Author Archives: Paul Chimera

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A Great Dali Painting that Too Often Flies Under the Radar

By Paul Chimera

Salvador Dali Historian

 

One Salvador Dali painting I sense sort of flies under the radar some – a work I don’t believe leaps readily to mind when people think of the artist – is “Sistine Madonna,” a.k.a., “Madonna of the Ear.”

 

So today’s a good time to take a brief look at this unique picture, since the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York has lent the large 1958 canvas for the Dali/Duchamp show at the Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida.

 

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Dali has once again ingeniously melded a number of influences and interests in a single masterpiece. It begins with his nod to one of the great masters he highly venerated: Raphael. Dali pays tribute to his iconic painting, “The Sistine Madonna,” in the hidden image of the Madonna and Child seen in the large ear that occupies the majority of the composition.

 

Raphael work inspired Dali.

Raphael work inspired Dali.

 

The ear was inspired by a photograph of Pope John XXIII that appeared in an issue of Paris Match magazine, and which Dali had enlarged to accentuate the half-tone dots inherent in letterpress printing. Cleverly, Dali was able to hide the image of the Raphael work, until it becomes more discernible as one walks further away from the canvas. The ear becomes more readily detected as well. Scholars point out that Dali was referencing the Catholic doctrine of Jesus’ virgin birth.

 

In fact, despite the two alternative titles of this painting noted above, Dali’s actual original title – wonderfully emblematic of his often flamboyant titles – was “Quasi-gray picture which, closely seen, is an abstract one; seen from two meters is the Sistine Madonna of Raphael; and from fifteen meters is the ear of an angel measuring one meter and a half; which is painted with anti-matter: therefore with pure energy.”

 

Certainly the direction of Dali’s art at the time this work was painted was heavily influenced by his fascination with nuclear physics. The so-called Ben-Day dots in “Madonna of the Ear” may also symbolize the notion of atoms, protons and neutrons, which science had revealed, at the time, make up all matter at the molecular level. Dali was fascinated by such discoveries, and his work reflected his keen interest in them.

 

In addition to the scientific and religious influences here, we also find a wonderful little reminder that Dali was a great realist painter and appreciated the concept of trompe-l’oeil – fooling the eye with imagery that seemed photographically real. This was effectively achieved in the paper, string, and cherry running vertically along the left side of the work. Even though it’s completely unrelated to the main theme of the painting, Dali managed to include it without it being a disturbing element in the least. He simply wanted to show-off his virtuosity!

 

When this remarkable painting was displayed at the old Carstairs Gallery in New York City in 1959, Dali dedicated it “to Gala, my Sistine Madonna.”

 

You can see it at the Florida Dali Museum through May 22, along with several other great Dali’s lent there, including one of history’s most famous religious pictures: “Christ of St. John of the Cross.”

 

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Dali Used TV as Performance Art and Brilliant Career Promotion

By Paul Chimera

Salvador Dali Historian

 

In Salvador Dali’s rather famous appearance on the American TV game show, “What’s My Line?”, the celebrated artist was asked if he was a leading man. Dali responded, “Yes,” to which the show’s host had to dial up a bit of corrective clarification.

 

But when it came to television – Dali’s strategic use of it to help weave his persona into the fabric of everyday society, that is – Dali was indeed a leading man. He knew instinctively how to leverage every form of media (no social media in those days) to his calculated ends – becoming the most famous artist in the world. Knowing full well most artists achieve neither fame nor fortune, and are lucky if they can pay their bills without also flipping burgers.

 

Dali achieved both fame and riches, and his “leading man” status on the airwaves didn’t hurt one bit.

 

Thanks to YouTube, the aforementioned “What’s My Line?” appearance continues to give the world a chuckle, because virtually every question posed to Dali was correctly answered with an honest “Yes!” As one of the blind-folded panelists declared – humorously but accurately: “There’s nothing this man doesn’t do!” It pointed up just how diverse Dali’s influence was in so many areas of creativity and culture. Take a look . . .

 

 

Dali appeared twice on the American game show, “The Name is the Same” – in 1954 with host Robert Q. Lewis and in 1955 when Dennis James hosted – and his mustache never looked so enormous! I like it when he briefly notes the style of his latest painting – “The technique is very careful” – while describing it as “one soft watch exploding into eight-hundred and eighty-eight pieces!” Check it out . . .

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=78SiVt-zFzk

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RfjBO4JaXHc

 

Dali uttered his famous, self-deprecating description of his artistic stature when he appeared on The Merv Griffin Show. Griffin asks him who the greatest living painter in the world is. “Dali!” he boldly replies. “But Dali is only good because the other painters are so bad!” It elicits the laughter that helped make Dali a beloved public personality.

