Salvador Dali, 1970
Suite of lithographs
(pictured above: 3 of 25 works from the suite)
Salvador Dali, though he sometimes talked about having Arabic roots, was in fact very proudly Spanish, and some of his greatest works seem to be those that reflect the apotheosis of Spanish heritage, custom, and heart. A supreme example is a masterful canvas painted in the same year that Dali created his wonderful Carmen suite – the awe-inspiring tour d’ force, Hallucinogenic Toreador.
That masterwork, which preoccupied Dali intellectually for upwards of a year, and took nearly two years to fully complete, pays tribute to Spain’s national pastime: the bullfight, and does so through what might be Dali’s most riveting double-image ever – all, of course, with painstaking precision.
Set in Seville, Spain, circa 1830, the story of the opera, Carmen, is wonderfully Spanish in its colorful exuberance and inexorable tragedy. Dali’s 25-piece lithographic suite might be the single best of all of the Catalan painter’s graphic work – admittedly a subjective viewpoint, but one that would surely garner staunch agreement from many Dali collectors.
Free with her love, Carmen woos the corporal Don Jose, an inexperienced soldier, and their relationship leads to his rejection of his former lover. Yet he descends into madness when Carmen eventually turns from him to the bullfighter Escamillo.
Dali captures with refinement, drama, exquisite draftsmanship and deep emotion the salient scenes and little nuances of what has become one of the world’s most popular operas: the flower Carmen throws at the feet of Jose, choosing him as a lover; the dancing and drinking at the inn that is a local hangout for smugglers; Carmen’s private dance for Jose; tarot card reading; the duel with knives; the parade that enters the bull-fighting arena through a square in Seville.
Dali uses brilliant, colorful detail contrasted with dark, moody blacks in Parody on Micaela; captures the tension of the moment in Carmen and Don Jose Fleeing on Horseback; expresses valor and triumph through the relative simplicity and symmetry of Triumph of the Toreador; and makes palpable the ultimate tragedy in his death mask of a work, The Cards Spell Death to Carmen.
Through it all, Dali never lets us forget his surrealist and Spanish leanings, with wonderful details like his Ghost of Vermeer of Delft-like figure in The Bird has Flown, featuring the same outstretched leg doubling as table, complete with wine bottle. And the central figure through the doorway in Lillas Pastia’s Tavern, borrowed from the iconic Las Meninas masterpiece by Velasquez, Dali’s favorite Spanish painter.
From the glowing Portrait of Carmen to the rich and haunting Don Jose’s Final Appearance: The Bats Symbolizing Death, Dali’s Carmen suite is quite simply one of his most richly textured, beautiful and allegorical efforts in the medium of limited edition graphics.