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Paul Delvaux (1897-1994)

Le train de nuit (étude)

Paul Delvaux (1897-1994)
Le train de nuit (étude)
signed, dated and inscribed 'P.DELVAUX CHOISEL 26-9-47 Pour Mme Valentine Hugo Tres Amicalement.' (lower right)
watercolour, pen and India ink and wash on paper
23½ x 31¼ in. (59.7 x 79.5 cm.)
Executed in September 1947
Valentine Hugo, Paris, a gift from the artist in 1947.
Jean Louis Merckx, Brussels, until at least 1981.
Acquired by the present owner in 1987.
P.A. de Bock, Paul Delvaux, l'homme, le peintre, psychologie d'un art, Brussels, 1967, no. 86 (illustrated p. 152, titled 'Dessin pour Le train de nuit').
B. Emerson, Delvaux, Antwerp, 1985 (illustrated p. 143).
Ostend, Musée des Beaux arts, 1962.
Venice, XXXIIe biennale internazionale d'arte, 1964, no. 69.
Geneva, Galerie Krugier, 1966, no. 34.
Rotterdam, Museum Boymans-van Beuningen, Paul Delvaux, tekeningen, February - March 1968, no. 33.
Grenoble, Musée de peinture et de sculpture, March - April 1970.
Paris, Grand Palais, Symbolistes et Surréalistes Belges, February - April 1972.
Brussels, Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Hommage à Paul Delvaux, July - September 1977, no. 6.
São Paulo, Bienal de São Paulo, 1981.
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Lot Essay

Charles van Deun has confirmed the authenticity of this work.

The paintings that Paul Delvaux made in 1947 are regarded as among his very best and yet almost all of them are infused with a pervasive sense of sadness. The immediate post-war period was not a happy one for Delvaux, who felt increasingly trapped and lonely in a loveless marriage. In August 1947 a chance encounter in a newsagents in St Idesbald with his great love ('Tam') of seventeen years earlier set Delvaux on a long and difficult path to happiness. Realising that both he and 'Tam' still loved each other, Delvaux was to spend much of the next two years slowly extricating himself from his first marriage, before ultimately being able to live with 'Tam' and marrying her in 1952.

Recalling this difficult period of sadness, loneliness and isolation many years later, Delvaux recalled how his painting Le train de nuit of 1947, 'is a painting inspired by my sentiments. I wanted to paint boredom, sadness and the desire to get away from it all...It is only a partial exegesis of course...There is this nostalgic aspect about waiting rooms where people pass by briefly before leaving...I tried to capture the beauty of the waiting room in an empty station. People are not necessary, for a station has its own life' (Paul Delvaux, quoted in La Lanterne, 29 January, 1970).

Le train de nuit étude is an exquisite and fully resolved ink and watercolour painting, making use of a variety of techniques including sponging, that served as the basis for Delvaux's great oil Le train de nuit now in the Museum of Modern Art, Toyama, that he painted in November 1947. Depicting the stillness and ennui of a station waiting room infused with the languid erotic mystery of a sleeping nude and a lone train pulling into a station, the picture's main subject seems to be the articulation of a terrifying emptiness. The moonlit station clock and the empty gaze of the upright receptionist sitting to attention at her desk, echoed by her reflection in the mirror, seem to emphasize the frozen nature of time and space extending into infinity, while the nude lies bored and restless underneath a bleak sign advertising the endless cycle of arrivals and departures.

Given as a gift to the Surrealist artist Valentine Hugo while he was staying in Choisel, near Paris, in September 1947, soon after his auspicious encounter with Tam, this work is to a powerful poetic expression of the overwhelming sense of paralysis and imprisonment Delvaux was experiencing at this time.

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