Author Archives: Paul Chimera


Dali Flies onto the American Scene

By Paul Chimera

Salvador Dali Historian


One of the most unusual paintings by Salvador Dali – a work most people have probably never seen or even know about, and whose title is another one that seems to confound us – is “Allegory of an American Christmas” of 1943.


The oil on board is in some respects Daliesque, yet also looks noticeably different from the Spanish surrealist’s work, especially with respect to the landscape (not easily recognized as Dali’s beloved Costa Brava) and, in particular, the odd-looking airplane that emerges from the large rock-like egg – or is that egg-like rock?


Salvador Dali and Gala Dali were 39 and 49 years old, respectively, when this work was painted – about nine years after they made their first trip to the United States. Dali had often expressed his desire to eventually travel to America (which he and Gala did by ocean liner, as he had a fear of flying), where he envisioned great opportunity to expand his fame, hone his creativity, and improve his financial success as an artist.


Dali saw America as a new world, and, on both a figurative and literal level, it truly was for him. Some of his work – including the famed “Persistence of Memory” – had already been exhibited at the Julian Levy Gallery in New York City. Now the world was Dali’s oyster, he believed, and the plane launching through the huge egg-like form suspended over the landscape symbolized his venture into a whole new world of inestimable opportunity.


The hole in the egg takes the shape of North America, while the representation of South America helps us see the rock-egg as also a globe. Taken as a whole, the image obviously signifies a sense of rebirth and change, as the young Catalan painter and leading exponent of Surrealism was crashing onto the American art scene just as the plane smashes through the airborne egg to explore a new space.


It’s a curious-looking plane at that! It reminds me of a blimp, in some ways, while its ribbed design and bird-like wings give it an almost animal (or vegetable-?) -like quality. Meanwhile, the dark, eerie clouds seem to foretell that something momentous is about to occur, echoed by the rather foreboding shadow cast by the immense egg. Two curious human figures are seen below, while the terrain is rather rough and ragged.


It strikes me as perplexing that a work intended to symbolize a re-birth has a nonetheless dark aura about it.


Why this painting is titled “Allegory of an American Christmas” isn’t clear. Unless we consider that Dali was using Christmas more broadly as symbolic of birth. This would make sense, as Salvador Dali was in effect re-born, once he established a foothold in the soil of the American zeitgeist. (The canvas is dated 1934, but it’s likely Dali erroneously transposed the numbers here.)


The theme of rebirth appeared in two other major works by Dali, both of which also employed the egg symbolism: “The Metamorphosis of Narcissus” (1937) and “Geopoliticus Child Watching the Birth of the New Man” (1943).


“Geopoliticus Child…” (above) and “Metamorphosis of Narcissus” (below) bear an obvious resemblance to “Allegory of an American Christmas”




‘Temptation of St. Anthony’ a Perennial Favorite Among Dali Fans

By Paul Chimera

Salvador Dali Historian



“The Temptation of St. Anthony” is easily one of the most widely reproduced and well-known of the masterful oil paintings by the king of Surrealism, Salvador Dali. Ironically, it came into being as a result of an artists’ competition among U.S. and European artists – and went on to become one of Dali’s most superb and compelling masterpieces.


Dali painted this 34 inch x 47 inch canvas in response to a contest promoted by a film production company in 1946. Artists were to depict their vision of the temptation of St. Anthony, which would be used in the movie, “The Private Affairs of Bel Ami.”


Ironically, the winning painting – a work created by the well-known Surrealist painter Max Ernst – is one virtually no one seems to have remembered, while Dali’s “losing” entry has endured as one of the, well, coolest surrealist paintings ever.


Take that, Max Ernst!


The title of the painting pretty well tells us what we’re seeing: the naked ascetic visually seduced by visions of desire and lust, as a cavalcade of temptations approaches – including a rearing horse whose hooves look like they’re about to descend right upon St. Anthony, who finds solace and safety in the rock on which he steadies himself. The crucifix he thrusts before the monstrous herd is intended to exorcise the demonic vision.


