Paul Delvaux

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Paul Delvaux was born on 23 September at Antheit, near Huy, in the house of his maternal grandparents. His father, Jean Delvaux, was a barrister at the Brussels Court of Appeal. His mother, Laure Jamotte, was the daughter of François Jamotte and Agnès Boxus. At first the Delvaux family lived at 10 rue de l’Arbre, near the Palais de Justice. In 1901 they moved to 15 rue d’Ecosse, near the Avenue Louise.

The birth of André, his brother, who was to become a barrister. Paul attended primary school in Saint-Gilles (Brussels) where he took music lessons in the biology laboratory. He was fascinated by the human skeletons exhibited in the display cabinets along the walls. During his holidays he returned regularly to Antheit and Huy.

At this time Delvaux was deep into the reading of Jules Verne’s A Journey to the Centre of the Earth and Around the World in Eighty Days. In the Hetzel edition these books were illustrated by Edouard Rion’s engravings. It was in these books that he discovered Otto Lidenbrock, the geologist, and Palmyrin Rosette, the astronomer, who were to appear frequently in his paintings.

Paul Delvaux studied Greek and Latin at the secondary school in Saint-Gilles. He was strongly impressed by Homer’s Odyssey. He drew mythological scenes of soldiers and Greek temples in his school notebooks. He was a member of an especially dynamic and promising class which included: Paul-Henri Spaak, future Prime Minister, joint founder of the European Community and Secretary General of NATO; Robert Goffin, barrister and poet, and Marc Somerhausen, President of the Council of State.

A career as a lawyer, like that of his father, did not interest Delvaux at all, so he enrolled at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of Brussels, in the architectural section. But finding problems with mathematics he gave up this course after a year. The crucial moment in his career as a painter was his meeting with Franz Courtens during the holiday he spent at Duinbergen in 1918. Courtens, who was a respected and successful painter, recognised Delvaux’s gifts as a painter, encouraged him and succeeded in convincing Paul’s parents of his artistic talent. Delvaux enrolled once more at the Brussels Academy but this time in the decorative painting course taught by Constant Montald. This was the basis of Delvaux’s taste for the monumental representation of antique themes. It was at this time that he formed his close friendship with Robert Giron, one of his talented classmates, who was to become Director of the Palais des Beaux-Arts of Brussels. Jules Payro, another fellow student, would become Professor at the University of Buenos-Aires. The latter published an important article about Delvaux in the newspaper La Nacion of 13 September 1925.

Delvaux carried out his military service from 31 May 1920 to 18 June 1921. In the evenings he followed the classes given by Jean Delville at the Brussels Academy. At the beginning of the ‘twenties he met Anne-Marie de Martelaere, nicknamed Tam. It was love at first sight.

He often spent his afternoons at the Rouge-Cloître, at the edge of the Forêt de Soignes, where he painted many landscapes. There he met the painter Alfred Bastien who encouraged his ambition to be a painter.

He painted his first railway stations, especially the Quartier Léopold (also known as the Gare du Luxembourg) in Brussels. He became friendly with Paul-Aloïse De Bock who published the first important monograph devoted to Delvaux in 1967.

He exhibited for the first time at the Exposition de jeune peinture et jeune sculpture at the Brussels gallery of Georges Giroux from 20 to 31 January. This was a group show that included, among others, pictures by Magritte, Baugniet and Flouquet. From 3 to 19 November he showed two pictures with the group Le Sillon at the Salonnet, 13 rue de la Régence in Brussels. He began to install his own studio in the family house in the rue d’Ecosse.

His work is exhibited with that of Robert Giron at the Galerie Breckpot in the rue Royale in Brussels. In June the exhibition moved on to the Galerie Royale. He painted several compositions featuring monumental figures. Almost all of these works have disappeared.

Between 14 and 23 January he showed at the Galerie Manteau in Brussels. He started to undergo the influence of the Flemish Expressionists. His painting was also distinctly influenced by the Walloon group Nervia.

Delvaux met Claude Spaak, the brother of his former fellow student Paul-Henri, who became in 1929, shortly after its creation, the first Director of the Société auxiliaire des expositions du Palais des Beaux-Arts de Bruxelles. Robert Giron succeeded him in 1934. Both Spaak and Giron were to be major promoters of Delvaux’s artistic career.

