Delvaux started off as a postimpressionist, and during his studies at the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Brussels, painted hundreds of pictures based on his forays into nature, usually at Rouge-Cloître, an ancient abbey on the edge of the forest of Soignes. In 1924 he showed with the Le Sillon group, landscapists who vowed never to paint a figure in their pictures. After destroying his output because it no longer satisfied him (he wanted to paint figures), Delvaux began to depict popular celebrations in the Flemish tradition. He assembled his first large-format nudes in a 1933 exhibition at the Atelier de la Grosse Tour, in Brussels. When he saw the painting, Mystery and Melancholy of a Street, by de Chirico, his shock was so great that he once again destroyed his oeuvre, retaining only a few pieces, including L'Homme-Orchestre (1932) and Vénus Endormie (1932). Without officially belonging to surrealism, Delvaux began to develop a surrealist world that was recognized as such. The first painting in what was to become his mature style, Femme en dentelle (1934), depicts a woman shown from the front, her nudity revealed through a lace negligee, alongside an austerely dressed woman shown from behind. In 1936 there was a blossoming of the themes Delvaux would repeat again and again, with Le Cortège en dentelles, Le Viol, La Femme à la rose and Les Belles de nuit. Raised in a puritanical atmosphere and pampered by his mother, who instilled in him a fear of women, Delvaux took his revenge in painting. In magnificent ltalianate perspectives with neoclassical architecture, he depicted a world of nude women, pursuing the contrasts between brunette and blonde; the forbidden fruit and the permitted fruit. Sometimes a fully dressed man or a skeleton stands by this delectable female flesh, suggesting that no one can ever truly enjoy it. In another, an absent-minded scholar, straight out of a Jules Verne novel, looks directly at them without seeing them (Les Phases de la lune,1939, Museum of Modern Art, New York). Delvaux's exhibitions in Brussels, The Hague, Antwerp, Paris, London and New York were largely incomprehensible to the public. It was not until his December 1944 retrospective at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels, that his reputation was launched. Henri Storck's film, Le Monde de Paul Delvaux (1948), narrated by Paul Éluard, was the first of several documentaries about him. Appointed professor of monumental painting at the Brussels École Nationale d'Art et d'Architecture in 1950, Delvaux executed murals at the Kursaal in Ostend (1952), the Palais des Congrès in Brussels (1959) and the Institute of Zoology in Liège (1960). Major retrospectives of his work were held at the Musee des Beaux-Arts in Ostend (1962) and Ixelles (1967), and the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris (1969). In 1975 he had a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo, and in 1977 he was given a tribute by the Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts in Brussels. In 1982 the Musée Paul Delvaux opened at Saint-Idesbad, and was expanded in 1988. For Delvaux's ninetieth birthday, Isy Brachot organized exhibitions of his watercolors and drawings in Paris and Brussels. In his last interview, Delvaux said that an artist must, "create the supernatural out of the nature," thus revealing the secret behind his philosophy of art.
Born 1897 in Anthelt, Belgium; died 1994 in Furnes, Belgium.