The march of temptations includes naked women – one inside an ornate palace – while five elephants on skyscraper-tall spidery legs give the impression of weightlessness and a result of the impossible weight they bear, including the one at rear, on whose back sits an enormous brick tower that rises up through a cloud on which a glimpse of the El Escorial can be seen – the castle-monastery of King Philip II of Spain. This structure, for Dali, “symbolized divine order’s power over earthly temptations,” according to the catalog of the great Dali retrospective held in 2005 at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.


Meanwhile, there is no question the pachyderm with the Egyptian obelisk on its back owes to the sculpture by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, erected in 1667 on the Piazza della Minerva in Rome, Italy. Dali and Gala traveled in Italy during the Spanish Civil War and definitely saw this monument.


“The Temptation of St. Anthony” features a wonderful sense of movement, from the elephant bringing up the rear, though the progression of each animal, which gets larger and larger as they end in the terrifying rearing steed, whose front legs are anatomically correct while its rear ones echo the stork-like legs of the accompanying pack.


It is, in my view those outrageous legs that literally elevate this painting to the status it’s accorded among Dali enthusiasts. Many have told me it’s among their favorites, and it’s the remarkable sense of levitation with which the stork-like legs infuse the scene. This is made all the more apparent when the immense march of the animals is contrasted with the three dwarfed human figures who appear in the barren landscape below.


Footnote: It’s regrettable that they picked Ernst’s painting for that 1947 movie drama, starring George Sanders and Angela Lansbury. The 8-second close-up of the canvas – admittedly a very fine work – was the only color segment in the black & white film. So many of us wish they’d chosen the Dali.





This Dali was off the grid for some 70 years.

A Dali ‘Disappears’ for 70-Plus Years!

By Paul Chimera

Salvador Dali Historian


There I was in 2005, working through the spectacular Salvador Dali centennial retrospective at the Philadelphia Museum of Art – a great museum that owns, among other Dali’s, one of the greatest Dali paintings ever: “Soft Construction with Boiled Beans; Premonition of Civil War.”


What a delight seeing so many impressive paintings by the Surrealist master in honor of the 100th anniversary of Dali’s birth in 1904.


But nothing prepared me for what I was suddenly to come upon.


It was a 1940 oil that was quintessentially Dali, yet, in some ways, not typical of Dali. It was masterfully painted, carefully thought out. It hadn’t been seen publicly for decades. And it was utterly unknown to me.


The work is “Book Transforming Itself into a Nude Woman,” and, while relatively small at 16 in. x 20 in., it was a big hit at the show and made a huge impression on me.

This Dali was off the grid for some 70 years.

This Dali was off the grid for some 70 years.


Nothing excites me more at a Dali exhibition than discovering a work for the very first time. Many of us who think we’ve seen it all marvel time and again when something unknown suddenly emerges, making us reevaluate just how well we really do know this master of surprise.


Invariably such works ended up in private hands, often for decades, completely off the grid and unavailable for reproduction in books about Dali. In the case of “Book Transforming…,” the picture had been exhibited a year after it was painted, but then purchased by an anonymous collector, where it remained all these years.


Judging from a reproduction alone, you can see the work exudes that perfectionist quality that typified virtually all Dali paintings, watercolors, drawings, and prints. Impossible images seem real, thanks to Dali’s photographic technique. Untypical, however, is the faceless male figure holding what looks like a skull; he seems alien and not consistent with how Dali usually handled human figures.


It was believed Dali painted this curious work while staying at Hampton Manor in Virginia – the place where he penned his autobiography, “The Secret Life of Salvador Dali.” Some theorize this may account for the literary subject of the present work.


Of course, the key element here is not just a book, but the double-image of blank pages of a book that, at the same time, form the buttocks of a reclining woman – or at least the beginnings of one. There’s an interesting kind of dual energy and sense of movement here – the book morphing into a human being, while the ball-headed figure across from it seems to be energetically reaching out toward the woman’s body. (The butter knife slicing into human flesh calls to mind Dali’s “Autumn Cannibalism” of 1936).

