Three versions of Leda, a homage to early Renaissance and a moonlit departure

Glances at the work of Paul Delvaux (IV) – English Version*
*[Versió Catalana just aquí]

(This post continues three others you may read here (1),  here (2) and  here (3))


10. Leda and the Swan – Léda et le cigne

Being a hearty affectionate to the classical Greco-Roman world since childhood, Paul Delvaux could not fail to contribute with his own work to the pictorial representation of the myth of Leda and the Swan. As far as I know, he did it thrice, between 1947 and 1948, using various techniques and with very different styles. The first version is an Indian ink drawing, in a style resembling that of Matisse and perhaps Picasso, the second one, an oil on wood, fully within his personal line, and the third one, another ink drawing with some added watercolour, manifestly Picassian.

In the oil, like in the vast majority of his works, you can see the affection of the painter toward architecture -which he often depicts with a distorted perspective, like here.

Beyond the fondling and receptive attitude from Leda, the amorous intercourse narrated in the myth is not represented in any of the versions.


Leda 1948 by Paul Delvaux 1897-1994
Léda et le Cygne (1948, huile sur bois, 153 x 95 cm)

11. Tribute to the Renaissance – Hommage à la Renaissance

It was not in vain that the young Delvaux studied in the architecture department at the Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts in Brussels, owing to his parents’ disapproval of his ambition to be a painter. He was knowledgeable about it; he knew well the styles, the structures, the forms… and he liked to show off that knowledge in his work. As a matter of fact, there are very few paintings by him that do not depict buildings or architectural elements of one kind or another.

In Sérénité (1970) in particular, architecture makes nearly all the landscape. Of course, the painting does not lack neither the moon -here waning- nor some nude or half-dressed girls; the two standing up at the left hand side are shown in a rather intimate contact -like in other paintings, where the lesbian hugs are even more manifest. The figure closest to the viewer, mysteriously sitting on the air, has an almost reverential attitude of welcome and acceptance... The paintings’ style in general and of her as the protagonist leads us to evoke the first Italian Renaissance. This lady (maybe I should call her maddona) just lacks a halo around her head to adequately -and most naturally- figure in a work by Fra Angelico!

So, Sérénité before the Annunciation?… Which one?… Are, perhaps, these slender girls, absorbed in mutual contemplation, the messengers (that is to say: the angels)? (As a matter of fact, they are standing over a cross rather clearly implied on the floor…)

Have a look and judge:

Sérénité (1970, oil on canvas)

12. Several gates and paths, and a single way out – Plusieurs portes et chemins, et une seule sortie

I could not honestly comment on this splendid painting (La Ville Lunaire n.2, from 1956) without mentioning Ariel (*), and hence, I will refrain from it, since I do not feel like doing it today (and furthermore, I already did it recently in this post: A Pictorial Tribute – Delvaux’s “Ari”, and a sort of family portrait). I will only say that the walking woman with the white cloak will take the middle way, under the very tall lampposts, but actually illuminated by the light of a moon absent in the painting (because the artist covered it repainting in dark blue, as it can still be seen if one looks carefully at the image -above to the right- with some magnification). It is therefore a departure and an ending. An allegory of death. The intense moonlight, however, brings life to this magnificent picture of nostalgia, broken fences, open roads, cypress trees and a kind of dawn light right in front, there where the girl goes with a patently determined pace.

“Bon voyage” and good stay wherever she arrives! …


La Ville Lunaire n. 2 (1946, oil on wood)


(*) Ariel is my younger sister, now disappeared.

This is my last post on Paul Delvaux. You may find the first three ones in this same blog:

  1. The quiet exactness of dreams – Glances at the work of Paul Delvaux (I)
  2. Nudes, lampposts, abstracted scholars and first skeletons – Glances at the work of Paul Delvaux (II)
  3. The Geometry of Calvary – Glances at the work of Paul Delvaux (III)

A fourth (or, in fact, fifth) post, unplanned and written suddenly, a little apart of the series -but well illustrated and informed, and perhaps enlightening about a curious aspect of Delvaux, never commented before-, may be found here down:

4 (5). A Pictorial Tribute – Delvaux’s “Ari”, and a sort of family portrait

No unauthorised copying or redistribution. All Rights Reserved.

(Reproductions of Paul Delvaux’s works are public domain aside of the last one which is scanned and laboriously edited by me 🙂 ) Registered & Protected  ZR1Q-9QGU-ACTU-HBIS


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