 

I also really like this explanation he gives while on Merv’s show: “My work consists in the meticulous execution of my dreams.” That sums things up quite nicely. Here you go . . .

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AozSUIICbPc

 

No doubt the weirdest appearance of Dali on American TV was on March 6, 1970, when the 66-year-old master was a guest on The Dick Cavett Show. He comes on set clutching a small ant eater, which he promptly tosses onto the lap of guest Lillian Gish. Then, after Dali launches into an inscrutable description of his artistic aims, a befuddled Cavett suddenly waves his arms toward Dali, uttering an inane “Woodgie-Woodgie!” It leaves Dali a little off-center, and I detect a slight flush across his face – revealing that even the outrageous Dali had the capacity to blush. But it was Cavett who was left the fool!

 

Dali blushing?

Dali blushing?

 

 

I remember another TV appearance, from the 1960s, I believe, this time not a game show but some kind of news conference. It featured well-known ABC TV newsman Harry Reasoner seated in the front row, while Dali was making a surrealistic presentation of some sort, using a chalk board and brandishing a can of Foamy shaving cream and a safety razor.

 

The flashpoint, as it were, came when Dali – flailing wildly with the shaving cream in hand – spattered a considerable amount of it on Mr. Reasoner’s expensively tailored suit! Reasoner’s look was one of stunned silence, now sporting lathered lapels; Dali continued unfazed. And Dali drew a picture of sorts – again using shaving cream – at the end of his appearance on yet another TV game show: “I’ve Got a Secret.”

 

It was no secret that Dali appeared in a host of television commercials, too: Lanvin Chocolate in Europe, among others; and such American TV spots as ones for Braniff Airlines, Datsun automobiles, and even Alka-Seltzer. Here’s a clip . . .

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pa2rwk-SlCo

 

Finally, I need your help. The one appearance I never saw, but repeatedly see photos of, was when Dali was on The Ed Sullivan Show. It shows him and Sullivan standing next to a large canvas, onto which Dali has shot pellets of ink from a pistol – forming the likeness of a cross.

 

It must have been a really big show. But I have no idea how one can see it today. If anyone reading this knows, please contact me through The Salvador Dali Society, Inc., Torrance, California. www.dali.com or the Salvador Dali Page on Facebook. Thanks!

(Video clips & images used for one-time fair use journalistic  blogging purposes.)

 

 

 

 

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Dali & Disney Struck a Chord Few Have Known About

By Paul Chimera

Salvador Dali Historian

 

There’s always so much to discover, rediscover, and just marvel at when the subject turns to Salvador Dali. Whether we’re talking about his paintings, prints, drawings, watercolors, sculptures or other creative projects, there seems to be an endless supply of tasty morsels for us to consume with gusto.

 

SOMETHING MOST FOLKS NEVER KNEW, UNTIL NOW…

 

I can’t speak for you, of course, but your humble Dali historian never knew about this until I stumbled upon it this weekend. Surely you know about Dali’s collaboration with Walt Disney. Dali considered Disney a kind of surrealist himself. Dali was especially taken by Fantasia, as well as other Disney creations. Most notably Disney’s early Silly Symphonies series between 1929 and 1939.

 

So when it was decided that Dali and Disney would work together on an animated short, Destino, Walt had the idea of having his special effects master, Joshua Meador, create a surrealist painting as an homage to the celebrated Catalan master. It would be exhibited at a studio reception for Dali, during his visit to the Disney Studios in 1946.

 

I’m pretty sure even most of the ardent Dali aficionados I know didn’t know about this. Until now . . .

 

The result was Joshua Meador’s The Last Symphony #475, a bold and vigorous 24 in. x 34 in. oil on linen. One imagines Dali was pleased with it, given the flaccid, soft watch-like condition of those once-rigid cellos.

 

Joshua Meador's "soft orchestra" homage to Dali.

Joshua Meador’s “soft orchestra” homage to Dali.

 

TV OR SPORTS: THE JURY IS OUT . . .

 

One of this historian/blogger’s favorite Salvador Dali paintings is “Celestial Ride” of 1957. I like it mostly for the level of amusement it stirs in me. Seriously, can anyone look at this work – a wildly giant rhinoceros with a television set mounted on its side, telecasting a baseball game – and not laugh out loud?

 

Sports or television -- do we know for sure?

Sports or television — do we know for sure?

 

I think it’s delightful.

 

But there’s some confusion or disagreement, it seems, concerning this provocative painting. We know it was one of the Seven Lively Arts canvases that Salvador Dali recreated for theatre impresario Billy Rose, after a fire destroyed his home in Mount Kisco, New York. That’s where those precious original paintings were located after they’d graced Rose’s Ziegfeld Theater in New York City.

