Paul Delvaux was a Belgian painter, born on 23 September 1897, mainly noted for his depiction of the dreamlike sequences featuring nude women who stare as if hypnotized or in a trance, gesturing mysteriously, reclining oddly in a train station or wandering through some unknown classical Greco-Roman buildings. Apart from that, men in bowler hats, skeletons in different postures, even puzzled scientists drawn from the stories of Jules Verne often make their presence in his paintings.
Although he is often considered a surrealist, he did not consider himself a Surrealist and despite the clarity of moonlit details in his works creates a hallucinatory effect, his compositions contain nothing overtly surrealistic.
La Ville Inquiete (1940), painted by Paul Delvaux, depicts naked citizens stumble around the chaotic suburbs of Greco-Roman buildings and chimneys. They run, hug and undress as they cross the bare ground towards a lake in the distance, far from the city. The largest figure in the canvas is a nude man seated in a trancelike pose in the left foreground with a human skull near his feet.
Surrounding him the anguished figures of men and women, mostly naked or partially clothed, fill the landscape and the city. While the pale skin of the nude figures gleams under the tiny sliver of a crescent moon, a yellow glow of light emanates from the foreground to the stone city gate in the background. Men wearing bowler hats watch the scene calmly, while one of them, dressed in an old-fashioned black suit, wearing a white shirt with a high stiff collar and wire-rimmed glasses, keeps staring at a skull with a vague expression. At the top right corner of the painting, a woman in a red dress stands out from the crowd, she is the only person in the composition entering the city.
Paul Delvaux started to paint La Ville Inquiete during the Nazi invasion of Belgium. He noted that the psychology of that moment was very exceptional, full of drama and anguish, which might be the reason for the intense dramatic events and severe tension of this scene, the title of which is appropriately translated in English as The City Worried. The man in the bowler hat was based on a real man, whom the artist had observed in the street and by his inclusion in the canvas, Delvaux created a sense of insecurity. As if the man with his prominent mediocrity suggests us something unusual. The tense and unnerved situation is created by the asymmetry of the dressed man and the naked figures with their worried expression, indicating the collective sense of panic and helplessness. Everything taken together strongly suggests Delvaux's personal struggles living under Nazi occupation, while it also suggests that the painting was, for him, a form of escapism.
The Great Sirens (Les grandes sir ènes), first exhibited at the Galerie René Drouin in Paris on 5 March 1948, is a large 1947 painting by Paul Delvaux depicts a group of partially exposed young women in the moonlight, sitting motionless before two Greco-Roman style buildings in the backdrop of a mountain. Delvaux painted the partially naked bodies of the women in careful detail, but their eyes, uncanny and proportionately slightly larger, betray a sense of hidden monstrosity to them.
Their faces are devoid of any expression, as if waiting patiently for prey, only the second one to the left gazes upon her hand, self-aware and perhaps contemplating her existence. While unabashedly unselfconscious in their states of undress, the women are formidable in their quiet seduction and evoke fantasies of erotic love. There is also a group of seductive mermaids in the background, unashamedly trying to cast their magic spell openly to mesmerize and seduce a lone individual in a bowler hat. There are two other women in the background and at the edges of the painting, one in partial clothing near the gated structure and the other, completely nude, descending on the steps. Although apparently ambiguous, the painting creates a titillating sense of erotic fantasy.
The Strollers (1947) depicts two women walking around an apparently abandoned city in the backdrop of a Greco-Roman marble temple, shining in the full moon night. Of the two, the taller, more voluptuous and apparently older woman seems to be explaining or advising something to the seemingly younger and more maiden-like woman. While the upper parts of their body are exposed, their tunics are lowered enough to reveal their pubic hair. Both of them have mirror-image matching headdresses, blue capes and collar necklaces with an intricate pattern, resembling the Egyptian style. They are beautiful and desirable women, but underneath their physical beauty, they seem to be cold and unattainable distant figures, lost in their own thoughts, aloof and mysterious. With their large almond-shaped eyes and long noses, they even look physically identical, just like all the other females in the paintings of the artist. Nevertheless, the overall effect of the painting seems to be surreal, due to its 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. The stillness of the marble temples, shining under the full moon, the bluish hue of the night sky, the eerie loneliness of the square, along with the two sensual and alluring, but unattainable female figures, all made the composition weird and out of the world.
The Road to Rome (La Route de Rome) is a 1979 painting, depicts a European town square in the twilight, with several women, many of whom are nude or semi-nude, and three high, open doors standing upright along the walkway. However, the central theme is the muse in the centre, beautiful but inaccessible. The aloofness and indifference of these women recall the serene and tender beauty of a Botticelli or the perfection of a Bouguereau and adds a certain sense of timelessness. The conspicuous and apparently inappropriate nudity of the women leaves the viewer to contemplate the perplexing narrative of the composition. Regarded as a timeless piece of painting, La Route de Rome is also considered one of the most powerful and alluring examples of the late surrealist production of Paul Delvaux, since its completion