Author Archives: Paul Chimera


Dali’s ‘Cheerful Horse’ Title Seems Opposite from what Appears on Canvas

By Paul Chimera

Salvador Dali Historian


Salvador Dali could be a man of opposites. He would, at times, say one thing, yet mean something diametrically opposed to what he’d stated. He could, for instance, claim to not like children (he called them “embryons”), yet could be seen with his arm around his godchild. He could say he drank only mineral water, yet some photos show him and Gala at a café with a bottle of beer in front of him.


Dali could insist that he detested all animals except ant eaters and rhinoceroses, yet be photographed cozying up to man’s best friend. Or monkeying around with a chimpanzee. And, of course, he often had his pet ocelot on a short leash.


He could categorically reject abstract art, yet create a masterwork subtitled Homage to Rothko.


So we shouldn’t be surprised that one of Dali’s final paintings has a title that seems utterly inconsistent with the work’s extraordinarily ghastly image. I’m talking about Salvador Dali’s 1980 oil on panel, The Cheerful Horse.






If this horse is cheerful, I’d hate to see what a downtrodden horse of Dali’s would look like!


I truly thought the title of this work, which Dali unveiled during a press conference very late in his life — one of his rarest appearances since the world had known he was seriously ill – was The Rotting (or Rotten) Donkey. Incorrect.


Indeed, Dali did in fact paint a work with such a title – back in 1928. And around the same period he painted The Spectral Cow, which reminds me of the 1980 oil.


salvador-dali-the-rotting-donkey the-spectral-cow-1928

Rotting Donkey, left, and Spectral Cow


Moreover, the rotting donkey motif, if you will, also appeared in film – in the early cinema classic, Un Chien Andalou, on which Dali collaborated with French filmmaker Luis Bunuel.




The Cheerful Horse – looking, of course, anything but idyllic – is really quite extraordinary. One has to presume Dali couldn’t escape his demons during the twilight of his life and career. His thoughts became increasingly preoccupied with death and decay. With calamity. With catastrophe. This is evidenced in a host of paintings he created in the early 1980s, featuring beds and nightstands and stringed instruments swirling about in a maelstrom of angst.


The Cheerful Horse exudes tremendous energy. It’s fecund with emotion. The color palette is somber where you’d expect it to be, then brighter, sunnier, and more cheerful elsewhere – justifying, albeit marginally, the work’s title.


The overall handling of paint reminds me of his work of two years earlier: Allegory of Spring.


Allegory of Spring

Allegory of Spring


Seeing the photo of Dali and Gala at that press conference in Figueras, Spain, with this large painting behind them, saddens me. I remember when this event made international headlines. And I felt hopeful that the great man seemed tenacious and indomitable. On the other hand, you couldn’t escape the fact that he looked old, weak and drawn, while Gala looked every bit 10 years his senior.




And yet through it all, Dali brought the world a “cheerful” horse – a description quite the opposite of what appeared on his canvas. Dali had painted again!


The horse had long symbolized energy, strength and power as it appeared in countless paintings, drawings, prints, watercolors, and sculpture by our dear friend, the divine Salvador Dali, Marquis de Pubol. In the aged and ailing Dali mind, his curious horse painting was a cheerful one, even if it doesn’t look that way.

And the fact that Dali wasn’t quite ready to hang up his paint brushes gave us reason to cheer.



(Images used under Fair Use provisions for journalistic purposes only)





Salvador Dali Literally Turned Michelangelo’s ‘David’ on its Head!

By Paul Chimera

Salvador Dali Historian


Salvador Dali had a lifelong love and respect for the Old Masters. He acknowledged their influence in very specific ways, at times, in certain of his works. And he emulated their technique and affinity for craftsmanship in his sharp, careful painting style.


References to great masters such as Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Velazquez, Vermeer, and Michelangelo – among others – can be found throughout Dali’s prodigious career.


One of the earliest is seen in his 1930 oil on canvas, Imperial Monument to the Child-Woman. Direct your gaze to just below the center of the canvas and you’ll find a rendition of Leonardo’s iconic masterpiece, The Mona Lisa.


Da Vinci's Mona Lisa in Dali's surrealist canvas.

Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa in Dali’s surrealist canvas.


And as I’d pointed out in a recent blog post, Dali quoted the pointing angel from Leonardo’s Virgin of the Rocks in his 1952 painting, Anti-Protonic Assumption. Both of these Dali’s were relatively early works when we take the long measure of the artist’s astonishingly productive catalog.


