting. Although apparently a northern European town, closer inspection reveals the city to be unreal in both space and time in a way that is reminiscent of the eerie townscapes of Giorgio de Chirico's powerful metaphysical paintings. In the distance, behind a typically nineteenth century facade, a factory chimney billows smoke into the night. To the right of the picture however, the scene is more like ancient Rome and at the centre another contrast is established by the strictly Teutonic architectural spire that rises in front of the peak of a mountain range evoking the scenery of Bavaria or Switzerland. Small rocks littered all over the ground suggest that this strange town has been deserted for some time yet the warm erotic life of the women's naked figures belies the sense of death and decay that is conveyed by the cold blue stones of the inanimate moonlit architecture.

At the far right of the painting the harsh disorientating perspective that is such a common feature of Delvaux's art is used in this work in the form of a road that leads to an antique triumphal arch. In front of the arch Delvaux creates another visual paradox by depicting a streetlight halfway along the road. In conversation with Jacques Meuris, Delvaux recalled that it was just such a visual paradox that had first awoken in him the poetic potential of painting. "When I dared paint a Roman triumphal arch with, on the ground, lighted lamps," he recalled, "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).

From the many examples of this approach in Les Promeneuses it is clear that in this striking painting Delvaux has deliberately exploited such visual paradoxes to their fullest potential and that it is through the startling incongruity of such visual poetics that the work acquires its mysterious atmosphere. An atmosphere that in its disquieting eroticism seems to lay bare the distinctive psyche of the artist. The unique midnight ambience of Les Promeneuses is however, conveyed with such dispassionate clarity and with loving attention to detail by Delvaux that this strange nocturnal panorama - almost cinematic in its scope - asserts itself with all the power of a waking dream.

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