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Maite Delteil: Turning Over Pages from Her Diary

by Aakshat Sinha

As one views the show, it soon becomes obvious that here lies the origins of Maite Delteil’s art, which today reflect brightly coloured, perfectly rounded trees in very specific shapes and forms with benign humans and peaceful birds.

Living and working in New Delhi and Paris, Maite Delteil was born in 1933 in Fumel, France. She received her art education at Ecole Des Beaux-Arts Academie de la Grand Chaumiere, Academic Julian and Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux – Arts from 1953 to 1959 and was awarded the Prix De la Casa Velasquez in 1959. Delteil’s work has been exhibited widely in several cities of France, Europe, and America and in solo and group shows in India. Her works are part of many public and private collections in France, Japan, India and other parts of the world.

At the opening of the show 'Pages from my diary . . . '

The exhibition ‘Pages from my diary . . . ’ opened at the Art Alive Gallery, based in South Delhi online as well as physically at the gallery (on till 15 September 2021). The hybrid form is becoming a norm going forward but it is heartening to see that physical shows are gradually gaining pace too in a period when the numbers of daily new Coronavirus infection cases, fingers crossed, seem to be waning.

The artist’s words on the wall as one enters the show prepare the viewer for the exhibition – a trip down the artist’s memory lane. The works on display feature an exclusive collection of Maite’s paintings from 1960 through to the 1970s. The wall text reads, “While you are growing as an artist, you don’t know who you are and you are trying to find it through your work without thinking, on instinct. When I see my old oil paintings and I see my paintings now, I see a common thread of bright colours. For me, happiness is symbolized by those colours that bind all the works together.”

The exhibition display is in three major sections. The large room at the entrance holds works that feature still life and garden sculptures in the foreground against round trees and flora in bright pinks, reds, yellows, blues, and greens in the background. The finely detailed (almost stripling-like), repetitive patterns for the actual sandy / pebbled garden becomes the site of the narrative told through the compositions. Is there a tree here with a hole where Alice would venture for her Wonderland?

One wonders what could have been the artist’s influences and inspirations five or six decades ago. While her current works have retained the bright round trees and flora, the balustrades, sculptures and still life have been done away with. Though these drawn-out elements provide triggers for the story engraved in the works, to my eyes, they didn’t seem to be as aesthetically pleasing as most of the other elements of the compositions, such as in the work titled The Mexican Landscape and The Earth.

The Mexican Landscape, 38.5 x 28 inches, Oil on canvas

The Earth, 18 x 11.5 inches, Water colour on paper

The strength of the lines and strokes of an artist, apart from reaffirming the technical prowess, usually reflect the state of their mind on occasions and the confidence of their conviction otherwise. It is therefore surprising to see this strength lacking somewhat in the lines encasing the sculptures and balustrades. The artworks also display a combination of different influences like in The Sunset, the Japanese influence is evident in the sun and the sky while the bottom part of the painting has a clear European influence. The Sunset is also one of the few works where the year of creation is mentioned (1975). Apparently, the artist doe not remember the dates of most of the collection, barring the generic time period that the collection belongs to.

The Sunset, 21.5 x 25.5 inches, Oil on canvas, 1975

The Pink Umbrella, 25.5 x 21.5 inches, Oil on canvas

On the other hand, her lyrical and surreal works in the passageway and the other two rooms, such as The Pink Umbrella’ that depicts women and still life with a surer painterly hand that is in control of the heart and mind. There is also a strong 1960s’ Matisse influence in these works. The composition and placement of the main figure, the bold use of yellows, pinks and oranges to create spatial divides and even in the presentation of the tapestry and tablecloths are all reminders of Henry Matisse’s palette and treatment. I hasten to clarify, that by no means am I suggesting that Maite is copying or recreating Matisse – she has developed her own unique visual language and vocabulary. As she herself says:

“At the end of the 1960s, I was mainly working in Japan. Looking myself into these paintings, I realized I was very much concerned with the search of vibrant colours simply applied as Matisse was doing. I was also trying to depict intimate interiors to present models in gentle boudoirs, in a contemplative appearance, more than in a banal sentimental vision. At that time, I was impressed by artists like Berthe Morisot, Edward Vuillard or Pierre Bonnard.”

The floral presentations with the vase and table, the stark background and the shadows are intriguing. They could be live studies in oil but the compositions can as well be interpreted as human heads with fluffy, brightly coloured hair, as in The Pink Bouquets. Obviously, the reading can be subjective and purely the viewer’s (read my) imagination running wild just like the hair.

The Pink Bouquets, 39 x 32 inches, Oil on canvas

The nude women seem comfortable in their own space – both physical and mental. They are engaged in different activities: reclining on the bed with a large mirror on the wall reflecting the woman; looking coyly at the viewer with a summery outdoor, visible beyond their balconies with decorative metal railings; breastfeeding a child in the comfort of their home: sitting on the sofa deep in thought, or maybe in wait. There are other women in the outdoors, amidst bushes and flowering trees and under open umbrellas to shelter them from the harsh sunlight.

Young Girls with Umbrella, 18.1 x 21.6 inches, Oil on canvas

Two Friends, 45.6 x 28.7 inches, Oil on canvas

Some objects appear repeatedly in many of the works like wall mirrors, vase, tables, umbrellas, and curtained balconies. The women are dressed in bright floral patterns, while the upholstery of the sofas and beds, curtains, floor coverings and cushions all have contrasting polka patterns. All these elements and details take your breath away as you view the colourful bonanza within the frames. The power of the colours and the sensitive figures are most definitely the artist’s strength. The birds serve as motifs of unfettered freedom, comfortable in their own feathers. Much like the birds, the women in the paintings hold their own with or without any bounds of fabric, revelling in their own existence, comfortable with being just themselves.

The exhibition opens the private space of the artist whose retrospective works from over five decades back provide an insight to the origins of her artistic journey. Her works from all that time ago are a treat for viewers to help relate to the times almost lost and forgotten.

At the gallery, here's a bench lying in wait and maybe that's Alice's door to Wonderland

The exhibition 'Pages from my diary . . . ' at Art Alive Gallery, New Delhi, is open to the public following all Covid guidelines and protocols till 15 September 2021. The online show can be accessed at

(All images are courtesy of the artist Maite Delteil and Art Alive Gallery, New Delhi.)


Aakshat Sinha is an artist and curator. He also writes poetry and has created and published comics. He is the Founding Partner of artamour.

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