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But the very last works by Salvador Dali punctuated a period that was by no means devoid of his appreciation of these masterful precursors. One work in particular is truly surprising, because it combines a nod to one of the most famous works of art of all time – the statue of David by Michelangelo – with Dali’s penchant for hidden/double imagery.


I’m talking about Landscape with Hidden Image of Michelangelo’s David, completed in 1982. Dali literally turned our vantage point on its head, cleverly camouflaging a full-length image of David within the rocky landscape – readily discerned with a 180-degree turn of the picture.


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I cannot think of any other Dali work – be it a painting, drawing, print, etc. – where this “upside down” device was employed.


Increasingly, as more focused attention is given to Salvador Dali’s serious work at the easel, we’re seeing the strong connection between him and the great old masters.


Indeed, two distinguished art historians and authors – Dr. Christopher Heath Brown and Jean-Pierre Isbouts – are putting the finishing touches on a substantial book that delves into this very subject – the connection between the art of the Old Masters and the art of the 20th century master, Salvador Dali.


Watch this space, brought to you exclusively by The Salvador Dali Society, Inc.©, for further information on Mssrs. Isbouts and Brown’s forthcoming book.



(Images used under Fair Use provisions for journalistic purposes only)


Mystery of Baseball Players Revealed in Dali’s ‘Melancholy, Atomic’ Painting

By Paul Chimera

Salvador Dali Historian


When it comes to examining the extraordinary, complex, and often confounding life and work of Salvador Dali, you never quite know how – or if – you’ll connect the dots. But sometimes the solution comes when you least expect it.


Such was the case recently. In the most oddly-timed, esoteric, yet fascinating of ways.


It involves the interesting painting, Melancholy, Atomic, Uranic Idyll. This strange and haunting composition is a dramatic statement by Dali on the horrors of war, with World War II obviously on the artist’s mind as he executed this 1945 canvas.


Stay with me. Because I’m about to connect the dots in what I think is an intriguing way. One that is not my interpretation, but Dali’s own explanation. Delivered in the most unlikely of contexts.


In Melancholy, Atomic, Uranic Idyll, virtually the entire scene is a dark, foreboding sort of underground space – a suggestion created by the appearance of a hint of daylight in the upper right, where bomb-dropping spider-legged elephants are on the march, together with an angel-like figure before them.




Elsewhere, human facial features are poignantly supplanted by a bomber airplane unleashing its deadly load, while at lower left an anguished-looking man is seen, out of whose neck an orb descends – and that is where we begin to connect some dots.


Because, in Salvador Dali’s remarkable mind – while he was in exile in the United States during the war – he associated baseballs (orbs) from America’s favorite pastime with bombs dropping from the sky!




We see them from the aforementioned man’s neck; raining down from the upper portion of the canvas; from the right cheek of the face formed by the bomber; from the pachyderms mentioned earlier; from the baseball bat-like shape running vertically along the right side of the painting; from a crutch and vase – even out of the face of the baseball player swinging his bat.


Why baseball? Was it merely that the balls make a conveniently plausible metaphor for bombs?


For years, I presumed it was simply Dali melding two starkly contrasting realities: the horrors of the raging war, and the persistence of America’s favorite sport (speaking of “Persistence,” notice the long soft watch on the side of the bomber face). He was, after all, now residing in New York City, and wouldn’t return to Spain for another half-decade. One could not help but be exposed to baseball, if only on television.


But my conjecture was replaced by fact – straight from Dali’s mouth – when I finally got to see him recently on a clip of the old Dick Cavett show. As fate would have it, baseball legend Satchell Paige was also one of Cavett’s guests that evening. So, when Cavett was growing increasingly confounded by Dali’s hard-to-follow loquaciousness, he digressed by asking the artist if he liked baseball.



Dali said he did not, explaining that he was familiar with the game only through photos – not actually viewing the sport in action – and that everybody was always “on the ground, in the dust – looking melancholy.” Dali even emphasized his point by leaning over toward the floor, in a kind of gesture of depression, to further illustrate what he meant.


And that was my “Aha!” moment. There’s where the “Melancholy” in the painting’s title comes in. And that’s why Dali appropriated the sport of baseball here – to symbolize a sense of melancholy. And the balls-turned-bombs made perfect sense. It was, in a way, genius!


Or at least genius, Dali-style. And, if you look at the painting carefully, you’ll even see a couple of players sliding in the dirt  and the dust.





