Paul Delvaux Dawn over the City 1940

Paul Delvaux
Dawn over the City 1940
Artesia Bank, Belgium © Foundation P Delvaux - St Ldesbald, Belgium/DACS, London 2001

The streets of the city, the surrealists believed, offered innumerable possibilities for erotic encounters. Many of their writings describe chance meetings, in which a fated couple are guided towards each other without knowing it, or even being aware of the other’s existence. In the painting Dawn Over the City (1940), the Belgian artist Paul Delvaux portrays himself wandering the streets of a city haunted by enticing, naked women. In René Magritte’s The Lovers (1928), a couple find each other and embrace, despite the white cloths that cover their heads.

Magritte Menaced Assassin The Lovers

René Magritte, The Lovers 1928

From the 1930s the idea of desire as a mysterious guiding force was also explored in surrealist objects. These bizarre constructions sometimes incorporated found objects picked up at flea markets, discoveries that the surrealists interpreted as another type of fortuitous encounter. The completed works were seen as symbolic expressions of hidden or unarticulated desires.