Paul Delvaux: The Sleepwalker of Saint-Idesbald


Saint-Idesbald is a small, unremarkable seaside town on the Belgian coast situated between Ostend and the border with France. I spent a week there on a school camping holiday in the 1970s unaware that it was the home of the great Surrealist painter Paul Delvaux (1897–1994). I suppose you could make the argument that the location of Dalí’s home in Cadaqués was equally unremarkable, but Dalí’s house was well-known, and that area of the Spanish coast is familiar from many of his paintings. The surprise in later discovering that Delvaux lived in Saint-Idesbald, rather than Brussels or Bruges, or even Ostend, is that the town is quite unlike the tram-haunted, cobblestoned, moonlit vistas of his paintings. It’s appropriate that JG Ballard thought highly enough of Delvaux to mention his paintings in some of his stories, and also commission reproductions of two lost canvases; Ballard’s Shepperton was an equally unlikely home for such a vivid imagination.

Paul Delvaux: The Sleepwalker of Saint-Idesbald is a film from the Naxos record label that lasts all of three minutes, but which happens to feature the first footage I’ve seen of Paul Delvaux as a working artist. Despite Ballard’s attention, Delvaux has often been passed over as a subject of Surrealist documentaries in favour of the usual trinity of Dalí, Magritte and Max Ernst. There are older documentaries in existence, however, so I’ll continue to hope they may turn up eventually. For anyone who happens to journey near Saint-Idesbald, many of Delvaux’s paintings can be seen in the museum there.

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Public Voice by Lejf Marcussen
Ballard and the painters
Taxandria, or Raoul Servais meets Paul Delvaux

Weekend links 90


Portrait of Dr. Ignacio Chavez (1957) by Remedios Varo (1908–1963) some of whose Surrealist paintings can be seen at Frey Norris, San Francisco, from 19th January. There’s also In Wonderland: The Surrealist Adventures of Women Artists in Mexico and the United States at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art from 29th January.

The current crop of Republicans jostling for the Presidential nomination have reminded me of the Downunder people in Harlan Ellison’s post-apocalypse novella A Boy and His Dog (1969): a retrograde, fear-ridden community who send troublesome individuals to be exterminated at “the farm”. Rick Santorum (unforgettably pictured here with family in 2006 after losing an election) almost received the majority of Iowa’s votes for his nomination last week, prompting renewed scrutiny of his negative views about gay people, sexually active people, foreign people (especially Arabs and Mexicans), and anyone generally who isn’t a white, Catholic, Downunder person. Santorum is against gay marriage, of course—it’s hard to find a Republican who isn’t—but he also wants to ban abortion even in cases of rape and incest, and given the opportunity would allow US states to prevent any use of contraception. Add to this his pro-torture stance (which offends current Catholic church policy), and his willingness to wage war with Iran, and it’s easy to see why his name prompts reactions such as this:

I have a history with Rick Santorum. In 2003, when Santorum, in an interview with the Associated Press, first compared gay relationships to child rape and dog fucking (have I mentioned that Santorum has compared gay relationships to child rape and dog fucking?), I held a contest to redefine Santorum‘s last name. The winning definition: “the frothy mix of lube and fecal matter that is sometimes the byproduct of anal sex.” (“Sometimes” is the most important word in the new definition of santorum; if you’re doing anal sex correctly, there won’t be any santorum – lower- or upper-case.) And since 2003, the new definition has been the No. 1 Google return when you search “santorum“.

Rick Santorum’s homophobic frothing by Dan Savage

Related: Santorum was named one of the three “most corrupt” Senators in 2006 | “Homohater fosser fram” which is how Dagbladet, Norway’s second largest tabloid newspaper, introduces Santorum to its readers | “Rick Santorum channels Saint Augustine” an article at Slate exploring the Handmaid’s Tale extent of Santorum‘s attitudes towards sex and morality | Rick Santorum quotes as New Yorker cartoons.


The Rod (1973) by Brigid Marlin.