Dali on Ed Sullivan Was Surely a ‘Really Big Show!’

By Paul Chimera

Salvador Dali Historian


I recently expressed great joy in finally seeing Salvador Dali’s appearance on the old Dick Cavett Show, after literally decades of not-so-patient waiting. Dali was such a colorful, unpredictable, amusing and, yes, seemingly crazy character, that watching him talk and explain his ideas and thoughts in a forum like a TV talk show is a truly special experience.


Dick Cavett did a decent job of handling the wildly unpredictable actions and responses of his surrealist guest, even if at times Cavett’s conduct was a bit on the juvenile side. On balance, I think he followed Dali’s inscrutable mash-up of English and Catalonian fairly well. He had at least a reasonable grasp of some of Dali’s ideas and concepts. And he did a respectable job of showing and guiding Dali’s own descriptions of a series of new prints Dali had on view at the time – Memories of Surrealism – at a New York gallery.


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Three of the graphics in Dali’s Memories of Surrealism print suite


But there are two other clips of Dali on American television that this Dali historian/blogger is still sleuthing through sources and resources to find. One I’ve seen once before, flashed quickly in some archival newsreel, while the other I’ve seen only pictures of.


The first is news footage of a press conference Dali held, presumably somewhere in New York City. Seated in the front row was Harry Reasoner, at the time probably the best-known TV journalist in America, if not the world.


At one point, Dali was signing his name – or perhaps creating some other spontaneous image – on a blackboard, using a can of shaving cream instead of a paintbrush! He held a razor in his other hand.


In a flurry of frenetic activity, the shaving cream spattered wildly about – and a sizeable clump landed on the expensive double-breasted suit of Mr. Reasoner! The newsman sat motionless, either trying to be cool, or perhaps paralyzed by what had just happened!


I saw this clip only once, so many years ago I can’t begin to guess when or where. But I must see it again, if it would only somehow show up on Youtube or in another forum.


The last missing link in the spectrum of TV appearances of Salvador Dali occurred on January 29, 1961. That’s when Salvador Dali shot onto the stage at the Ed Sullivan Theatre in New York. The “shot” was literal.


Picture dated in the 60s of TV American presenter Ed Sullivan (L) looking at Spanish artist Salvador Dali (R) showing how to paint with a spray gun. (Photo credit should read -/AFP/GettyImages)

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Dali’s performance art involved him pointing a pistol, loaded with paint-filled capsules, at a large canvas and shooting it to create a rather remarkable image of the Crucifixion. He called this technique “bulletism.”


Bulletims of the longer-rifle variety.

Bulletism of the rifle variety.


The affable Cavett was one thing. But how on earth did Sullivan – a kind of stoic, stone-faced host – react to Dali’s appearance on his show? How did Sullivan introduce his guest to begin with? What did he say Dali was going to do? And what did the two say after Dali shot his way into further fame?


These are questions to which I must have answers. This is a TV appearance of Salvador Dali I must see. If any reader out there can help, kindly contact me through the Salvador Dali Society, Inc.© And if I find it, be assured you’ll see it in this space.


(Images used under Fair Use provisions for journalistic purposes only)


Salvador Dali Was and Always Will be a Media Star; Enjoy him on the Dick Cavett Show and Dancing the Charleston Outside!

By Paul Chimera

Salvador Dali Historian


Fellow Dali nuts who know me well know that, for countless years, I lamented and expressed serious frustration over the fact that I was aware Salvador Dali had appeared on the old Dick Cavett Show, but had never seen a clip of it.  And honestly thought I never would.


What’s more, when I was told Dali came on Cavett’s set holding an ant eater and that he tossed it onto the lap of actress Lillian Gish, my level of intrigue – and frustration – grew ever more intense. “I must see this appearance of Dali, if it’s the last thing I do!” I’d insist.


But how? When? Will I ever? Am I hopelessly obsessed?


Many, many years of frustration passed. I could only try to picture in my mind’s eye such eccentric acts of the man whose flamboyant personality and kooky antics were as colorful as the palette with which he painted.


Then, not more than a few months ago, someone pointed out to me (I think it might have been my friend, Elliott King, himself a well-known Dali specialist), that there was a clip of the Dali Cavett Show appearance — finally — on youtube. I was elated and quickly went there and played the video. It was truly wonderful to see. Such as it was. But it was only a brief snippet of what was clearly a much lengthier interview. Still, my long-anticipated wish was finally fulfilled, albeit not entirely.