The retrospective exhibitions of James Ensor (19 January - 17 February 1929), of Gustave van de Woestijne (2 March - 24 March 1929) and of Constant Permeke (1 February - 2 March 1930) at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels exemplified the powerful Expressionist current which was invading the art world: their influence on Delvaux up to 1934 was evident.

Delvaux made the acquaintance of E.L.T. Mesens, the Belgian Surrealist friend of René Magritte and of Claude Spaak. It was at this time that Delvaux became aware of Surrealism. Claude Spaak tried to initiate him in the Surrealist painting of René Magritte. At first Delvaux was very critical but later he was impressed by the mystery that emanated from these paintings.

At the beginning of the ‘thirties Delvaux discovered at the Midi Fair in Brussels the

shed of the Spitzner Museum, a cabinet of curiosities that displayed to the public examples of congenital deformities. There he found a wax figure representing a woman, exhibited in a glass case, the Vénus endormie (The Sleeping Venus). The contrast between the theatrical and morbid atmosphere of the hut and the false gaiety of the fairground festivities fascinated him. The finding of the Spitzner Museum marked a turning point in his art. Delvaux was often to return to the theme of the Vénus endormie.

In October Delvaux designed and painted his first Vénus endormie inspired by the fairground attraction exhibited in a glass case. He later destroyed this canvas.

His mother died on the night of 31 December 1932 to 1 January 1933.

In January he exhibited the Vénus endormie at the Atelier de la Grosse Tour in Brussels. The critical reactions were unfavourable. The Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels organised a one-man exhibition of Delvaux’s work from 9 to 22 December.

In May and June the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels housed the Minotaure exhibition which included eight pictures by Giorgio de Chirico, six by Salvador Dali and five by Magritte. Delvaux was particularly interested by the Chiricos. The double and essential discovery, that of the work of Chirico and that of Surrealism, was the basis of a decisive development in Delvaux’s art. Shortly after visiting this exhibition, Delvaux went to stay at Spy, a small Walloon village, where he made, in June, a series of drawings and watercolours, foundations for his new aesthetic. There he painted also Femmes et pierres (Women and Stones), the only known work surviving from his stay at Spy and belonging to the E.L.T. Mesens collection. The unfriendly and desolate landscape with far-flung shadows, the classical architecture and the naked women with vacant expressions and adopting demonstrative poses foretell his essential later development.

In January he painted Le paravent (The Screen) and in February Le palais en ruine (The Palace in Ruins), two pictures strongly marked by Surrealism.

From 25 April to 6 May the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels held an exhibition of work by Paul Delvaux and René Magritte. Despite the influence of Surrealism on his art, Delvaux preserved his own style and chose his subject matter with a spirit of independence. He painted Le viol (The Rape), which was reproduced in the review Minotaure, no. 10 of 1937. The painting has disappeared.

His father died. After the opposition shown by his parents to his relationship with Anne-Marie de Martelaere and their eventual marriage, he married Suzanne Purnal. Mesens put together the Belgian contribution to the international exhibition organised in London by the Artist’s International Foundation (14 April - 5 May). Delvaux formed part of the Belgian contingent with Van Assche, Brusselmans, De Smet, Magritte, Servranckx and Van den Berghe. The exhibition was put on by a congress of British artists and writers on the theme of the unity of artists in defending peace, democracy and cultural progress.

He took part in the International Surrealist Exhibition organised by André Breton and Paul Eluard at the Galerie des Beaux-Arts in Paris (January and February). Paul Eluard dedicated the poem Exil (Exile) to Delvaux. He also took part in the International Exhibition of Surrealism held at the Robert Gallery in Amsterdam, which was organised by Kristians Tonny (March - June). From 2 June to 2 July Mesens arranged an exhibition of 17 pictures by Delvaux at the London Gallery that he ran in London. He was awarded the prize of the Académie Picard and made his first journey to Rome and Florence.

Delvaux painted Les phases de la lune (Phases of the Moon). Jules Verne’s Professor Lidenbrock appeared as the principal figure in the picture. He made a second journey to Italy with Paul-Aloïse De Bock. Apart from Florence they included Pompeii and Herculanum in their tour. During this period antique architecture started to become increasingly important as the setting for his pictures.