 

However, the Gala-Salvador Dali Foundation in Spain, which curates a wonderful online Catalog Raisonne of Dali’s paintings, states that Celestial Ride was representative of “sports” as one of the arts in the Lively Arts series. And, yes, there’s a baseball game being shown on the rhino-turned-TV stand.

 

But it was also known that, unlike the original 1940s paintings that went up in smoke, by the time the new set was painted, television had become an important new fixture on the landscape of modern society and popular culture.

 

So it’s the contention of some, including me, that this painting was actually meant to capture the “art” of television. Consider that, in addition to the TV set, we also see several props in the background, all of which appear to be telecommunications-related, including what might be a television studio. Meanwhile, the only sports reference is what happens to be telecast on the television.

 

Whether this mystery will ever be solved is anyone’s guess…stay tuned (pun slightly intended)! What we know for sure is Celestial Ride is a Dali that cannot be viewed without creating a smile, and that’s always a good thing.

(All images used under journalistic fair-use provisions)

 

 

 

 

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Landscape of Dali’s Homeland Mirrored in Dali’s Paintings

By Paul Chimera

Salvador Dali Historian

 

Yes, Salvador Dali was a Surrealist. Of course. The most famous one of all. But he was also a realist. A great one. And I mean realist in two different ways: his realistic painting technique, and as a source of inspiration. Let me explain.

 

Much – perhaps most – of Salvador Dali’s ideas sprang from his imagination. His subconscious. His active dream world. How else can one explain the inscrutable images that appeared in his vast catalog of surrealist paintings, prints, drawings and watercolors?

 

And no matter where Dali’s ideas came from – no matter how bizarre and unconventional, or simple and familiar – they were always depicted in a precise, meticulous manner. Dali simply didn’t know how to paint any other way but to channel the Renaissance masters when it came to the technical side of his craft. “Hand-painted color photography” was how he described his technique, and it was as realistic as the best of them.

 

But the realism I speak of also pertains to what Dali actually saw. Not in dreams. Not in the kaleidoscope of his fertile imagination. But rather in his everyday life, his everyday travels. Let me illustrate this with two examples.

 

Take a look at the wonderful early painting, “Port Alguer, Cadaques,” in the collection of the Teatro-Museo Dali in Figueres, Spain. Painted when Dali was 20 years old, the lovely canvas features the Church of Santa Maria that is a distinctive landmark in this beautiful region. Lest there be any doubt that this is what Dali actually saw – not merely imagined – take a look at the striking accompanying photograph, taken by my Facebook friend and fellow Dali aficionado, Clo Clo, who’s based in France. Beautifully captured by both Dali in 1924, and in this great photo by Clo Clo, which she took earlier this year.

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Now let’s look at what I think is an even more interesting example of how the realism of Dali’s world informed the images on his canvases. Here we have the precious little oil, “The Weaning of Furniture Nutrition,” one of the true miniaturist gems in the collection of the Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida. The fishing boats and terraced cliffs are captured with scrupulous realism: hand-painted color photography, indeed.

 

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Now take a look at another of the talented Clo Clo’s photographs. See any similarity? Of course. Because Dali was absolutely influenced by the real and not just the subconscious world. This can be extended to things like the often fanciful clouds in the skies in Dali’s landscape paintings. Or even in his portraits, such as the one of Mrs. Jack Warner.

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We can be easily led to believe these are simply products of Dali’s imagination – until we see photographs, or experience it for ourselves in person, that prove such “imaginary” views of nature actually exist.

 

It’s little wonder Dali insisted that Port Lligat, Spain, was the most beautiful spot in the world. He believed it with all of his heart; he demonstrated it in so much of his art.

 

 

 

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Dali’s ‘Christ’ Appears in St. Pete; Octopi Help Create Great Art

By Paul Chimera

Salvador Dali Historian

 

AND THE DALI’S GO TO…

Asia seems to be buying up a lot of things these days – including “Maison pour Erotomane” and “Gradiva,” the two small early 1930s Salvador Dali paintings that fetched nearly $5 million and $4 million, respectively, at a recent Sotheby’s auction in London. Dali Museum curator Joan Kropf tells me both winning bids were from Asian collectors who bid anonymously over the phone. Whether these little gems will be seen in future exhibitions or museum loans is anybody’s guess, but it would sure be nice.