But now, which I ecstatically learned only a day or two ago, the entire interview is online! The Holy Grail! I literally waited decades to find it.  And it didn’t disappoint. Here it is, my friends . . .



But why? Why, for some of us, is seeing Dali in such contexts so important?


I have a theory that most probably won’t share it. Here goes: some of us want to observe the famously eccentric artist “in action” to determine for ourselves if he was genuinely a bit crazy, or if it was simply a put-on to get noticed and make headlines. Below, check out Dali on the Ed Sullivan Show, on BBC Radio, and on I’ve Got A Secret . . .


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I mean, there have been productive and successful people who were, at the same time, certifiably a little nuts. Was Dali one of them?


You’d have to watch more than just the Cavett clip to answer that. But, especially for those not particularly familiar with Dali, it wouldn’t be hard to find Dali’s appearance on the show not only way out there, but potentially indicative of a man with — let’s be blunt — a major screw loose!


He rambles on about rhinoceroses…the way he always pronounces “butterfly” “booterflyeeeeeee”…how Madame Dali chooses his clothing but the rest of him is his domain, including his famous mustache, which is “the constant tragic element of my face”…and how that celebrated facial hair becomes melancholic and depressing at night…how he never jokes…and how he doesn’t like children or animals (cats and dogs are vulgar, he declared), but two exceptions are the rhinoceros and the ant eater, which he keeps referring to not as an ant eater, but as an “eat-ant.”


Cavett asks him if he likes baseball, and Dali says he only looks at photographs of the sport and that, for him, it is all about people “down on the floor, catching dust, creating one tremendous melancholic effect, because everybody’s in this position,” as Dali leaned over, “in the floor, in the dust.”


When Lillian Gish carefully composes a perfectly sensible and interesting question to Dali – “Have you, from the beginning of your work, your great craftsmanship in painting, a message to give the people that we perhaps don’t understand?”, Dali dead-pans a coldly blunt, “No message,” shaking his head. The audience laughs and claps. “Could you invent one?” Cavett interjects, to sort of soften the dissing of Miss Gish’s gently posed query.


Dali, though, claims he is against any kind of message. And when the host comments that Dali’s paintings have a dream-like quality to them, Dali corrects him, noting, “It’s never a dream, it’s hypnogogical images. It’s 10 or 15 minutes before you fall sleeping. Vivid, irrational images, and catch images and paint with a more careful photographic style.”


Enjoy the clip!


*     *     *     *     *     *



And speaking of video clips, this one’s a hoot – and demonstrates quite the opposite of the “craziness” observed in the Dick Cavett Show appearance. Indeed, it reveals a down-to-earth charm and wit – not to mention a bit of fancy foot work – as Salvador joyfully treats us to his interpretation the Charleston. It’s nothing less than delightful! Perhaps the most playful footage ever of the controversial and eccentric Master.



Was Dali a little crazy? Um, yes — like a fox! In fact, a psychiatrist once observed that Dali had one of the “most ordered” minds of anyone he’d ever examined.

But did Dali act the part of a crazy man, in part because he was admittedly eccentric but even more so because he knew it would cleverly and irrepressibly help market his art and heighten his fame? Claro que si! (Look it up if you don’t know Spanish).

One thing’s for sure: Dali was fun to watch on shows like Dick Cavett’s. He had a great sense of humor and a profound love of Charlie Chaplin. And, I think, it showed.



(All images/videos used under Fair Use provisions for journalistic purposes only)









Dali’s ‘Madonna of Port Lligat’ Keeps Us Coming back for More!

By Paul Chimera

Salvador Dali Historian


Certain paintings, drawings, prints and other creations by Salvador Dali have something about them that’s a bit of a mystery to me. They’re works that not only grab ahold of me, but seduce me into coming back to them time and again, insisting that each time I return I discover something new.


Do you ever have this kind of experience with certain Dali’s? It’s really quite exhilarating! It’s art that not merely speaks to you, but almost literally reaches out, grabs you by the collar, and tenaciously draws you in with an ineffable sense of awe. Dali is just so damn exciting!


I’m having one of those experiences right now. As I write this.  As I again contemplate the extraordinary painting, The Madonna of Port Lligat of 1950.


At the time, the 46-year-old Dali considered it his greatest achievement to date. I loved the photo that ran in LIFE magazine when the immense canvas was delivered to New York’s Carstairs Gallery. It showed Dali with his hands clasped in utter self-satisfaction as he gazed up to watch the giant canvas being hoisted to the 6th floor gallery; it was too large to fit on the stairs or elevator. Dali proclaimed it was all “like childbirth!”


