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The Symbolism Of Paul Delvaux

Paul Delvaux (1897-1994) was a Belgian painter noted for his dream-like scenes of women, classical architecture, trains and train stations, and skeletons, often in combination. He is often considered a surrealist, although he only briefly identified with the Surrealist movement.

Le Jardin/The Garden by Paul Delvaux
Le Jardin, Paul Delvaux, Composition Gallery
Trois femmes by Paul Delvaux
Trois femmes, Paul Delvaux, Winwood Gallery
The Siren | La Sirène by Paul Delvaux
The Siren | La Sirène, Paul Delvaux, Gilden's Art Gallery
La Fenetre by Paul Delvaux
La Fenetre, Paul Delvaux, Composition Gallery
Le bout du monde / The ends of the earth
Le bout du monde / The ends of the earth, Paul Delvaux, Winwood Gallery
Phyrné by Paul Delvaux
Previous Slide 0123Next Slide Phyrné, Paul Delvaux, Gilden's Art Gallery
The Sea is Near | La Mer est Proche, Paul Delvaux, Gilden's Art Gallery
La dispute by Paul Delvaux
La dispute, Paul Delvaux, Composition Gallery

Nude Figures

The recurring presence of nude or partially clothed figures in Delvaux’s paintings and prints is a central theme. These figures often appear in dreamlike or mythological settings, serving as symbols of beauty, vulnerability, and sensuality. The classical and idealised nature of these figures emphasises their timeless and archetypal qualities.


Classical Architecture

Delvaux frequently incorporated classical architectural elements into his works, such as columns, arches, and ruins. These structures evoke a sense of timelessness and often act as a backdrop for his enigmatic scenes. The juxtaposition of classical architecture with modern elements contributes to the surreal and dreamy atmosphere of his compositions.



Skeletons are symbolic of mortality and the passage of time. Delvaux often included skeletons in his works, sometimes interacting with the living figures. This juxtaposition creates a sense of contrast between life and death, inviting viewers to contemplate the transience of human existence.



Trains are recurring motifs in Delvaux’s art, symbolising the modern industrial age and the concept of journey or passage. The train may represent the relentless march of time or the inevitable progression of life, sometimes suggesting a sense of foreboding or existential contemplation.


Masks and Doppelgängers

Delvaux occasionally depicted figures wearing masks or having multiple faces, exploring the theme of identity and hidden truths. This use of masks can represent the concealment of one’s true self or the layers of personas that individuals may adopt in society.


Moon and Celestial Bodies

The moon and celestial bodies often appear in Delvaux’s nocturnal scenes, casting a surreal and eerie light. These elements contribute to the dreamlike quality of his art and may symbolise mystery, the subconscious, or the influence of the cosmos on human experience.


Mannequins and Dolls

Delvaux frequently painted mannequin-like figures, which can be seen as representations of artificiality or conformity. These figures may symbolise societal expectations, conformity, or the dehumanising effects of modern life.



Mirrors are sometimes used in Delvaux’s works, reflecting the theme of self-reflection and introspection. Mirrors can represent the inner psyche, the unconscious, or the duality of human nature.

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