As a child, surrealist painter Paul Delvaux (1896-1994) was in awe when he saw electric trams for the first time in Brussels. The memory and a fascination with trains lingered. In the late 1950s he did a series of night scenes in which a girl was shown from the back gazing at a departing train. The paintings were quite realistic, but shimmering in otherworldly moonlight.
Just as he never forgot his first tram, I can remember the first time I came across Delvaux. Turning a corner into a dimly lit room in the Royal Museum of of Fine Arts in Brussels, I suddenly stood before Train du Soir and was mesmerised by the painting's silence, mystery and sense of longing.
The rest of the room showed what Delvaux is best known for: female nudes in unusual settings like buildings in classical styles, staring into the distance and making enigmatic gestures.
Delvaux studied architecture because his parents though painting wasn't a sound career choice, but managed to fit in art classes and started producing naturalist landscapes, then moved on to the naked women… and skeletons. He had some unusual influences like the poetry of Homer, the sci-fi of Jules Verne and a mechanical Venus figure he saw at the booth of a medical museum during the Brussels Fair.
He drew inspiration from René Magritte, as well as the metaphysical art of Giorgio de Chirico: “With him I realised what was possible, the climate that had to be developed, the climate of silent streets with shadows of people who can't be seen”.
The magic of finding Train du Soir so unexpectedly will stay with me as much as the magic of his paintings with their shadows of untold stories.
Words © Pieter van der Lugt. Original template by OS Templates.