What I love about a painting like this is how it can be enjoyed in whole or in part – on a kind of macro- or micro-level. The overall impact owes, in part, to its sheer size. It looked commanding indeed when I finally saw the original in the Dali: The Late Years exhibition at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Georgia, in 2010 (though I lamented it was behind Plexiglas).




In more specific terms, the portrait of the auburn-haired Christ child – for which Juan Figueres, a 6-year-old from Cadaques, posed – is stunning. Close-ups of this central portion of the picture reveal spectacular detail in Gala’s embroidery and the Eucharistic bread seen through the transparent cut-out through both the chest of the Child and the Madonna.


The Christ child looking magnificent in auburn hair.

The Christ child looking magnificent in auburn hair.


One detail that’s always intrigued me is the cuttlefish bones seen at left in The Madonna of Port Lligat. Cuttlefish are remarkable sea creatures that change colors and emit electronic-like changes in their appearance. In Dali’s world, those changes became, at the right side of the painting, angel wings from which the image of Gala morphs.


Studies for cuttlefish bones transforming into Gala.

Studies for cuttlefish bones transforming into Gala.


As Dali’s first major Nuclear-Mystical work, everything in The Madonna of Port Lligat floats in space, representing then-new discoveries in nuclear physics – notably findings about the discontinuity of matter.

Nothing touches anything else.

Nothing touches anything else.


Alas, Dali popularly symbolized his fascination with atomic physics and mathematics – in particular the logarithmic curve – via the horn of the rhinoceros. And here, in the cubicle at the bottom of the painting, is the first appearance of the animal, whose unique horn would be the basis of a recurring motif in many Dali works to follow.


Three other details in this large masterwork recall three other Dali paintings: the basket of bread to Gala’s lower left; the design to the right of the rhinoceros – the same as that seen in Dematerialization Near the Nose of Nero; and the dematerializing face to the right of that, seen in the 1967 work, Future Martyr of Supersonic Waves.


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Taken as a whole, or examined in its seemingly endless details — such as the piece of hanging cork, seen here in Dali’s study for it —




The Madonna of Port Lligat is another giant achievement from the studio of Salvador Dali.


(Images used under Fair Use provisions for journalistic purposes only)


Dali Painted what he Saw, Not just what he Dreamed!

By Paul Chimera

Salvador Dali Historian


Everyone has their “thing” when it comes to Salvador Dali. Some love how mind-bending his paintings were. Not to mention his drawings, prints, and three-dimensional objects.


Others are fascinated by his scientific and mathematical mind. Many couldn’t get enough of his eccentricities, especially when they went public in what was invariably headline-making fashion.


Of the many “things” that make Dali irresistible to me is how you can discover certain elements in his pictures that were NOT the products of his fertile imagination, but actual things he saw in his daily life. Things that became important details within his surrealist – and sometimes not so surrealist – paintings.


Like any artist, surrealist Dali was a keen observer of his surroundings, and I find it interesting to look at some of what he saw converted into oil on canvas.


A great example is how Dali was inspired when he traveled in Italy and was taken by the deep perspective of the proscenium of the Teatro Olimpico in Vicenza, created by architect Andrea Palladio. Witnessing this architectural work gave rise to Dali’s Palladio’s Corridor of Dramatic Surprise of 1938 and, a year earlier, Palladio’s Thalia Corridor.


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Another Italian architectural wonder – the intricate and awe-inspiring interior of the Pantheon in Rome – informed Dali’s remarkable painting, Raphaelesque Head Exploding.


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And the Bernini sculpture in Rome’s Piazza della Minerva square moved Dali to create his famous elephants sporting skyscraper-tall spider legs and carrying impossible obelisks or other objects on their backs.


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The Church of Santa Maria in Cadaques was a great landmark for inspiration, resulting in a host of early canvases by Dali in his pre-surrealist days.


800px-Kirche_Santa_Maria_in_Cadaques dalibay


Speaking of Cadaques, that region, including Cape Creus and Port Lligat, was home to unending inspiration for Dali in the peculiar and distinctive rock formations of a largely craggy coastline. Most important is the rock at Cullero, which inspired Dali’s Great Masturbator head that appeared not only in his The Great Masturbator painting of 1929, but in many other works of his surrealist period.