He took part in the International Exhibition of Surrealism organised by André Breton, Wolfgang Paalen and Cesar Moro at the Galeria de Arte Mexicano in Mexico. He began La ville inquiète (The Anxious City) which he finished in 1941. It is one of the few pictures by Delvaux to be inspired by contemporary events.

He regularly visited the Natural History Museum in Brussels where he drew skeletons. Skeletons were to feature prominently in the compositions in which studios, offices and lofts provided the setting. His picture Pygmalion was reproduced in the review L’invention collective of February 1940.

He painted Le Musée Spitzner (The Spitzner Museum), more than ten years after the first picture to bear that title.

From 16 December to 14 January the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels organised a Paul Delvaux retrospective exhibition. He made a contract with Claude Spaak.

Between May and June, in the same Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels,

the exhibition Jeune Peinture française (Young French Painting) was held which included works by Edouard Pignon and André Fougeron. Delvaux stayed several times at the home of the sculptor Georges Grard in Saint-Idesbald.

He lived for a while in Paris and made a series of drawings illustrating texts by Claude Spaak. In London he met Paul Eluard at the house of Roland Penrose.

In May twenty-seven works by Pablo Picasso were shown at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels. According to Barbara Emerson, Delvaux’s visit to this exhibition as well as to the Jeune Peinture française show of the preceding year explain a sudden but short-lived change of style on the part of the artist. This change can be observed in a series of pictures from that time, such as Les cariatides (The Caryatids) and L’escalier (The Staircase). In this year Guy de Maupassant’s novel Bel Ami was adapted for the cinema. Hollywood organised a competition on the theme of the temptation of St. Anthony. Delvaux entered together with other famous artists such as Salvador Dali and Max Ernst. Ernst was the winner. Paul Delvaux’s one-man show held in October at the Julien Levy Gallery, New York, met with a very favourable reception from the critics. Two pictures sent to the exhibition were, however, seized by the American customs because of their allegedly obscene character. A third canvas was damaged by nails during the customs formalities. Carelessness?

Delvaux executed the scenery for Jean Genet’s ballet ’Adame Miroir whose first performance was given at the Marigny Theatre in Paris. On 13 August he encountered by chance at Saint-Idesbald Anne-Marie de Martelaere, who had remained unmarried. The passage of time had evidently not affected their mutual love.

In January and February he exhibited at the Galerie René Drouin in Paris. The show was not a complete success. The first film devoted to Delvaux, Le monde de Paul Delvaux (The World of Paul Delvaux), gained a prize at the Venice Festival. It was made by Henri Storck, the Belgian film director. The script was by René Micha, the musical accompaniment by André Souris and the narration by Paul Eluard.

Claude Spaak devoted one of the Monographies de l’Art belge (Monographs of Belgian Art), published by the Ministry of Public Instruction, to Delvaux. The publisher Trois Collines (Geneva - Paris) published Poèmes, peintures et dessins (Poems, Paintings and Drawings) which took the form of a collection of poetry by Paul Eluard with drawings and pictures by Paul Delvaux. He took part in the XXIVth Biennial of Venice . The work he sent in, Pygmalion, was not to the taste of the Patriarch of Venice and was charged with being immoral.

On the facade of the house and studio of Georges Grard he painted a large mermaid. No trace of the fresco remains.

Emile Langui’s book on Paul Delvaux was published by Alfieri in Venice. Delvaux stayed for several months with his friend Claude Spaak at Choisel in the Chevreuse Valley to the southwest of Paris. He returned to Brussels and installed himself with Tam in a small flat opposite Boitsfort Church.

Delvaux was appointed Professor of Painting at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure d’Art et d’Architecture at La Cambre in Brussels. He taught at La Cambre until 1962.

From 2 to 22 August the Casino of Knokke-Le Zoute held an exhibition of Paul Delvaux and René Magritte. He was commissioned to decorate the gaming hall of the Kursaal, Ostend. On 25 October he married Tam.

Alain Robbe-Grillet’s novel Les Gommes (The Erasers) was published. A film was made out of it, for which Delvaux later designed the sets in 1968.

He worked for two years with Emile Salkin on the mural paintings for the library of Gilbert Périer’s house in Brussels. Delvaux took part in the XXVIIth Biennial of Venice whose theme was The Fantastic in Art. The pictures he sent in were of religious subjects in which the human roles were taken by skeletons. The Patriarch of Venice, Cardinal Roncalli, the future John XXIII, considered those works heretical.

