Measuring over six by nine feet, The Great Sirens is one of Delvaux’s largest paintings. The work features partially nude female figures in a moonlit architectural landscape, a mysterious setting that reveals the painter’s admiration of the work of Giorgio de Chirico. Unabashedly unselfconscious in their states of undress, the women are formidable, even threatening, in their quiet seduction. In the distance, a group of beached mermaids mesmerizes a lone man in a bowler hat. Ambiguous in meaning, the painting evokes enduring themes of love and erotic fantasy.
Inscription: Signed and dated (lower right): P. Delvaux 6-47
Claude Spaak, Paris (in 1949); private collection, Brussels (in 1951); Claude Spaak, Paris (in 1952); Jean–Louis Merckx, Brussels (by 1954–at least 1961); Mme Jean Krebs, Brussels (by 1962–at least 1964); Joachim-Jean Aberbach, Sands Point, N. Y. (by 1967–at least 1975); Julian J. Aberbach, New York (by 1978–79; his gift to MMA)
Paris. René Drouin. "Paul Delvaux," opened March 5, 1948, no. 16 (as "Les grandes sirènes").
The Hague. Gemeentemuseum. "Facetten van hedendaagse schilderkunst," June 25–August 8, 1949, no. 29 (as "Les grandes sirènes").
Verviers, Belgium. Société Royale des Beaux-Arts. "Paul Delvaux: Tableaux, dessins, aquarelles," October 16–November 6, 1949, no. 11.
Ostend, Belgium. Galeries Royales. "La Peinture sous le signe de la mer," August 5–September 4, 1951, no. 22 (as "Les Grandes Sirènes," lent by a private collection, Brussels).
Amsterdam. Stedelijk Museum. "Dertien belgische schilders," October–November 1952, no. 41 (as "De Grote Sirenen," lent by Claude Spaak, Paris).
Venice. Belgian Pavilion. "XXVII Biennale," June 19–October 17, 1954, no. 7 (as "Le grandi sirene," lent by Jean-Louis Merckx, Brussels).
Musée des Beaux-Arts, Liège. "L'Apport wallon au Surréalisme: Peinture, poésie," October 13–November 12, 1955, no. 33 (as "Les Grandes Sirènes," lent by J. L. Merckx).
Charleroi. Salle de la Bourse. "XXXIme Salon Cercle Artistique et Littéraire de Charleroi," March 23–April 11, 1957, no. 55 (as "Les Grandes Sirènes," lent by Jean-Louis Merck, Brussels).
Ostend, Belgium. Museum voor Schone Kunsten. "Paul Delvaux," July 1–August 31, 1962, no. 32 (lent by Mevr. Krebs, Brussels).
Ghent, Belgium. Museum voor Schone Kunsten. "Figuratie, defiguratie: De menselijke figuur sedert Picasso," July 10–October 4, 1964, no. 71 (as "Les grandes sirènes," lent by Mme J. Krebs, Brussels).
Paris. Musée des Arts Décoratifs. "Rétrospective Paul Delvaux," May 22–July 28, 1969, no. 37 (as "Les grandes sirènes," lent by Joachim Jean Aberbach, New York).
Rotterdam. Museum Boymans-van Beuningen. "Paul Delvaux," April 13–June 17, 1973, no. 41 (as "Les grandes sirènes [De grote zeemeerminnen]," lent by Joachim Jean Aberbach, Sands Point, New York).
Knokke-Heist. Casino. "Paul Delvaux," June 23–September 2, 1973, no. 33 (as "De grote zeemeerminnen [Les grandes sirènes]," lent by Joachim Jean Aberbach, Sands Point, New York).
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Summer Loan Exhibition," August 11–October 29, 1978, no catalogue.
Em[ile]. Langui. "Oeuvres récentes de Paul Delvaux." Les Arts plastiques 1–2 (1948), fig. 30.
Émile Langui. Paul Delvaux. Venice, 1949, p. 13, pl. XXIII, locates it in the Claude Spaak collection, Paris.
E. L. T. Mesens. "Les Apprentis magiciens au pays de la pléthore." Arts plastiques 6 (June 1954), p. 36, fig. 26.
Robert Genaille. La Peinture en Belgique de Rubens aux Surréalistes. Paris, 1958, pp. 148, 202, calls it "Les Grandes Sirènes" and locates it in the Merckx collection, Brussels.
Marcel Brion. Art fantastique. Paris, 1961, p. 275, locates it in the collection of J.-L. Merck [sic].
S. Frigerio. "Les expositions. Gand. Figuration et défiguration ou la Figure Humaine depuis Picasso." Aujourd'hui 8 (October 1964), ill. p. 59.
Emile Langui. "La figure humaine dans la peinture depuis Picasso." Quadrum 17 (1964), ill. p. 19, locates it in the collection of Mme J. Krebs, Brussels.
K. J. Geirlandt. "Figuration et défiguration." Beaux arts (Brussels) (June 25, 1964), p. 111.
Paul-Aloïse De Bock. Paul Delvaux: L'Homme, Le Peintre, Psychologie d'un Art. Brussels, 1967, p. 295, no. 88, ill. n. p. (color), calls it "Les grandes sirènes" and locates it in the collection of Joachim Jean Abberbach [sic], New York.
Jacques Meuris. 7 Dialogues avec Paul Delvaux: Accompagnés de 7 Lettres Imaginaires. Paris, 1971, ill. pp. 20–21 (overall), 24 (detail), locates it in the collection of Joachim Jean Abberbach [sic], New York.
Antoine Terrasse. Paul Delvaux. Paris, 1972, ill. pp. 74–75 (color).
Xavier Marret. "Paul Delvaux: Le temps suspendu." Vie des arts 17 (Spring 1973), p. 50.
R[enilde]. Hammacher-van den Brande and Liesbeth Brandt Corstius. Paul Delvaux. Exh. cat., Museum Boymans-van Beuningen. Rotterdam, 1973, p. 140, no. 41, ill. p. 79 (color).
Suzanne Houbart–Wilkin inDelvaux. Brussels, 1975, pp. 223–24, 297, no. 183, ill.
Jean Clair inDelvaux. Brussels, 1975, ill. p. 108 (detail).
Joseph Chazades. "Marché des arts." L'Oeil no. 243 (October 1975), ill. p. 72.
Lowery S. Sims in "Twentieth Century Art." The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Notable Acquisitions 1979–1980. New York, 1980, p. 62, ill. (color).
Z. Barthelman and J. Van Deun. Paul Delvaux: Odyssey of a Dream. Saint-Idesbald, Belgium, 2007, ill. p. 37 (color), call it "Les grandes sirènes (The Large Mermaids)"; reproduce three studies for this painting (one in the Musée Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Brussels, and two in private collections).
Kyriakos Koutsomallis inDelvaux and Antiquity. Exh. cat., Basil and Elise Goulandris Foundation, Andros. Wommelgem, Belgium, 2009, p. 29.
Cristina Santarelli. "Female Archetypes in Belgian Surrealist Painting." Music in Art 36 (Spring–Fall 2011), p. 323, fig. 10 (color), erroneously locates it still in the Aberbach collection.