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Another popular natural fixture in Dali’s Spanish homeland are cypress trees, which appear in numerous Dali canvases. One in particular, My Cousin Carolinetta on the Beach at Rosas, was obviously inspired by an actual cypress tree growing within a boat, as you can see in the delightful photo here.


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Cypress trees dominated the haunting painting, The Isle of the Dead, by the German artist Arnold Bocklin. This work inspired many artists, including Salvador Dali. Another artist’s work that inspired Dali to borrow a friendly element from it, was Ayne Bru’s Martyrdom of St. Cucufa. The resting dog in the early painting showed up in two of Dali’s: Myself at the Age of Six When I Believed I Was a Girl Lifting the Skin of the Water to See a Dog Sleeping in the Shade of the Sea…, and Dali, Nude, in Contemplation of Five Regular Bodies (not its complete title).


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Another artist whose specific work moved Dali to paint a particular work was Pablo Picasso. His famed Guernica canvas inspired Dali to paint Debris of an Automobile Giving Birth to a Blind Horse Biting a Telephone. Notice the light bulb and anguished horse in the Dali quoted from the Picasso – both works making a statement about the horrors of war.


PicassoGuernica debris-of-an-automobile-giving-birth-to-a-blind-horse-biting-a-telephone


And then there is a disparate array of objects Dali saw in his everyday life that figured into his paintings. We’re talking such things as …


A CHESS PAWN, seen in Two Pieces of Bread Expressing the Sentiment of Love:




A COKE BOTTLE, appearing (years before Pop art was in vogue) in Poetry of America:




CAULIFLOWER, prominently seen in Nature Morte Vivante:




BREAD, beautifully captured in two versions of Basket of Bread:


 the-basket-of-bread_jpg!Large lapaneradepa_1


WATERMELON, in Feather Equilibrium:




A FREIGHT TRAIN CAR, featured in The Perpignan Railway Station:




FLIES, flitting about in The Hallucinogenic Toreador:




CORK, hanging by a string in The Madonna of Port Lligat:




A SUNFLOWER, beautifully depicted in The Virgin of Guadalupe:


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SAILING BOATS, found in such precise works as The Weaning of Furniture Nutrition:




The list could go on and on. I love seeing such objects becoming a part of a Salvador Dali painting. He was so much more than just a painter of melting clocks!


(Images used under Fair Use provisions for journalistic purposes only)






Music Strikes a Chord — and a Nerve — in Dali’s Work

By Paul Chimera

Salvador Dali Historian


Salvador Dali was almost frustratingly contradictory. His so-called false memories, discussed in his Secret Life autobiography, added to his enigma, his living paradox.


When it came to music as an art form, Dali claimed it was woefully inferior to painting. The eye clearly triumphed over the ear, he believed. The transitory nature of music paled in comparison to the tangibility and permanence of painting, Dali insisted. And yet some of his works seem to celebrate music.

He himself was seen in at least one photograph, appearing to be playing the piano. And Dali was known to spontaneously break out in dance and song. I can confirm the latter, as, at one of my two meetings with him at the St. Regis Hotel in New York, he suddenly began singing a song about the Virgin Mary!


While his early pre-surrealist canvases occasionally featured musical themes,


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virtually all of the music-related compositions during his surrealist period depicted musical instruments in unnatural, sometimes sardonic states.


The piano figured especially frequently in Dali’s subject matter. Ironically, a grand piano connoted quite opposite impressions for the artist. On the positive side, young Salvador would take in, with his parents and sister, al fresco concerts the Dali family friends, the Pitchots, would perform on the cliffs of Cadaques.


Yet Dali’s strident father intentionally displayed on the Dali family grand piano a book on sexually communicated diseases, opened to especially grisly photographs.


Dali used a piano as the mode of display of his hallucinatory images of Lenin in Partial Hallucinations, Six Apparitions of Lenin on a Grand Piano. In Masochistic Instrument, a violin hangs limply in the hand of a naked woman, no doubt symbolizing Dali’s preoccupation with impotence.


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A similar treatment of stringed instruments appears in Three Young Surrealist Women Holding in their Arms the Skins of an Orchestra; and again in Daddy Long Legs of the Evening…Hope!


0418 spider-of-the-evening


Dali found the piano a good source from which fountains of water sprang, including Necrophilia Fountain Flowing from a Grand Piano. And he overtly sexualized and perverted the instrument in works like Atmospheric Skull Sodomizing a Grand Piano. He was gentler, as it were, in works like A Chemist Lifting with Extreme Precaution the Cuticle of a Grand Piano.