The Delvaux couple moved into 34a avenue des Campanules in Boitsfort. From this time onward, trains, railway stations, suburbs and the forest often appeared in his paintings. In 1955 Paul Delvaux was awarded the Reggio-Emilia Prize. The journey he made to Greece in 1956 had a strong impact on his work. Settings of architectural elements taken from classical antiquity date from this period.

From 23 March to 11 April the Cercle royal artistique et littéraire de Charleroi mounted an homage to Paul Delvaux and Marc Chagall.

Delvaux carried out the large mural painting in the Palais des Congrès in Brussels.

He executed a mural painting for the Zoological Institute of Liège University and was awarded a Grand Prix de Peinture by the Province of Liège.

Paul Delvaux was appointed as a member of the Modern Painting Committee of the RMFAB, Brussels. The last meeting of the Committee in which he took part was that of 18 December 1978 when he was 81 years old.

From 1 July to 31 August the Museum van Schone Kunsten in Ostend held a major retrospective exhibition of Paul Delvaux’s work. Several pictures, notably La visite (The Visit), caused a scandal. Admission to the exhibition was forbidden for minors.

On 10 October the Royal Academy of Belgium appointed him Deputy Director of the Fine Arts Section.

The Yearbook of the Royal Academy of Belgium published articles by Delvaux on Alfred Bastien and James Ensor.

He was awarded the quinquennial prize for lifetime achievement and was appointed President and Director of the Fine Arts Section of the Royal Academy of Belgium. He made his first lithographs at the Galerie du Bateau-Lavoir, Paris, at Mira Jacob’s.

From 9 November to 31 December the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Lille held a Paul Delvaux retrospective.

From 16 November to 7 December the Musée d’Ixelles exhibited a retrospective of the artist’s work. Paul-Aloïse De Bock’s major monograph on Delvaux - the first in French - was published by Laconti in Brussels.

He took part in the XXIXth Biennial of Venice. The Place Paul Delvaux was inaugurated in Antheit on 22 September.

The Musée des Arts décoratifs in Paris held a Paul Delvaux retrospective.

The Galerie du Bateau-Lavoir in Paris held an exhibition of his prints and drawings.

From early summer he lived for half the year in Furnes near the town park and close to Saint-Idesbald where he had used a little house-cum-studio several months a year for some twenty years.

The Musée de Peinture et de Sculpture of Grenoble held an exhibition of Paul Delvaux’s paintings, watercolours and pen-and-ink drawings from 11 March to 12 April.

Henri Storck made a new film on Paul Delvaux’s work, Paul Delvaux ou les femmes défendues (Paul Delvaux or the Forbidden Women). René Micha wrote the script.

In February an exhibition of his drawings and prints opened in Paris at the Galerie du Bateau-Lavoir. The Grand Palais, also in Paris, organised in February and March the exhibition Peintres de l’imaginaire: Symbolistes et surréalistes belges (Painters of the Imaginary: Belgian Symbolists and Surrealists), which included a major contribution by Delvaux. On 11 April Paul Delvaux received the Rembrandt Prize, awarded by the Johann Wolfgang Goethe Foundation in Basel.

Renilde Hammacher organised a retrospective of Paul Delvaux’s work at

the Museum Boymans-Van Beuningen, Rotterdam from 13 April to 17 June. The same exhibition travelled to the Casino of Knokke-Heist where it was on view from

23 June to 2 September.

Delvaux finished his studies for a mural painting for the Chaudfontaine Casino.

A retrospective was shown first at the National Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo from 29 March until 5 May and then in Kyoto from 7 June until 13 July.

In May an exhibition of drawings and prints opened at the Galerie du Bateau-Lavoir in Paris. In Brussels Cosmos published the catalogue raisonné of Delvaux’s paintings up to 1974. It was prepared by Suzanne Houbart-Wilkin, with introductory essays by Michel Butor and Jean Clair.

Delvaux designed the costumes for the Parisian premiere of the ballet La nuit transfigurée (Transfigured Night), choreographed by Roland Petit.