"Autumn Cannibalism"

“Autumn Cannibalism”


This human- yet alien-like form recalls the enigmatic male figure in “Philosopher Illuminated by the Light of the Moon and the Setting Sun” (1939), while the pen and inkwell have come to symbolize two basic thoughts: Dali’s allusion to his notary father; and the male sex and female breast, represented by the pen and inkwell, respectively. At least one author advances the idea that the ribbon hanging over the page in the open book connotes a flaccid penis.

"Philosopher Illuminated by the Light of the Moon and Setting Sun"

“Philosopher Illuminated by the Light of the Moon and Setting Sun”


Painted in the early years of World War II, this canvas seems to evoke a disquieting, subtly sinister mood – a kind of eerie dream that might consume the thoughts of someone living during a foreboding time in world history.


What other unknown Dali’s are out there, long in private hands but destined to appear out of nowhere?


Dali’s Realism Shines Through in ‘Geodesic Portrait of Gala’

By Paul Chimera

Salvador Dali Historian


If there was any other artist in human history who worshipped his wife in a more pervasive and dramatic way than Salvador Dali revered his Russian wife, Gala, this historian doesn’t know about him.


Salvador Dali without Gala would have been unimaginable. Impossible. She was truly his muse; his life and career manager; and his leading model, after his sister Ana Maria held that title in his early pre-Surrealist, pre-Gala years.


One of the greatest portraits Dali painted of Gala ironically doesn’t show her face, save for a hint of her left forehead and cheek. This rear view was a favorite vantage point for Dali, and one of his finest portraits of Gala is “Gala, Nude, Seen From Behind.”

"Gala, Nude, From Behind"

“Gala, Nude, Seen From Behind”


“Geodesic Portrait of Gala” (1936) has, for me, always exuded a bit of mystery. For starters, it has a classical, non-surrealist look about it, despite it being painted in the 1930s – Dali’s most fertile Surrealist period. And the cap Gala wears is not a head piece I’ve ever seen in any other depiction of her.


And, like the previously mentioned “Gala, Nude, Seen from Behind,” we again only see a glimpse of Gala’s left forehead and cheek. Moreover, the title itself is a bit enigmatic, although the reference to architecture is clearly revealed in the pencil study Dali made for this work, which shows the same view of Gala peering at a building resembling the shape of Gala’s head. And the horse-shoe (which also appears on the building’s dome in the sketch) has never been seen before or since in any portrait of her. Dali was quoted thusly: “In the hat there is already the horse-shoe of our luck, figuring the distinctive crescent moon of the effigy of Helen.”




Salvador Dali clearly was not only history’s greatest Surrealist, but he was one of its greatest realists, too. The masterful handling of the quilted, embroidered jacket is exquisite. And Dali’s adroit handling of light and shadow is reminiscent of Renaissance masters’ work.


The jacket – a favorite of Gala’s – was seen in several other important Surrealist canvases by Dali, including “The Average Fine and Invisible Harp,” “Gala and the Angelus of Millet Preceding the Imminent Arrival of the Conical Anamorphoses,” and “The Angelus of Gala,” all shown here.





While the posture of Gala in “Geodesic Portrait” lends a sort of traditional classicism to the scene, we must also consider that Gala’s bare shoulder provokes a kind of vulnerability and sexuality in the work – an interesting dichotomy as Dali juxtaposed classicism with what would be at least a hint of eroticism or sensuality.


Just when people came to expect the more iconic surrealist images that populated the majority of Salvador Dali’s works during the decade of the ‘30s, along came the remarkable 8-1/4 inch x 10-5/8 inch oil on panel, “Geodesic Portrait of Gala.” It’s owned by the Yokohama Museum of Art in Japan.




Dali’s ‘Columbus’ Reveals Unexpected New World Discovery!

By Paul Chimera

Salvador Dali Historian


It’s been said that Salvador Dali was ahead of his time. He proved that statement in dramatic fashion when he painted possibly the most complex and striking masterwork in his vast catalog of paintings: the immense oil on canvas, “The Discovery of America by Christopher Columbus” (sometimes referred to as “The Dream of Columbus”), 1959, which hangs in the permanent collection of The Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida.