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Music as a theme could sometimes also strike a more harmonious chord, most certainly evident in the delightful Spanish Dances in a Landscape, and in the trumpeting figures seen in one of the heroic ceiling panels Dali created for his Teatro-Museo Dali in Figueras, Spain.


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Of course, music as subject matter informed many other Dali paintings, drawings, prints, watercolors – even sculpture. This would include, but certainly be not limited to, his Seven Lively Arts series, and stage sets for theatrical productions like Sentimental Colloquy and Café de Chinitas.


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Music influenced Dali’s sculpture, too.


Most tragic were several paintings executed when Salvador Dali was gravely ill and in the final years of his prodigious career. He painted a number of variations of Bed and Two Bedside Tables Ferociously Attacking a Cello. These works convey in dramatic fashion the inner demons and mental upheaval that positively consumed Salvador Dali in his last years.


Painted just before the music died.

Painted just before the music died.

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Alas, Salvador Dali’s final painting, The Swallow’s Tail, features the F-Hole found in various stringed instruments.




The music died forever on January 23, 1989, when one of history’s greatest artists and geniuses went silent.


(Images used under Fair Use provisions for journalistic purposes only)




Dali was Immersed in Water in More Ways than One!

By Paul Chimera

Salvador Dali Historian


Salvador Dali was surrounded by water. He lived and worked near it, swam in it, boated on it, captured it in oil paint, and drank it instead of alcohol. Today it’s all about Dali and water.


Salvador and Gala lived virtually all their lives on the shoreline of the Bay of Port Lligat in northeastern Spain. Fishermen mending nets were an everyday fixture. The sea’s bounty – sea urchins, crayfish, tuna catch and more – graced the Dali dinner table. Water-shorn rock formations endlessly inspired the Master.


It was natural, therefore, that Dali’s earliest works would embrace the Bay of Port Lligat and the Mediterranean Sea. Examples include Port of Cadaques (Night); The Tartan “El Son”; View of Cadaques from Playa Poal – fine works from the easel of a 15-year-old Catalan boy destined for greatness.


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Dali fancied views of the sea from inside, looking out through windows, found in such paintings as Grandmother Ana Sewing and Figure at the Window. Even a self-portrait when he was allegedly sick puts the young artist against a seascape backdrop.


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Dali’s depiction of water in various forms ran the gamut from highly realistic to wet and wild imaginings. Rocks at Llane looks virtually photo-like in the way Dali captured the countless waves with impressive realism.




But his surrealist leanings would find water pouring from impossibly located fountains, as in Mysterious Sources of Harmony and Necrophilia Fountain Flowing from a Grand Piano. The same treatment occurred in Birth of Liquid Fears, though this time the spigot was located in a cypress tree!


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Was all this a symbol of Dali’s sexual preoccupations? Could the water spewing from phallic cypress trees suggest a far different substance than water? This is where individual interpretation helps to make surrealist art so intriguing.


And there were a multitude of occasions when water ran freely – and bizarrely – in Dali paintings . . .


A nurse seated in it in The Specter and the Phantom:




Swans reflected in it in Swans Reflecting Elephants:




Narcissus reflected in it in Metamorphosis of Narcissus:




Pouring from a piano cover in Music – The Red Orchestra, Seven Lively Arts:




Looking so real, you swear your hands would get wet if you touched the lower left portion of the large canvas, Tuna Fishing:




Being lifted like a skin in such works as Myself at the Age of Six When I Believed I was a Girl, Lifting the Skin of the Water to Observe a Dog Sleeping in the Shade of the Sea; Dali, Nude, in Contemplation before the Five Regular Bodies Metamorphized into Corpuscles, in which Suddenly Appear the Leda of Leonardo Chromosomatized by the Visage of Gal;; and Hercules Lifts the Skin of the Sea and Stops Venus for an Instant from Waking Love:


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Water was artfully tossed to help achieve the dramatic effect in the famous Dali Atomicus photo made in collaboration with photographer Philippe Halsman:




Gala appears to be walking on it (apt metaphor) posed as Michelangelo’s Moses in Dali’s large painting, The Ecumenical Council:




Back in 1939, Dali’s shocking Dream of Venus pavilion for the World’s Fair was heavily themed around largely undressed women cavorting in surrealist pools. Two years earlier, an entire painting – Enchanted Beach (Long Siphon) – was themed around a seltzer bottle; a.k.a., soda siphon:


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Water helped Dali show off his exacting technical skill in works such as Nature Morte Vivante, and in the droplets of water that appear so real in One Second Before Awakening from a Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee Around a Pomegranate; Meditative Rose; and Leda Atomica:


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A watery, intentionally blurred effect was achieved in part of the horse’s extraordinary body to reflect St. James emerging from the sea in the monumental Santiago El Grande:




*     *     *     *


My previous post talked about Dali’s skies. Today’s focuses on water. In future post, we’ll consider other objects and elements of Salvador Dali’s surroundings that helped create the magic in his art.


