Paul Delvaux was born in Wanze, Belgium, on 23 September 1897. At a young age, Delvaux displayed an affinity for Classics, studying Greek and Latin as well as the poetry of Homer, but went on to study architecture at the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts in Brussels. Delvaux graduated in 1924, having also enrolled in painting classes. Delvaux’s early work was inspired by Flemish Impressionism and James Ensor, though encounters with the work of Giorgio de Chirico, as well as Salvador Dalí, Max Ernst, and fellow Belgian René Magritte, saw him develop a personal aesthetic that had stylistic similarities to the Surrealists by the 1930s. Around this time in the early 1930s, Delvaux visited the Brussels Fair where the Spitzner Museum of medical curiosities maintained a booth in which skeletons and a mechanical Venus figure were displayed in a window with red curtains. This encounter proved formative, inspiring many of Delvaux’s most recognisable leitmotifs.
In 1936, Delvaux shared an exhibition at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels with Magritte, a fellow member of the Belgian group Les Compagnons de l’Art. Although not an official member of the Surrealists, he featured in the Exposition Internationale du Surréalisme in Paris in 1938 and visited Italy soon after, where he was captivated by the classical architecture as well as 16th century Mannerist painting. Residing in Brussels during the war, Delvaux refused to exhibit publicly, with many of his paintings during the period expressing the despair he witnessed first-hand.
Delvaux steadily gained recognition after the war, taking part in the XXVII Venice Biennale (1954). In 1959, he executed a mural at the Palais des Congrès in Brussels, one of several large scale decorative commissions the artist undertook. He was named president and director of the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts in 1965. In 1982, the Paul Delvaux Museum opened in Saint-Idesbald. Delvaux’s style and subjects remained consistent throughout his career, juxtaposing motifs such as nude female figures, classical architecture and trains within hyper-real dreamscapes. Delvaux died in Veurne, Belgium, on 20 July 1994.
Delvaux’s work can be found in the following selected international collections: the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; Art Institute of Chicago; the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice; the Albertina Museum, Vienna; Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid; Musée National d'Art Moderne, Centre Pompidou, Paris; the Tate Collection, London.
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