I had the privilege and pleasure of essentially living with this great masterpiece virtually every day when I was director of publicity for the original Salvador Dali Museum in Beachwood, Ohio, an eastern suburb of Cleveland, in the early 1970s. It shared what was called the Salon of the Masterworks with “The Ecumenical Council” of 1960 and the colorful “Hallucinogenic Toreador” of 1970.


The museum collection’s owner, A. Reynolds Morse – who with wife Eleanor were benefactors of the Dali Museum that relocated from Ohio in 1982 to open permanently in St. Pete – recalled seeing this 14-foot-high canvas on Dali’s easel in Port Lligat while it was still in work – a commission from Huntington Hartford. Morse, a highly opinionated man, told Dali that the strange, drably monochromatic band that runs horizontally across the bottom of the work seemed quite out of place, unappealing, and a mistake.


Dali had other thoughts.

He assured Morse that, in time, he would come to understand what the divine Dali had in mind with this admittedly strange departure from the content and palette of the vast majority of the huge picture, which took nearly two years to complete.


Some ten years later, Reynolds and Eleanor looked at each other in self-discovery. It was the 20th of July, 1969, and – as Neil Armstrong uttered those iconic words about it being a giant leap for mankind – the Cleveland collectors realized that the sea urchin with orbit-like bands encircling it was Dali’s prediction that an American would be the first to claim footfall on the moon!


Talk about an “Aa-ha” moment!


And sure enough, it was all there: the sea urchin looking like the moon; the long, deep shadows; the desolate lunar-like surface; the orbiting bands; and an American stepping onto the new world!


Or, put another way: Dali ahead of his time. It was genius.


Extraordinary view of 'Columbus' being cleaned/restored in St. Pete, FL

Extraordinary view of ‘Columbus’ being cleaned/restored in St. Pete, FL


As if all that wasn’t enough, Dali also paid homage in “Discovery of America by Christopher Columbus” to the 500th anniversary of the death of the great Spanish artist, Velazquez – Dali’s all-time favorite painter, quoting certain details from the large Velazquez work, “Surrender at Breda.”





The ill-fated Dali Noche

Dali’s Nightclub Design Wonderfully Impractical!

By Paul Chimera

Salvador Dali Historian


The might-have-been’s in Salvador Dali’s colorful career are fascinating. He would have been an emperor in the classic movie, “Dune,” were it not for his salary demands that were too rich for director Alexander Jodorowsky’s blood. His idea to erect a large model of a woman with a fish’s head – an apparently blasphemous twist on the iconic “Birth of Venus” by Botticelli – was squashed by the 1939 World’s Fair moguls whose injunction derailed Dali’s original idea for his pavilion.


And, perhaps most outrageous of all, was Dali’s ill-fated design for a nightclub in Acapulco, Mexico.


Dali received a commission in 1957 to design a nightclub, and presumably he had, if not carte blanch, at least a wide swath of artistic license. Still, the Surrealist master’s concept was also too rich for this paymaster’s blood – one Cesar Balsa, Mexican owner of the St. Regis Hotel in New York and a friend of Dali.

The ill-fated Dali Noche

The ill-fated Dali Noche


A May 4, 1958 New York Times story about the project opened with this lead, dateline Mexico City:


“Salvador Dali, the bizarre Catalan painter, appears to be on the way toward invading Mexican art, which in its day had its own full share of the bizarre. Dali’s invasion is through his designs for a fantastic night club at Acapulco.


The new entertainment complex was to be called Dali Noche, and it was a wild idea to say the least. Let me share what the late Robert Descharnes – Dali’s friend and biographer – and his son, Nicolas, wrote about this unusual undertaking:


“The proposed night club was to be named ‘Dali Noche’: the cabaret would be a gigantic sea urchin with space for about 500 people. The seat cushions would breathe through a pneumatic system, representing the delicacy of delicacies for Dali, the edible part of the sea urchin. The guests would arrive in its interior via an elevator incorporated into the ‘digestive tube.’