 

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VISIBLE IN THE ‘INVISIBLE’ …

Speaking of “Gradiva,” I wonder how many Dali aficionados realize that virtually an exact appearance of the sinewy, sexy lady in that work can be found — in duplicate — as a wonderful detail in Dali’s first double-image painting: “The Invisible Man” of 1929.

 

9 The Invisible Man, 1929

 

‘CHRIST’ APPEARS IN ST. PETERSBURG…

 

The big star of the Dali/Duchamp exhibition now ongoing at the Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida is, of course, Dali’s iconic “Christ of St. John of the Cross.” The masterpiece was last seen in the United States in 2010-2011, when “Dali: The Late Work” wowed crowds at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Georgia.

 

 

"Christ of St. John of the Cross", Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Copyright CSG CIC Glasgow Museum Collection Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Copyright CSG CIC Glasgow Museums Collection

“Christ of St. John of the Cross”, Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Copyright CSG CIC Glasgow Museums Collection

 

Also on special loan to the Florida Dali Museum is “Madonna of the Ear” (a.k.a., “The Sistine Madonna”). I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that, while many museum-goers will be interested in the conceptual art of Duchamp, and many other Dali pieces, Dali’s “Christ” will be the main draw. It hadn’t been seen in this country since the 1960s, until its appearance in the aforementioned Atlanta exhibition. And now it’s at 1 Dali Boulevard through May 27.

 

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(Right: “Apparition of Face and Fruit Dish on a Beach,” 1938 oil on canvas, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Harford, CT. The Ella Gallup Sumner and Mary Catlin Sumner Collection Fund. Photo: copyright Wadsworth Atheneum Photography: Allen Phillips/Wadsworth Atheneum/ copyright 2018, Salvador Dali, Fundacio Gala Salvador Dali, Artists Rights Society)

 

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“Two Pieces of Bread Expressing the Sentiment of Love”

 

“Madonna of the Ear,” owned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, was last loaned (so far as I know) for the Centennial exhibition of Dali’s birth at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 2005. I saw it in Philly and was nearly as impressed as when I saw “Christ of St. John of the Cross” at the High Museum show.

 

Two other Dali’s never shown at the museum are also in the exhibition, which opened Feb. 10: “Apparition of Face and Fruit Dish on a Beach” and “Two Pieces of Bread Expressing the Sentiment of Love.”

 

TANTALIZING TENTACLES…

 

Dali loved to be different; no news flash there. He adopted an unconventional approach most especially when it came to printmaking, and to certain other works on paper, often employing unusual methods of image-creation.

 

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One of those non-conformist methods was the use of an actual octopus to create the special look the animal’s suction-dotted tentacles produce. A popular limited-edition print example is “Triumph of the Sea” (below left).  And this ink and pencil work, “An Octopus and Three Men.”

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And there are other Dali works in which he used an octopus to achieve a Medusa-like look or just a kind of tantalizing tumultuous tableau. He even used the tentacle of an octopus as an esoteric detail in the extreme upper right corner of his large painting, “The Ecumenical Council” (it may take a magnifying glass if you’re looking at a reproduction). If you’re examining the original in the Florida Dali Museum, I’m pretty sure they won’t let you use a step ladder. But look closely – you should be able to see it with a very sharp eye.

 

NEWLY REDISCOVERED WORK FINDS AN ECHO…

 

This newly rediscovered work from 1932 has recently emerged, according to press reports. Astute Dali aficionados will see how its basic imagery echoes the foreground detail in “Morphological Echo” of 1934-1936.

 

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Tiny Dali brings Nearly $5 million at Much-Anticipated Auction

By Paul Chimera

Salvador Dali Historian

 

Two little Salvador Dali gems – miniaturist oil paintings essentially out of circulation for some 80 years – sold for multiple-millions of dollars last evening at Sotheby’s auction house in London.

 

“Gradiva,” seen here, an oil on copper (8-1/8 in. x 6-1/8 in.), fetched a grand total of $3,745,144.

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“Maison pour Erotomane,” seen here, oil on panel (5-1/2 in. x 7-1/8 in.), garnered $4,923,481. Very small. But both brought big prices.

 

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Can I get a “Wow!” A tiny oil on panel brings nearly $5 million. Not bad, Mr. Dali, not bad.

 

Now here’s the surprise, for some: While “Gradiva” seemed to have attracted the most attention, the most buzz – at least from my vantage point since it was first announced that these works were coming to auction – it was “Maison pour Erotomane” that pulled in a much higher dollar amount.

 

Why? Here’s my take, which I’m confident has validity.

 

“Gradiva” is superb. It’s lovely. It’s sexy. It’s sinewy. It’s colorful. It’s wonderfully painted. It’s…..a little boring.

