Marcel DELMOTTE (Charleroi, 1901 – Mont-sur-Marchienne, 1984)

The Vestal Virgins

117.5 x 195.5 cm. (3 ft. 10 ¼ in. x 6 ft. 4 1516 in.)

Oil and lacquer on hardboard panel

· France, Private Collection.

“Above all, I desire every work to be a question mark, a point for interrogation.”

Marcel Delmotte was interested in the study of marble. A living material organized in what he called “rhythmic splotches,” it was an indispensable tool which made it possible for him to construct his works. From these splotches, he assembled his ideas which, once set down, were fixed and could not be removed from the final work. As a result of this process, Delmotte willingly admitted that his work used pure chance, but he nonetheless never let it guide him. Coincidence is “desired, directed, provoked until the moment when it becomes the scheme of “self” which our reason can never define and pin down.” Our work fits into this reasoning at a very early date. In the 1940s, Delmotte was still involved in the exploration and establishment of technical processes that permitted him to create. The product of a subtle balance between lacquer and oil, our picture is an exceptional example of his early large scale works.

Plunged into the shadows of an imperceptible location revealing five female silhouettes, the scene is punctuated by violent light contrasts learned from Caravaggio. The composition seems frozen in time. The ingenious use of lacquer reinforces the flatness of the figures who, though moving are nonetheless silent and assume sculptural forms whose stone cold appearance is warmed by a few violent bursts of orangey light. The work on the female body, sculptural, almost immutable, is the fruit of long reflection which obsessed the artist throughout his career and which would be found again almost twenty years later in smaller scale works. Iconographically, Delmotte was a painter of dream and fiction: these women draped in an antique style also belong withthe grand priestesses maintaining the sacred fire in the Temple of Vesta during the Roman period.

Delmotte was an unclassifiable and fascinating artist. Inspired by Surrealism, to which he himself said he did not belong, his works are constructed so as to trouble our spatial perception. By starting from a “splotch which he enlarged by reconstructing a world around it,” he created in order to “fascinate himself,” provoke questioning, and allow each viewer to give personal meaning to his work.

Transl. chr

General Bibliography (Unpublished Work):
GEORGE Waldemar, Le monde imaginaire de Marcel Delmotte, Paris, ed. Max Fourny, 1969.

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