• Ballardian posts a long-overdue interview with Brigid Marlin, famous now for having brought two lost Paul Delvaux paintings back to life for JG Ballard, but also a woman with an extensive career as a fantastic artist using Ernst Fuchs‘s laborious mische painting technique.

Quentin Blake on Ronald Searle, in which Blake notes that his hero was given a full-scale exhibition of his work at the Bibliothèque Nationale, France, in 1973 whilst being ignored throughout his life by the major institutions in Britain.

Alfred Jarry: A Pataphysical Life by Alastair Brotchie is reviewed by Michael Moorcock who tells me the Guardian cut out his references to Boris Vian, Maurice Richardson and David Britton.

Ian McKellen stirs things up by suggesting (not for the first time) that Shakespeare was bisexual.

• Ten posters by Only More Never Less inspired by Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon.

An end to bad heir days: The posthumous power of the literary estate.

Peace Eye! Fug! A Long Talk With Ed Sanders.

• Sand sculptures by Carl Jara.


• Skylab: These Are The Blues (1995) | Beyond The Breeze (1995) | Red Light, Blue Light (1995) | Indigo (Sabres of Paradise remix, 1995) | Seashell (Nobukazu Takemura mix, 1995).

Six Suites of Engravings


Something discovered following another delve through the collections of etchings and engravings at the Internet Archive where a frustrated search for one subject turns up something else. This 1549 folio of architectural engravings is credited to architect and designer Jacques Androuet du Cerceau (1510–1584), and the plates are based on earlier renderings by Agostino Veneziano and Hieronymus Cock, he of the incredible map of the Americas. Among the details of columns and caryatids there’s a series of the kind of imaginary perspective views I always like to see, lots of sparsely-populated courtyards in various states of ruin. It’s easy to imagine these prospects being transformed into scenarios from Paul Delvaux or Giorgio de Chirico after a suitable change of lighting.




Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The etching and engraving archive

Les Temps Morts by René Laloux


Is Les Temps Morts a French figure of speech? The phrase translates as “idle periods” as well as the more literal “dead times”, so the title of this short film from 1964 may have some punning intent. This was René Laloux’s second film as director, and one I’d not seen before until it turned up on YouTube. It’s an oddly morbid piece not far removed in tone from yesterday’s The Apotheosis of War but a dose of Surrealism courtesy of Roland Topor’s minatory imagination rescues it from Vereshchagin’s moralising.


Between some documentary clips of children play-fighting, war scenes, bullfights and bird shoots, Topor’s scratchy ink drawings are brought to life with minimal animation. There’s also some narration in unsubtitled French. Laloux, Topor and soundtrack composer Alain Goraguer followed this with another, lighter short, The Snails (also on YouTube), in 1966, and joined forces again for Laloux’s first animated feature in 1973, the justly-celebrated Fantastic Planet, a science fiction film that’s a lot weirder than the usual Hollywood conceptions of the genre. That’s been on DVD for a while, and is essential viewing for Topor aficionados.

The schizophrenic cinema of René Laloux by Craig Keller.


Previously on { feuilleton }
Taxandria, or Raoul Servais meets Paul Delvaux

The Public Voice by Lejf Marcussen


Lejf Marcussen is a Danish filmmaker whose animation Den Offentlige Røst (The Public Voice, 1988) I know from UK TV screenings, back in the days when the TV channels here used to screen more than cookery shows and soap operas. This is a short Surrealist piece which begins with zoom into a Paul Delvaux painting then reverses the process by pulling back from a continually changing picture some of whose details can be seen here. It is, of course, better to watch the film than read a description of it which is why I kept hoping a copy might turn up on YouTube. Sure enough, a rough copy has been languishing there for two years so I suggest you watch it here while you have the chance. These obscure shorts have a habit of getting deleted, and this miniature marvel is more obscure than most.



Update: changed the link to a better quality version. Thanks, Martin!

Previously on { feuilleton }
Patrick Bokanowski again
L’Ange by Patrick Bokanowski
The Hour-Glass Sanatorium by Wojciech Has
Babobilicons by Daina Krumins
Impressions de la Haute Mongolie revisited
Short films by Walerian Borowczyk
The Brothers Quay on DVD