 

OK, boring probably isn’t the right word. Staid – relatively so – might be better. It’s a woman. She’s stunning and exquisitely painted. But where’s the wild, unbridled, unabashed surrealism collectors love from Dali? It’s not to be found, really, in “Gradiva.” It’s just not crazy enough.

 

“Maison pour Erotomane” is. It’s crazy enough. And then some. It features that fluidity, that bizarre tableau, that head-scratching “Holy sh*t?!” vibe that people love about Salvador Dali.

 

And it has perspective and depth. Enigmatic figures. Dream-like contortions and juxtapositions and morphology. It’s far more quintessential Dali the surrealist.

 

“Gradiva,” meanwhile, is Daliesque, to be sure, but that’s where the surrealism sort of ends.

 

This is not to disparage “Gradiva” at all. I’m merely pointing out what I see are their key differences, and what, in my opinion, made “Maison” a more desirable win for bidders at a surrealist art auction.

 

I learned first-hand, from personal experience, how by and large people buying Dali’s prefer his wild and crazy surrealism to the tamer morsels of the artistic smorgasbord he served up. The very short-form story is this:

 

Years back I owned a Dali diptych, in India ink & wash. It was important from a scholarly or connoisseurship point of view. It was in fact the original drawings for a first French edition of an important Dali book. But it wasn’t typical of Dali. For reasons specific to the unique design of the book cover, the works didn’t ooze Dalinian. They were devoid of the surrealist look people know and love.

 

As a result, no matter how long and hard I tried to convince would-be buyers of the importance and value of the works, they remained very difficult to sell. Mainly because they didn’t feature the elements emblematic of Dali the crazy kingpin of Surrealism.

 

And that’s how I view what happened with “Gradiva” versus “Maison pour Erotomane,” not that they were in direct competition. And, indeed, both fared exceptionally well – especially for Dali paintings of such meager dimensions.

 

Of course, it begs the question: then why did I perceive that “Gradiva” generated the most pre-auction buzz? Paradoxically, it just might have been the sheer weirdness of the “Maison” work! And, for me, it seems, well, a bit too random for me. The various images just don’t seem to work together as harmoniously as they do in other unabashedly surrealist Dali works.

 

By contrast, “Gradiva” is just plain sexy and extraordinarily colorful. So I and some of my colleagues presumed “Gradiva” would be the one to watch. Turns out both little Dali’s deserve to take a bow.

 

So who are the new owners? No clue. I understand both winning bids were placed anonymously via telephone. In the coming days, perhaps the owners will be revealed, especially if one, or both, are public museums. We’ll keep an eye on this.

 

Auction fever always gets me excited. The anticipation was fun, the results most excellent. I can’t wait for other unknown, rediscovered Dali works to come to light. And they will.

 

 

Will little "Gradiva" bring a big price?

Dali Works Fanning the Flames of Spring Auction Fever!

By Paul Chimera

Salvador Dali Historian

 

Put aside spring fever for now – let’s talk auction fever! I always get a bit of a rush (you, too?) when interesting Salvador Dali works are about to go on the auction block. It again puts Dali on the world stage. And it’s simply intriguing to see what a given work sells for…who buys it…how close the hammer price is to the pre-auction estimate…and whether the winning bid is more than anyone imagined it would be.

 

Of course, sometimes works are bought-in, meaning they don’t reach their reserve – the minimum price under which a seller will not sell. You just never know.

 

The current fever is fueled by two very small Dali paintings I recently blogged about – but, I think, most especially by the little gem, “Gradiva.” It’s a sensual, colorful and beautiful miniature that represents everything Dali is famous for: exceptional ideas, brilliant technical skill, and a dazzling color palette.

 

Will little "Gradiva" bring a big price?

Will little “Gradiva” bring a big price?

 

It also has something of an air of mystery about it, given that it hasn’t been seen in public for a very, very long time, cloistered as it was in the private collection of a South American countess since the early 1930s.

 

It all brings to mind the matter of how Salvador Dali works have fared at auction. I remember, way back in 1974, when Dali’s “Resurrection of the Flesh” sold for $245,000 – a record at the time for a surrealist painting at auction. But such “paltry” prices have long since been left in the bidding dust.

 

Dali’s “Nude on the Plain of Rosas” fetched $4 million at auction. This was one of the works that hung in the apartment of Helena Rubinstein in New York City, and as most know, Dali painted the cosmetics queen’s portrait as well.

 

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The magnificent canvas, “My Wife, Naked, Looking at her own Body, Which is Transformed into Steps, Three Vertebrae of a Column, Sky and Architecture” garnered an auction price of $4.76 million. That wonderful title alone was worth it!

