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Paul Delvaux
(Belgian, Wanze 1897 - 1994 Veurne)

“Portrait of a young woman”, 1966

pen and watercolour
17 x 12 cm
signed and dated 'P.DELVAUX' '24-12-1966' stuck on a sheet of paper filigree "Wattman England".
More info


In the work of Paul Delvaux we frequently find the female figure, a favorite subject of the artist. He stages the body of the women in antique setting or in scenes of everyday life. Often calm and mysterious, the women Delvaux focusses to represent are the reflection of the complex relationship that he maintains towards them. Indeed, already at a young age, the possessive and authoritarian mother of the artist warned him against women. Since then, the artist nurtured a fascination with the women he places on a pedestal.

The woman represented in his work, are the image of his feminine ideal. Always young and beautiful, they are often naked, draped or preciously dressed. They symbolize the fascination and intrigue that Delvaux feels towards them and their bodies. The female figure occupies different roles in his work, from femme fatale to the mythological creature.

In the present watercolour Delvaux integrates a contradictory image of the woman as being dangerous, free and independent but also valuable and untouchable. The chosen tones, from the aubergine color of the dress to the blue of the background, are very lively. Part of the bodice remained white, as well as the lighting in the upper left corner, which allows the chiaroscuro effect of the composition. In the same year as he made this drawing, he had a retrospective at the Lille Museum of Fine Arts and the Museum of Ixelles. A few years before, in 1959, he executed the mural decoration of the Palais des Congrès in Brussels and in 1965 he received the Five-Year Award for the dedication of his career and is appointed President and Director of the Class of Fine Arts of the Royal Academy of Belgium.

Delvaux’s love life has not been without complication and this reflected in his art. When Delvaux fell in love with his first and great love Anne-Marie De Martelaere, known as Tam, at the age of thirty, the mother of Delvaux fiercely opposed this relationship, and he married someone else. This great sorrow of a lost love will permeate the image of the woman Delvaux depicts in his work: she is inaccessible and very often the man is excluded. At the death of his mother, the sadness felt by the artist is great but her death was also liberating for the future of his work. Delvaux now represents the woman in a much more libertine way. In 1947 he met Tam again in Sint-Idesbald. This chance meeting leads the two lovers to get married. The following decade will then mark a loss of creativity of the artist, his beloved imposes some constraints on Delvaux. He can no longer use models or represent them the way he desires. Later, Delvaux marries Suzanne Purnal and maintains a platonic love towards her.


– Sale Auction house L’homme, Liège, 24 September 2016, cat.no. 40.
– private collection, Belgium


Certificate of authenticity of the Paul Delvaux Foundation, St-Idesbald, June 10, 2016.