Like his compatriot René Magritte, Paul Delvaux applied a fastidious, detailed technique to scenes deriving their impact from unsettling incongruities of subject. Influenced by Giorgio de Chirico, he frequently included classicizing details and used perspectival distortion to create rapid, plunging movement from foreground to deep background. Unique to Delvaux is the silent, introspective cast of figures he developed during the mid-1930s. His nude or seminude women pose immobile with unfocused gazes, their arms frozen in rhetorical gestures, dominating a world through which men, preoccupied and timid, unobtrusively make their way. Although the fusion of woman and tree in the present picture invites comparison with Greek mythological subjects, the artist has insisted that no such references were intended. The motif of the mirror appears in some 1936 works. In The Break of Day a new element is introduced; the reflected figure is not present within the scene, but exists outside the canvas field. She is, therefore, in some sense, the viewer, even if that viewer should happen to be male.
Jean (Hans) Arp