 

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“Night Specter on the Beach” sold for $5.68 million – the same evening that Leonardo painting went for the insane price of $100 million.

 

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Dali’s “Study for Honey is Sweeter than Blood” brought $6.8 million. All respectable prices for the Catalan painter’s wares.

 

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Then, in the last few years, the stakes grew higher. The Gala-Salvador Dali Foundation in Figueres, Spain was the successful bidder in 2011 for “Enigmatic Elements in a Landscape,” paying $11 million for the beautifully crafted canvas. I think someone from the Foundation described it as “perfectly painted”; it’s easy to see why.

 

1934_051 Enigmatic Elements

 

A few years back, the hauntingly trenchant “Springtime Necrophilia” sold for a whopping $16.3 million – the most recent big-ticket sale of a Dali at auction. The work is quintessential Dalinian surrealism.

 

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But well before that, in 2001, an oil on cardboard – yes, cardboard, not panel, not canvas – continues to hold the all-time auction record (thus far) for a Salvador Dali painting (and any surrealist painting) sold at auction. It’s also a quite small work at that. But astute bidders recognized the importance of the picture.

 

Priciest Dali yet at auction.

Priciest Dali yet at auction.

 

It combines portraiture and a mélange of surrealist, Freudian symbols in an extraordinary fashion, capturing a most unusual likeness of one of the most important figures in the life of Dali: Paul Eluard, the man to whom Gala was married before she left him for Dali.

 

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“Portrait of Paul Eluard” thus still holds the all-time record for a Salvador Dali sold at auction: a tidy $22.4 million.

 

This Wednesday, Feb. 28, “Gradiva” will be an interesting test of how a tiny Dali may bring a big price. Whether it could top the Eluard portrait is probably doubtful. Yet we’ve certainly come to expect the unexpected when it comes to Salvador Dali.

 

The same size Dali, “Maison Pour Erotomane” also goes on the block that evening – the other little wonder from that private South American collection virtually no one ever knew about. Until now.

 

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The world will be watching.

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‘Seven Lively Arts’ a Fiery, Fantastic Chapter in Dali’s Career

By Paul Chimera

Salvador Dali Historian

 

Possibly the most intriguing project ever undertaken by Salvador Dali – one with a twist no one saw coming – was when impresario, lyricist, and theater showman Billy Rose commissioned Dali to create seven paintings for Rose’s “Seven Lively Arts” revue in 1944 at his Ziegfeld Theatre in New York City.

 

Rose (1899 – 1966), who penned the popular song, “Me and My Shadow,” and whose autobiography, “Wine, Women and Words” Dali illustrated, wanted to adorn the lobby of his theater with paintings by Dali. Each was themed for one of the seven arts featured in Rose’s revue: theater, dance, ballet, opera, concert, cinema, and radio.

 

Holed up in a second floor cubbyhole/studio at the Ziegfeld, Dali set about painting what this Dali historian believes were some of the greatest surrealist images ever created. They were wonderfully imaginative, lively, bizarre, and amusing. In a word, they dazzled. And, of course, they were masterfully painted. LIFE magazine published a photo-feature on them.

Dali with most of the original set.

Dali with most of the original set.

 

After the 183 performances of Rose’s “Seven Arts” play, the Dali paintings reportedly remained on display in the theater for 10 years. And then Rose moved them to his sprawling Georgian-style mansion in Mount Kisco.

 

Where, two years later, tragedy struck.

 

A fire – whose origin I’ve not been able to learn – broke out in the three-story manse, destroying a treasure trove of fine art Rose owned by a number of big-name artists – including Salvador Dali. All seven of Dali’s amazing pictures were destroyed in the blaze, as was virtually every other piece of art in the place, save for some outdoor lawn sculptures.

 

Undaunted, the indomitable Dali offered to re-paint all seven of the masterpieces, and for the same fee he was paid for the original set: $14,000. (According to an inflation calculator, $14,000 in 1944 would be like $198,000-plus today.)

 

It would be virtually impossible, and not necessarily advisable, to paint the images exactly the same the second time around. Especially given the complexity and detail featured in the works. Some of Dali’s remakes nevertheless did recapture what appeared in the original set; still, on balance, the new set was markedly different.

 

And clearly great.

 

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Original “Boogie-Woogie,” and redux re-titled “Rock ‘n Roll.”

 

Today there’s some debate as to which was better – the original set painted in ‘44, or the canvases Dali repainted sometime after the April 2, 1956 fire. I personally preferred the original set, but find the redux admirable indeed.

 

But hold on…there’s another twist.