“The urchin itself, supported by an ensemble of four gigantic fly legs, would be drawn toward the sea by 25 giraffes in rock, each one 15 meters high. These giraffes, each one alight, would illuminate the entire complex; the two first would be submerged for those guests who might wish to go swimming in the night.”


In the first-ever biography of Dali, author Fleur Cowles wrote in 1959, “Dali’s capacity for inventions has achieved such worldwide fame that he was even asked ‘by Mexico’ (as he puts it) to Dalinize Acapulco, the playground of the rich in the southwestern end of Mexico on the Pacific.” Cowles envisioned that the conception would surely have been “a constructional nightmare …to technicians.”


Needless to say, the outrageous surrealist project – which Dali had once declared to Balsa would be “the eighth wonder of the world” – was never realized, though I’ve often imagined its existence and the sensation it would have created!


Cowles summed it up well: “Like everything else he does, Dali cannot invent the practical; the object must be Dalinian – which means it is often synonymous with the impossible.”



Magical Costa Brava Put a Spell on Salvador Dali!

By Paul Chimera

Salvador Dali Historian


Sometimes I think Salvador Dali must have grown out of a rock formation in his native Spain!


That’s how hugely important the unique topology of his native countryside was in shaping his thoughts, ideas, and images. I’m talking specifically the Costa Brava and, more specifically, points such as Cadaques, Cape Creus, the Bay of Rosas, and, of course, Port Lligat.


In addition, specific points of interest in the region – certain buildings, for instance – also poured themselves into the well of inspiration into which Dali dipped his sable-haired brushes.


It is always fascinating to see actual photos of the craggy rock formations and various outcroppings of the landscape Dali saw and pondered daily, for it drives home the point that the artist drew heavily on real-life images and not entirely on his fecund imagination. This applies as well to certain landmarks that left an indelible impression on him and appeared in his oil paintings, watercolors, drawings, etchings, engravings, lithographs, and sculpture.


Today I want to look at two specific Salvador Dali works and how the distinctive, rocky terrain in one, and a landmark building in the other, pertain to corresponding photographs of the actual things Dali saw, admired, and painted. Again, while he mined his uncanny subconscious and his active dream world with unparalleled dexterity, Dali also faithfully depicted things he saw daily in the land he worshipped and from which he drew endless inspiration.


Take a look at Dali’s beautiful 1950 painting, “Landscape of Port Lligat” (Salvador Dali Museum, St. Petersburg, Florida). While the angel on the terrace may have sprung from Dali’s imaginative wheelhouse, the rocky mountainous landscape along the horizon is completely consistent with what this part of the Costa Brava looks like in reality. (See photo)


Dali painted what he saw!

Dali painted what he saw!


Dali adored this region – he called Port Lligat the most beautiful place in the world – and, of course, he painted it time and time and time again in his various works, whether they were unabashedly surrealist or as tame as a Dutch still life.


Now focus your attention on a very early canvas, painted in 1924, called “Port Alguer, Cadaques.” The building with the circular window – the Eglisia de Santa Maria church – is seen today in these recent photographs, again demonstrating how Dali drew upon real-world experiences, geographical points of interest, and other images in creating his often stunning works, such as these enchanting paintings shown here today. Another early Dali canvas in which the same landmark appears is “”View of Cadaques from Playa Poal,” 1920.






church picture

Dali was a surrealist master, of course. But he was also a master landscape painter. And a master of realism who indeed mined his fertile imagination and leveraged the findings of Surrealism’s patron saint, Sigmund Freud, but who also simply painted what he saw every day, in and around the region he called home all his life: Spain’s magical Costa Brava.


Oh, getting back to the beginning of this post – where it seems Dali might have grown out of his own landscapes – I think he virtually does, given his background self-portrait in “Portrait of John Theodoracopoulos” of 1970!









Stolen Dali Art Makes Dubious Headlines

By Paul Chimera

Salvador Dali Historian


People love the art of Salvador Dali. Some people like to steel it, too.


The latest caper made international headlines just days ago: police in Beirut, Lebanon, arrested four people who were trying to sell a stolen 1954 Dali oil titled “Portrait of Mrs. James Reeves” (not “Reese,” as at least one book author erroneously spelled it).


