Tag Archives: Belgian artists

Paul Delvaux – The Strollers

16 Feb

I believe in the future resolution in these two states, dream and reality, which are seemingly so contradictory, into a kind of absolute reality, a surreality, if one may so speak.’ (Andre Breton)

1947. The Strollers, Paul Delvaux (1897-1994)Paul Delvaux, The Strollers, 1947

Female bodies, classical architecture, night setting – it must be a work of Paul Delvaux (1897-1994), a Belgian Surrealist painter. Despite the realistic character of objects in his paintings, the all together effect is extraordinary. In compositions of Paul Delvaux, this strangeness arises from the mysterious and alluring dimension of a dream. As if the atmosphere in his paintings and the characters in it are referring solely to the space of dreams. Presumable coldness of the marble contrasts the pale, soft-skinned, nude bodies of two women, and, because of this contrast the painting seems both real and excitingly fantastical an the same time.

Scene depicts two strollers, walking around, what seems to be, an abandoned city. Behind them is a Greek or Roman temple, its white marble shining in the light of a full moon. While the blonde woman is taller, more voluptuous, and seems older and experienced, the other one seems younger and more maiden-like. It seems as if the blonde woman is explaining something to the younger one, and introducing her in a certain trade. However, both of them have lowered their tunics, or pieces of fabric, just enough to reveal their pubic hair. They have a matching headdresses, blue capes, and Egyptian-styled collar necklaces with intricate pattern.

NOTE: All text is referring only to the painting The Strollers, however, I’ve put additional paintings just so you can see Delvaux’s work in general.

1948. In Praise of Melancholy, Paul Delvaux (1897-1994)Paul Delvaux, In Praise of Melancholy, 1948

Still, underneath all that beauty, they seem cold, unattainable, distant figures lost in their own thoughts, aloof and mysterious like some of Catherine Deneuve’s roles. They even look identical, physically, just like all of Delvaux’s females in paintings, they have large almond-shaped eyes, long noses and mocking smiles. Their appearance definitely places them in a realm of dreams. The question arises: is it the artist’s dream, or the dream of those women? Those are the two ways you can observe Delvaux’s art.

Stillness of the temples, blueness of the night sky, loneliness of the square, along with these sensual, ideal, but unattainable female figures, all make this painting a bizarre one. Moon has a significant place in Delvaux’s paintings, and here it’s the full moon, which carries connotations by itself. Full moon is ‘symbolic of the height of power, the peak of clarity, fullness and obtainment of desire.* Even without the symbolism, full Moon is a lovely sight, but, as large and white as it is, it cannot shine with such intensity to lighten the whole city. Contrast of lightness and darkness are particularly interesting in Delvaux’s work; women’s bodies are luminous, but the rest of the space is in shadow. There’s a town square behind the women, a desolate place with pieces of stones scattered around. On the left, there’s a reclining woman, half-covered with purple fabric, with a matching headdress. There are two more women gracing the background; two elegant, slender, ghost-like figures in long white dresses with a bluish gleam.

1947. Delvaux The Great Sirens (1947)Paul Delvaux, The Great Sirens, 1947

I feel like there’s a sense of irony in the title of the painting. Title The Strollers evokes a mood of a lazy and carefree spring afternoon, and it’s a perfect title for a work of Impressionism, but Delvaux’s women here appear rather static, and frozen in the moment. It’s important to bring out a few facts in order to fully understand Delvaux’s art. First of all, he didn’t always paint like this. In the 1930s he was influenced by a Belgian Surrealist painter Rene Magritte, and around 1933 he encountered the Metaphysical art of Giorgio de Chirico, which proved to have an even greater influence on him. A hint of anguished and slightly disturbing mood of Chirico’s paintings is evident in Delvaux’s work as well, but their styles are different.

1967. Paul Delvaux (1897-1994). ‘’Le Canape Bleu [The Blue Sofa]Paul Delvaux, ‘Le Canape Bleu’ (The Blue Sofa), 1967

In Chirico’s desolate and ominous cityscapes, Delvaux added an ever-appealing sensual female figures,thereby achieving that hedonistic and dreamy atmosphere. That specific mood, present in all of Delvaux’s paintings, reminds me of Sergei Rachmaninov’s music, in particular his composition ‘Isle of the Dead’. Delvaux’s frequent depiction of classical architecture can be traced back to his childhood days, spent reading Homer’s poetry, along with studying Greek and Latin language. He even travelled to Rome at one point. Also, for a while Delvaux studied architecture, but didn’t enjoy it, and dropped out after failing a maths test, but it was worth it in the end, because his skill in painting architectural scenes in unquestionable.