 

When Dali presented the new works to Rose, the count was no longer seven, but eight. Television had since come into fashion as an art form, so Dali chose to paint an eighth canvas (no extra charge) capturing – in a most extraordinarily surrealistic and Dalinian way – the lively art of TV.

 

His approach? Simple: depict a rhinoceros on skyscraper-tall stork legs, then paint a television set on its flank! A set telecasting (in black & white, of course) a baseball game! It was quintessential Salvador Dali, and my favorite Dali painting in the “This totally amuses me!” category.

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Was the rhino picture (“Celestial Ride”) depicting sports, or television?

 

But wait. There’s disagreement here.

 

The Fundacio Gala-Salvador Dali in Spain states that “Celestial Ride” (the TV-toting rhinoceros) was meant to represent “Sports” (though I’ve never considered sports an art). Moreover, yet another 1957 work is in the mix, reportedly also part of the second-round of the “Seven Lively Arts” series – a painting called “Bewitchment,” representing Tragedy & Comedy, according to the Fundacio’s online catalog raisonne.

 

"Bewitchment" (or "Sorcery")

“Bewitchment” (or “Sorcery”)

 

But not so fast: still more confusion!

 

Titles of these works change, depending on your information source. The just-mentioned “Bewitchment” is alternatively known as “Sorcery.” The original “Boogie-Woogie” (dance) was modernized for the ‘50s and re-titled “Rock ‘n Roll.” The “Television and Communications” canvas was also known as “Modern Rhapsody.”

 

"Television & Communications" (or "Modern Rhapsody")

“Television & Communications” (or “Modern Rhapsody”)

 

Indeed, I’ve been unable thus far to fully sort out this fascinating chapter in Dali’s prolific career. And not all the images that represent the first and second set of the paintings appear in this post.

 

Art of Theatre

Art of Theatre

 

Art of Ballet (ants, lobsters & more cavort amusingly!)

Art of Ballet (ants, lobsters & more cavort amusingly!)

 

Art of Cinema in Ziegfeld lobby with Alfred Hitchcock admiring, cocktail in hand.

Art of Cinema in Ziegfeld lobby with Alfred Hitchcock admiring, cocktail in hand.

 

 

Art of Radio

Art of Radio (a similar painting was created as part of backdrop for the play “Sentimental Colloquy”)

 

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Art of Opera, early and latter version

 

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Art of music or concert, early and latter version (“The Red Orchestra”)

 

 

 

Rose's Ziegfeld Theatre in New York

Rose’s Ziegfeld Theatre in New York

 

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Rose’s biography, illustrated by Dali

 

So this fire of disagreement and confusion may burn for some time. Yet it’s clear that certain of Dali’s commissioned projects turned out impressive work. I blogged some months ago about his wonderful paintings for Bryan Hosiery magazine advertisements. His works for Billy Rose’s “Seven Lively Arts” revue are no less intriguing.

Surrealist artist Salvador Dali posing w. his oil painting entitled Movies, one of a series called Seven Lively Arts, at his studio on the 8th floor of the Zeigfeld Theatre. (Photo by George Karger//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images)

ca. 1955 --- Billy Rose, Broadway showman, composer and producer, is the new president and general manager of Palace of Progress, Inc. --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

Though Mr. Rose stood just 4 ft. 11 in., he was an entertainment giant in his time. It was fitting that he called upon another giant — Salvador Dali — to make theater and art history together.

(All images used for fair use journalistic purposes only)

 

 

 

 

 

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Jasmine a Symbol of Purity, Beauty in Works by Salvador Dali

By Paul Chimera

Salvador Dali Historian

 

Sometimes tiny, seemingly insignificant details grow to become fascinating points of interest along the journey to discover more and more about Salvador Dali and his incomparable creations.

 

With thoughts increasingly tipping toward spring, I want to focus today on the simple but elegant white flower, the jasmine. This wonderful little flower is associated with all things good: love and romance; beauty and sensuality; and, in religious ceremonies, a sense of purity.

 

Salvador Dali almost worshipped the jasmine – in fairly subtle ways in some of his paintings and prints, and far more flamboyantly, often placing the heavenly fragrant flower behind his ears. Or, when posing for photographers, affixing one to either end of his iconic moustache!

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But the jasmine served as a delightful detail in a number of very important paintings by Dali, one called “Shower of Jasmine,” which is going on exhibition in a rare appearance of the canvas later this month in Dubai. In this picture, of course, the jasmine isn’t merely a detail; the flower is the sole subject of this unusual, little-known and lovely Dali, painted in 1954.