(Images used under Fair Use provisions for journalistic purposes only)








Suburbs of a Paranoiac Critical Town Afternoon on The Outskirts of European History 1936 Painting by Salvador Dali; Suburbs of a Paranoiac Critical Town Afternoon on The Outskirts of European History 1936 Art Print for sale

Look! Up in the Sky! It’s Salvador Dali!

By Paul Chimera

Salvador Dali Historian


I once wrote that, had Salvador Dali painted nothing more than landscapes, his place in art history would still be assured. Of course, let’s be clear: Dali could have painted anything; his talent was beyond extraordinary.


Fortunately for lovers of landscape painting, Dali produced some remarkable ones – sometimes decked out in the regalia of mind-bending surrealism, on other occasions just cloaked in everyday clothes. Either way, he achieved undeniable beauty – especially in his skies.


Which is what I’m focusing on in this post: Dali’s skies. After all, he had some great inspiration in this regard: the skies over Port Lligat and Cadaques were a fountainhead of dazzling color and infinite form.


A cool place to start is with his quite beautiful and charming little painting of 1918, Old Man at Twilight. This was pretty inventive of 14-year-old Salvador, who actually glued stones to achieve a wonderful raised effect against gradations of dark blues, softer blues, greens and yellow.




Perhaps equally prominent is the sky – ablaze in orange and blue hues – in Portrait of My Father of 1921.




The pendulum swung in the opposite direction with a number of Dali paintings whose skies were essentially devoid of anything, not even clouds. These would include such works as Enigma of Desire: My Mother, My Mother, My Mother; The Great Masturbator; and The True Painting of the Isle of the Dead.


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But we’d also have to include THE BIG ONE. Yeah, that one: The Persistence of Memory, Dali’s best-known work and what is easily one of the most famous paintings in history. But its sky is, well, unremarkable (yes, I hear you out there, saying, “But what should a sky look like in a dreamscape?” You make a good point).




Strange dual-color skies are found in works like Nostalgia of the Cannibal and Diurnal Fantasies, while clouds assertively dominate the sky in such works as Meditation on the Harp; Masochistic Instrument; Morning Ossification of the Cypress; The Specter and the Phantom; and Triumph of Tourbillon.


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Around the mid-1930s or so, a greater number of Dali’s surrealist pictures were focused around landscape scenes, and his skies were often lovely. In this category I would mention, among many others: Paranoiac-Critical Solitude; The Chemist of Ampurdan in Search of Absolutely Nothing; Suburbs of a Paranoiac-Critical Town; Soft Construction with Boiled Beans – Premonition of Civil War; Honey is Sweeter than Blood; Landscape of Port Lligat; and The Sacrament of the Last Supper.


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Suburbs of a Paranoiac Critical Town Afternoon on The Outskirts of European History 1936 Painting by Salvador Dali; Suburbs of a Paranoiac Critical Town Afternoon on The Outskirts of European History 1936 Art Print for sale

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For whatever reason, Dali included a quite expressive cloud formation in his Portrait of Mrs. Jack Warner; the cloud almost seems to want to come alive.




Indeed, Dali put some very specific and unusual things up high in his paintings that included skies. I’m talking about works like his Portrait of John Theodoracopoulos, in which none other than Dali himself appears in the distant sky. Likewise, a portrait of Gala appears in the sky in both Gala’s Castle at Pubol and Battle of Tetuan.


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Meanwhile, Dali’s iconic Christ of St. John of the Cross appears in the sun-saturated sky in Gala Contemplating the Mediterranean Sea…, while a chair is seen hovering in the sky in The Chair stereoscopic painting.


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Let’s close with a contrast: the very dark sky Dali chose for his painting, Poetry of America, and a rainbow in the sky of an otherwise somber painting, The Horseman of Death.


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(Images used under Fair Use provisions for journalistic purposes only.)