The RMFAB in Brussels organised an exhibition, from 8 July to 25 september, entitled Homage to Paul Delvaux. On 1 June Delvaux became, in the capacity of a Foreign Associate Member, a Member of the Institut de France. In October, Homage to Paul Delvaux was organised on the St. George Islet in Liège.

He executed a large painting for the Bourse underground station in Brussels. The town of Furnes elected him honorary citizen.

On 26 January the Free University of Brussels awarded honorary doctorates to Delvaux, Maurice Béjart and Jean Starobinski. The Fondation Paul Delvaux was created on 31 October in Brussels. The Paul Delvaux Museum was inaugurated at Saint-Idesbald in June 1982, and was subsequently enlarged in 1983 and 1988.

Works on paper were exhibited at the Centre Wallonie-Bruxelles in Paris.

In Brussels he met Andy Warhol, who made several portraits of Delvaux.

51 works by Paul Delvaux were exhibited, as an homage to the artist, at the XVIth Biennial of Sao Paulo.

He entered a competition to design a ten franc postage stamp. His design was rejected.

On 28 November he was appointed Honorary Station Master of the railway station of Louvain-La-Neuve.

La Galleria Civica d’Arte Moderna du Palazzo dei Diamanti of Ferrara put on a Delvaux retrospective from 20 April to 22 June. Francis de Lulle organised an exhibition entitled Hommage à Paul Delvaux at the Centre Wallonie-Bruxelles in Paris.

To honour his 90th birthday, exhibitions were held in Belgium, France, Switzerland and Japan.

In 1987 he received the Septennial Cultural Prize of the Province of Liège

Between 20 January and 19 March the Hypo-Kulturstiftung of Munich held a retrospective of his work in the Kunsthalle. Tam died on 21 December.

Exhibitions devoted to Delvaux took place in different Japanese towns: Tokyo, Osaka, Himeji and Yokohama.

In Paris the Grand Palais held a retrospective covering the period 1922 to 1982.

The Fondation Paul Delvaux payed homage to the artist on the occasion of his 95th birthday.

On 20 July Paul Delvaux died at Furnes. He was buried in the town cemetary.

The Museum voor Moderne Kunst of Ostend organised the exhibition From Ensor to Delvaux from 5 October 1996 to 2 February 1997. To mark the centenary of the artist’s birth, the RMFAB in Brussels organized, from 21 March to 27 July 1997, the largest retrospective exhibition that has ever been devoted to Delvaux.

The town of Huy exhibited works from his youth, Le pays mosan de Paul Delvaux

(The Meuse Country of Paul Delvaux), from 5 May - 30 September 1997.

On 29 March 1997 the Paul Delvaux Museum at Saint-Idesbald opened a new exhibition room.

First retrospective exhibition in Helsinki, Finland.

The Foundation celebrates its 25th anniversary and organises several happenings. The artist's biography, The Life of Paul Delvaux, is published and in the Paul Delvaux Museum in Sint-Idesbald the exhibition Portraits and Self-portraits by Paul Delvaux is opened. Afterwards the exhibition will move to Japan: Niigata, Miyazaki, Fukuoka, Matsuzakaya, and Fukushima. In addition, a selection of watercolours by Paul Delvaux showing beach scenes will be exhibited for the celebration of the city's 100th anniversary. It has been 10 years now since Paul Delvaux departed, but the Paul Delvaux Foundation still cherishes the memory of this exceptional human being.

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PAUL DELVAUX (1897-1994)
PAUL DELVAUX study of the painting “The echo” of 1943
PAUL DELVAUX, study of the character in the foreground of the painting “The echo” of 1943, original drawing (certified).
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J.M. Zeberg - Fine Art
PAUL DELVAUX (1897-1994)
PAUL DELVAUX, Deux femmes, original charcoal drawing on paper
Original charcoal and pencil drawing on paper (study, certified)
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J.M. Zeberg - Fine Art
PAUL DELVAUX (1897-1994)
PAUL DELVAUX, Leda et le cygne, 1947, original drawing, Indian ink on paper
Origial drawing in Indian ink on paper
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J.M. Zeberg - Fine Art
PAUL DELVAUX (1897-1994)
PAUL DELVAUX, study of Tam, ca 1931
Pencil on paper On the back of the painting, we find a certificate of Claude Spaak (a good friend of Paul Delvaux)
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J.M. Zeberg - Fine Art