The plan was reportedly to sell the stunning 58 inch x 36 inch canvas for $5 million to a Lebanese woman residing in France.


But like a Dalinian burning giraffe, the deal went up in flames.


This most recent case of purloined Salvador Dali artwork reminds me of what was clearly the most outrageous and unlikely theft ever of a Dali painting. The work in question was the huge and beautiful canvas, “Tuna Fishing,” (1967-1968), which is some 12 feet long and 10 feet high.


The theft occurred in 1973, stunning the art world and its private owners, the Paul Ricard Foundation, headquartered on the Isle of Bendor in the Mediterranean, off the coast of south eastern France.


How such an immense work could have been stolen defies explanation, though it was presumably an easier task than it would have been had “Tuna Fishing” been hung in the more protective, less penetrable environment of a museum.

It is known, however, that the painting was removed from its stretcher bars and rolled up like a rug – obviously no way to treat a precious and delicate painting.


The work went missing for a dozen years.


When I first met Salvador Dali at the St. Regis Hotel in New York City in 1973 – the same year “Tuna Fishing” vanished – I asked the Master if it had been found yet. He shrugged the question off with a dismissive “No,” making it clear he had zero interest in talking about it.


I since came to learn that Dali really never much liked to talk about his long-finished works (unless it was for TV cameras). Instead, he was always effusive and passionate about talking about the projects he was working on now, today – as well as his vision for new ideas not yet realized but incubating in his incredibly creative mind.


Meanwhile, some years after that encounter with Dali at his winter home at the St. Regis, it was learned that “Tuna Fishing” had been recovered. Where? In a place that one might consider fittingly surreal: a hangar at Orly airport in Paris. The masterpiece was ingloriously leaning against a wall, rolled like a common carpet.


The Paul Ricard Foundation had promptly vowed never to lend the work for any exhibition. Their policy was understandable. It was a case of once-burned, twice-shy.

But it left a distinct void in various retrospectives of Dali in Europe, America and elsewhere.


So Dali admirers were beyond grateful when that seemingly inflexible policy was eventually changed. “Tuna Fishing” – after so many years in sequestration – made a triumphant return to a public exhibition at the Pompidou Centre in Paris. It has since been shown in several other public venues as well.




Dali's "Christ" not currently at home.

Jesus Has Left the Building, and Other Dali News

By Paul Chimera

Salvador Dali Historian


Picture it. You’ve waited for years to see in person the Salvador Dali masterpiece that is perhaps the most famous religious painting in modern history: “Christ of St. John of the Cross.”

Dali's "Christ" not currently at home.

Dali’s “Christ” not currently at home.


Your heart pounds with rising intensity as you approach the Kelvingrove Art Gallery in Glasgow, Scotland. And in short order the news slams you like a Pacific tsunami:


“I’m sorry. Dali’s ‘Christ of St. John of the Cross’ is not here. It’s on loan to a special exhibition in England.”


This is not a hypothetical. It’s been happening with some frequency, according to news reports. Just how many Kelvingrove visitors have been asking, “Where’s the Dali?” isn’t known.



*     *     *     *     *


Meanwhile, the Dali/Duchamp exhibition at the Royal Academy of Art in England (Oct. 7 – Jan. 3) is garnering lots of notice and shedding light on the relationship and creative connection between these two important 20th century innovators: kingpin of Surrealism, Salvador Dali, and father of conceptual art, Marcel Duchamp.


Photo by Rudy Maxa


For my money, I’ll take one Salvador Dali over a hundred Marcel Duchamp’s. Yes, I know how Duchamp was an intellectual and a so-called conceptual master. But put his “Fountain” (an upside down urinal) against Dali’s “Lobster Telephone,” and dial up crustacean as the winner in my book every time. Not to mention Dali’s “Christ of St. John of the Cross,” which is where the monumentally important picture presently hangs, to the chagrin of those who aren’t aware that it’s not at its permanent home in Glasgow. It’s undoubtedly the show-stopper right now at the Royal Academy.

