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Fondazione Magnani Rocca opens Delvaux and Surrealism: An enigma among De Chirico, Magritte, and Ernst
Paul Delvaux, Les Courtisanes, 1944. Olio su tavola, 89,5 x 130 cm © Paul Delvaux Foundation, by SIAE 2013.

PARMA.- Paintings dominated by sparkling / glimmering nakedness, skeletons involved in religious scenes. Paul Delvaux’s exhibitions aroused many scandals, such as Ostenda’s exhibition in 1962, which will definitely establish the artist's success on the international scene, forbidden to underage visitors. Or the Biennale di Venezia in 1954 in which the patriarch, then pope Giovanni XXIII, prohibited to priests the excess of a painting that may have disturbed them.

Enchanter of the unconscious, fascinating strategist of dream atmospheres, Delvaux was inspired by two artists who he considered to be his mentors: Giorgio de Chirico, the metaphysical guiding light for the surrealists, and René Magritte, together with Delvaux the greatest Belgian painter of the XX century. “I was looking for the source that could make me discover myself. I was looking for it in other people. This was the reason why I made expressionist painting. I've made paintings like Ensor. But there was another thing I wanted to find out: it was in that moment I discovered Giorgio de Chirico, and it was just De Chirico that, suddenly, put me on the right way.” These words introduce Paul Delvaux, the main character of the Surrealist season, the avant-garde movement born in 1924 from the artistic manifesto of André Breton; Surrealism raises sleep to a state of consciousness and reality, and Sigmund Freud was the unaware prophet. “Pure psychic automatism that can be used in order to express the real functioning of thought, where any other control of our intellect is absent, away from any esthetical and moral worries.”

This artistic dimension is investigated in the new exhibition at the Fondazione Magnani Rocca, “Delvaux and Surrealism”, from the 23rd March to the 30th June 2013, curated by Stefano Roffi with the Musée d’Ixelles-Bruxelles. The enigma, perfectly surreal, of a possible “subscription” of the artist to the surrealist movement (he denied it, by so contradicting an evident obviousness) is the main theme of the exhibition itself which, with a selection of 80 works thematically divided (landscape, the enigma of the railway, the feminine mystery, couples, classicism, skeletons) offers also a confrontation with the works of surrealist painters such as Magritte, Max Ernst, Man Ray and the great De Chirico; with them he takes part to the 1938 “Exposition Internationale du Surréalisme” in Paris, which was one of the most surprising artistic meeting of the XX century; before, he was very stricken by the works he saw at the exhibition “Minotaure” in 1934, held at the Palais des Beaux- Arts in Bruxelles.

In the Villa dei Capolavori”, the seat of Fondazione presided by Giancarlo Forestieri, next to the famous works by Dürer, Titian, Rubens, Van Dyck, Goya, Canova, Monet, Renoir, Morandi, and many more, the works of Paul Delvaux give rise to striking relationships in these rooms.

The exhibition is accompanied by a large catalogue embellished by essays of Arturo Carlo Quintavalle, Stefano Roffi, Laura Neve, Mauro Carrera, Elisa Barili, Pierre Ghêne. Fondazione Cariparma and Cariparma Crédit Agricole are the patrons of the initiative. From 1934, after a period based on the author’s revival of impressionism and expressionism, as for landscapes and human figures, the artist gives an ultimate form to his art, creating a dreamlike dimension perfectly defined, the result of the fusion between De Chirico’s metaphysical space and Magritte’s disorientation. The emblematic result which dominates his paintings is a feminine image surrounded by a diaphanous and pale mystery in its almost phosphorescent nakedness, sometimes involved in stunning metamorphoses and places in unreal places, suspended in a dimension where the logic of time is scattered, where the architectures of the ancient classicism live together with evidences of modernity, like trains or stations. Women become arcane creatures vestals of a trespassing between dream and mythology, idle wide-eyed icons looking in the emptiness that remind of Modigliani's naked portraits with inner-oriented gazes; a kind of “frozen” sensuality makes them similar to feminine androids created and projected by a mysterious Demiurge for undisclosed desires. Among the artist’s most beloved themes there is the skeleton, which appears at the beginning of the 30s, acquiring the “status” of a character and becoming the main character – taking absolutely part into the world of the living - of religious scenes such as crucifixions and burials, dances and duels.

“Emptiness is the mirror looking at me” says knight Antonius Block, in a highly symbolic chess game with Death; it is a famous scene from “Den Sjunde Inseglet” (The seventh Seal), Ingmar Bergman’s film with similar atmospheres to Delvaux’s, where the annihilation of identity represents the code of a painting dedicated to suspension and poetic enigma.

Paul Delvaux (Anheit les Huy 1987 – Furnes 1994) after architecture and and painting studies in Bruxelles, he reached the artistic maturity which he practiced through a sort of paradoxical- classical surrealism. There are no “terrifying” deformations, generated by such surrealist nightmares; there’s no sign of dismantled bodies, deriving from the medieval fantastic heritage, which inhabit Bosch’s Work, the Flemish ancestor. According to Paul Delvaux, the surrealism displays itself more like a fable, with a sense of unruffled normality of bodies, spaces and perspectives. But there are some discrepancies, some leaks in the logical texture of the visible; a gentle wind of insanity starts to blow and shakes this world, so everything becomes strange and estranging, unreachably stranger. What at first sight seemed to be a recognizable reality, transforms into a quiet enigma, without terrible punishments for those who won't solve the enigma itself; but it's still impossible to understand the authentic sense of the mise-en-scene of the artist, and understand these non-senses, to distinguish the point in which the narration initially gets ambiguous and then becomes uncontrollable. Maybe the sense – or the nonsense – of Delvaux is revealed just in the sharp crack between the “realistic” interpretation of his figures and another interpretation which is abandoned to the marvellous discretions of his inventions. Like if the spectator would have to face a number of obscure allegories without any codes to decipher them, like if a scene of normality would turn into the allegory of a lost meaning. The painting sets up itself like a gap between us and an unknown world and its function doesn't seem to be the establishment of a communication with that world; on the contrary it wants to reveal the communication impossibility. The view of each of Delvaux's painting leaves a sense of loss, almost like a little nostalgia, without anxiety, a kind of distracted serenity; like if this vision would finally confirm a removed knowledge. The women storm Delvaux's paintings, almost always like chaste nudity-bearer; they make a mute narration of the stories of a female world, the inaction refines their forms with a glimmering smoothness, that they show with a careless consciousness. A code of self-conscious postures makes their presence abstract, suspended in a strict subtraction language, in a behaviour of symbolic truth, cryptograms of a vaguely metaphysical life, surely projections of the demanding role of the mother. The place is the “elsewhere”, the time is the future perfect. The sure reference is De Chirico; furthermore the whole Surrealism, owes him a lot of things: with his first paintings of the 10's, he doesn't only invent a painting method, he also invents a method to imagine which didn't exist before. The most famous surrealist painters, from Tanguy to Magritte to Ernst and to Delvaux himself, have admitted that De Chirico's paintings have been a real revelation for them. Delvaux owes De Chirico the "classicism" of his personal surrealism; the constant presence of classical and Renaissance buildings, of arcs and columns demonstrate this due. An even more important derivation from De Chirico is his discrepancy poetry, of the estrangement, according to which everything appears normalised in the painting, but after an accurate examination of the relations between characters and items another reality is unveiled; the sign of an enigma which will remain enigma, in order to create a nonsense theorem, a substitutive dream. A paradox, but perhaps Delvaux's only way of escape from unmentionable truths, in spite of which he preferred the mystery.

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