During the turbulent era of Nazi Germany, there was a polite artistic voice which dared to explore humanity and the subconscious – that voice was Paul Delvaux. Today he is regarded as one of the best Surrealist painters to have graced the art world. Although he shied away from the concept of Surrealism in art itself, he was overtly interested in exploring the inner depths of the human mind. The Belgian maestro’s work is mostly focused on the nude female form with varying degrees of eccentric images which were often meant to shock the viewer. Instead of sticking to abstraction, Delvaux opted to stick to painting bizarre objects as a means of expression. Delvaux’s fantasy about the subconscious was so innate that he was always trying to capture it in his paintings in some form or the other.
Paul Delvaux was born in 1897 in the district of Liege in Belgium to a lawyer father. As a youngster Delvaux took extensive music, Greek and Latin lessons along with reading a lot of Jules Verne and poetry by Homer. The poetry and literature did their part by igniting the artistic fire in Delvaux’s blood. Despite his parents disapproval Delvaux went onto the study art in Belgium and was encouraged by his teachers. Initially Delvaux found comfort in the Expressionist and Neo-Impressionist art but upon discovering Surrealism he completely left the former two art sections and settled for Surrealism. For Delvaux he was more interested in the traditions of Surrealism art movement and never supported its political objectives. For him art was something he wanted to live in himself and thought it should stray away from political atmospheres. It is unfortunate that during his years as an artist Word War II happened and the sudden shift in Delvaux’s work can be seen very clearly. Some of his works are bleak and showcase a level of anxiety and fear, clearly the inner workings of Delvaux’s mind during those dark years. Before settling on painting, Delvaux worked on some architectural works during his time as an artist. It id s pity indeed that he discarded architecture completely as some of his works there are truly spellbinding and unreal – from city towers to buildings and train stations. No matter if it were an architectural design of his or one of his female nude paintings, all depict a particular mood of Delvaux. Delvaux’s naturalistic painting sense often brought together a mixture of bizarre scenes which normally didn’t make much sense to the viewer. The way Delvaux placed the objects in his paintings in bright colors but with a dark shadow was often unsettling and creepy for anyone who placed their eye on his works for the first time.
If we see his painting the Sleeping Venus we can clearly see Delvaux’s strengths and his unsettling manner as an artist. It features his hallmark nude females as the main subject matter set an almost erotic and unsettling manner. Three females in his painting are nude where as there is one eerie female subject fully clothed in flaming red hair – all female forms have a very commanding and formidable presence and is set against a night time setting. Delvaux painted this deep into World War II when the world was literally upside down, Delvaux wanted to capture the emotions of despair, anguish and empowerment all at the same time.