Fountain 1917, replica 1964 Marcel Duchamp 1887-1968 Purchased with assistance from the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1999

Duchamp’s “Fountain”

Lobster Telephone 1936 Salvador Dal? 1904-1989 Purchased 1981

Dali’s “Lobster Telephone”



However, if you’re hoping to see the 1951 masterwork in Glasgow after its run in England, take note: it heads next across the pond to Florida, to St. Petersburg, to the Salvador Dali Museum there.


But be sure to call ahead, just in case.


*     *     *     *     *


Before “Christ” appears in St. Pete, however, beginning sometime in February, a unique retrospective exhibition of Elsa Schiaparelli and Salvador Dali opened yesterday (Oct. 18) and runs through Jan. 14, 2018. The exploration of the intersection of Dali’s surrealism and Schiaparelli’s fashion sense ought to be as fascinating as it is surreal.


*     *     *     *     *


Lastly, Pilar Abel – the woman who believed she was Dali’s daughter and stood to gain a fortune as a result – has now been ordered by a Spanish court to bankroll the cost that was incurred in the appalling exhumation of the Maestro’s body. Hopefully she’ll quickly become a forgettable footnote in the endlessly fascinating world of Salvador Dali.



Dali's dog, borrowed.

Dali, a Dog, and ‘Dalinian Continuity’!

By Paul Chimera

Salvador Dali Historian


It’s possible that, were it not for Salvador Dali’s eccentricities and obsessions, he might not have preserved history quite as well.


What am I talking about?


Simply this: Dali’s locking onto certain details in works by masters who came before him – a focus that was often obsessive, such as his nearly pathological obsession with the painting, “The Angelus” by Millet – ensured that these artists’ works would be partially revived in more modern times.


One reference – as esoteric as it is charming – is that of the dog that lay so oblivious to the disquieting activity happening around it in Ayne Bru’s classic 16th century painting, “The Martyrdom of Saint Cucufa.”



The languishing canine first showed up in 1950, when Dali painted a most unusual canvas titled, “Dali at the Age of Six When he Believed He was a Girl Lifting the Skin of the Water to See the Dog Sleeping in the Shade of the Sea” (private collection). As the title clearly tells us, the sleepy dog seems as relaxed as can be, tucked preposterously under the elevated edge of the water. His black markings have become brown in Dali’s version.


Dali's dog, borrowed.

Dali’s dog, borrowed.


Then, four years later, a bizarre painting of unabashed narcissism emerged from Dali’s easel, bearing the extraordinary titled, “Dali Nude, in Contemplation Before the Five Regular Bodies Metamorphized into Corpuscles, in which Suddenly Appear the Leda of Leonardo Chomosomatized by the Visage of Gala.” And here again the dog borrowed from Bru’s work is under water, portrayed in the exact same manner as Dali’s 1950 painting (except the brown “spots” are black again), while both are virtually an identical copy of the dog in the “Martyrdom” work.


Dali's dog, borrowed again.

Dali’s dog, borrowed again.


When we think of Surrealism – especially Salvador Dali’s surrealism – I think we generally expect the imagery captured on canvas to be either Freudian-inspired, dream-derived, or representative of things from the artist’s personal surroundings and experiences. And that, in fact, is frequently the case.


But Dali made it a point to quote imagery from classical paintings that moved him, that remained indelible in his mind, that, in his view, deserved to be revitalized and remembered.


What’s more, the beauty of Surrealism as an artistic movement was that it allowed artists to express themselves freely, without any restraints. Things didn’t necessarily have to make sense; indeed, how could they, when the whole point was to mine one’s subconscious world – a place that defied rational explanation.


Thus, it was perfectly valid that the seeming incongruity of a dog, plucked from a several-hundred-year-old painting should find itself reappearing in a then-modern surrealist painting by Salvador Dali.


And once again, it provides us with another example of Dalinian Continuity, where Dali devised an intentional and ingenious linking of many of his paintings by repeating certain images – sometimes separated by years, sometimes by decades. In the case of the two Dali works here, the historical link to a painter who preceded Dali by several centuries is found in a cute little dog who surely never knew it would remain so popular!