 

"Shower of Jasmine"

“Shower of Jasmine”

 

Three jasmines appear in “Galatee,” an extraordinary painting from 1954, also rarely seen and most recently (to my knowledge) on exhibit when “Dali: The Late Work” was mounted at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.A., in 2010 – 2011. That’s where I first saw it, and it’s a beauty.

 

"Galatee"

“Galatee”

 

A jasmine is found on the tip of the horn in Dali’s 1977 “The Happy Unicorn,” and its pristine beauty creates something of a counterfoil to the sardonic tone of Dali’s “Portrait of Picasso.”

 th Salvador Dali - Portrait of Picasso

 

A lone jasmine appears on the base in Dali’s first Nuclear-Mystical masterwork, the large “Madonna of Port Lligat” of 1950, symbolizing purity in this monumental religious painting that also appeared in the aforementioned High Museum show.

 

"Madonna of Port Lligat"

“Madonna of Port Lligat”

 

But the most exceptional appearance of the jasmine flower – a small element that helps link these two works together through the concept of Dalinian Continuity – can be found in “The Virgin of Guadalupe” and “Santiago El Grande.”

 

It will surely be easier to spot the jasmine in “Virgin of Guadalupe” (1959) as it appears long-stemmed in a clear glass vase at the bottom of the composition. It and the roses encircling the Virgin Mary (whose face is that of Gala Dali and whose pose is quoted from a Raphael) help make this painting one of Salvador Dali’s most stunning.

 

 the-virgin-of-guadalupe

 

Finding the jasmine in “Santiago El Grande,” however, may be a bit more challenging. Just as the jasmine in “Virgin of Guadalupe” is set against a swirling atomic cloud, so too does an atomic cloud become the backdrop against which a jasmine can be detected in the middle of the cloud – found at the bottom of “Santiago,” in a nearly identical manner to the way Dali depicted it in “Virgin of Guadalupe” two years later. Look closely.

 

"Santiago El Grande"

“Santiago El Grande”

 

My bucket list was shortened by one item when I attended the “Dali: The Late Work” exhibition some seven years ago now, and saw in person for the first time “Santiago El Grande.” No words can adequately describe the 1957 work’s beauty – right down to that nearly hidden little jasmine flower.

 

 (Images used for fair-use journalistic purposes, with acknowledgement to the Fundacio Gala-Salvador Dali, the estate of Philippe Halsman, and others.)

 

 

 

 

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Spring Very Much in Bloom in the Works of Salvador Dali

By Paul Chimera

Salvador Dali Historian

 

It’s almost spring. When a man’s thoughts turn to…..Salvador Dali, of course. And with spring nearly on the doorstep, let’s throw open the windows and look at some works by Dali that, to a greater or lesser extent, exude at least some thoughts of spring.

 

I’m thinking flowers, butterflies, and perhaps even a dandelion or two.

 

To say Salvador Dali was a complex figure is a colossal understatement. Dali was into everything. He could paint a giraffe on fire to symbolize impending war, then turn around and create a lovely still life or landscape painting that left you breathless.

 

Without question, the man famous for delving into the phantasmagoric or unabashedly erotic was also a man who knew beauty and how to share it with his legions of admirers.

 

Beautiful Dali works that suggest spring’s reawakening and the splendor of emerging flowers, flitting butterflies and more, can be found in full bloom within Dali’s prolific and diverse oeuvre.

 

He appreciated, of course, the symbolism of things, and – while not often actually described as such – Dali was indeed a “symbolist” painter. A surrealist, to be sure, but we might sometimes need to be reminded that so much of Dali’s surrealism was symbolism, whether informed by Freudian influences or by other factors.

 

The rose, for example, is of course a classic symbol of beauty and love, of romantic desire. In Catholicism, red roses are a symbol of the Virgin Mary. (Ironically, the rose can also connote mortality, because the flower wilts; and even hidden cruelty, because it has thorns).

 

Butterflies symbolize transformation or metamorphosis, a natural phenomenon by which Dali was intrigued. Butterflies also represent nature’s beauty, and Dali was in fact a painter of beauty – especially in his post-surrealist period. The butterfly is also symbolic of lightness or weightlessness, and of fragility.

 

Even dandelions make an appearance in Salvador Dali’s work, most notably in the charming and whimsical dancing dandelion that, as I recall, appeared in one of his wonderful magazine ads for Bryan Hosiery. And also in an interesting painting – eventually used in a tapestry as well – called “Battle Around a Dandelion.” Dandelions are a symbol of evanescence or transience.

 

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And, of course, there’s a host of Dali paintings and prints in which flowers – a single one or a rich bouquet – are the main attraction. Below, then, a montage of Dali works featuring flowers, butterflies, and dandelions. Because hope springs eternal…and hopefully spring will flower soon!

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