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James Ensor – The innovator of 19. century art

20 Jan

My tastes have evolved over the years and though I despised modern art merely a year ago, recently I found myself liking Expressionism and Surrealism. One of the things I love about art is that you can always find out something new – there are so many art movements and artists to choose from. James Ensor is a painter who intrigued me and the more of his painting I’ve seen the more I loved his work.

James Ensor, The Intrigue, 1890

               1890. ”The Intrigue”

James Ensor was born in Brussels on 13. April 1860. He left school early, at the age of fifteen, to live his passion – art. He attended Academie Royale des Beaux-Arts in Brussels from 1877. to 1880. His work was first exhibited in 1881. At the end of the 19. century most of his paintings, particularly Christ’s entry into Brussels (1889.), were considered scandalous, preposterous and even insulting. Who knew that a young man painting in his parent’s attic would turn up to be the innovator of the 19. century art. He was instrumental in influencing Expressionist and Surrealists. Seems like the initiator always ends up being misunderstood, and rigid Victorian society certainly wasn’t prepared for James Ensor.

james ensor skeletons

               1896. ”Death Chasing the Flock of Mortals”

Ensor did get acceptance, tough gradually, but he continued to exhibit his paintings and eventually won acclaim too. His early paintings were somber and gloomy but at the end of 1880s he choose bizarre subjects and lighter palette. His paintings are easily recognizable by grotesque masks, skeletons, carnivals and puppetry. Noted for his incredible gift for allegories, he used masks as a theatrical aspect in his still lifes. Bright colours and mask’s plastic forms attracted Ensor and he painted with complete freedom. His paintings show great originality and his views on the world, that is, his disapproval of the society and rigid norms that prevent one from developing entirely as a human being.

james ensor the frightful musitians

               ”The frightful musicians”

Turning point in Ensor’s work happened in four years; between 1888. and 1892. From bizarre themes which included skeletons and masks, he turned to more deeper subjects and religious themes such as the torments of Christ. As a master of allegories he showed his disgust for the inhumanity of the world. Painting Christ’s Entry into Brussels (1889.) shown below, is considered a forerunner of twentieth-century Expressionism.

1888. Christ's Entry into Brussels in 1889.

               1888. “Entry of Christ into Brussels”

The characters on the painting are based on Belgian politicians from Ensor’s times, historical figures and members of his close family. Ensor himself was an atheist but he identified with Christ as a victim o mockery. In final years of the 19. century Ensor started receiving recognition, but he painted less and his style softened. In fact, the last fifty years of his life are seen as years of decline.

james ensor pierrot lunaire

Pierrot lunaire”

His paintings, earlier characterized by aggressive sarcasm and scatology, were now only mild repetitions of his earlier work. Paintings The Artist’s Mother in Death (1915) and The Vile Vivisectors (1925) turned out to be the most significant works of his late period.

james ensor Pierrot and Skeleton

               ”Pierrot and Skeleton”

His work was different from art of the time but he influenced many 20. century artists such as Paul Klee, Emil Nolde, Alfred Kubin, George Grosz, Felix Nussbaum and many other Expressionist and Surrealist of the 20. century. His work is partly considered symbolism, but the originality and choice of subjects made his paintings stood apart from other paintings of the era. He isn’t as famous as other artist of the time, but certainly equally important.

james ensor mascaras singulares

                             ”Mascaras singulares”

I relished looking at his paintings; the great originality and undoubted sense of humor and sarcasm show profound disdain and disappointment in society; feeling many artist had in common. I love his paintings because they are experimental, colourful, wide open and different; Ensor didn’t follow the pattern, he, as it turned out to be, created his own pattern by setting the scene for Expressionism and Surrealism.

1891. James Ensor, Skeletons Fighting Over a Hanged Man

               1891. ”Skeletons Fighting Over a Hanged Man”

1894. James Ensor - Masks looking at a tortoise

               1894. ”Masks looking at a tortoise”

1909. James Ensor - Flowered craniums