Author Archives: Paul Chimera

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Dali Never Drove, But He Got Around in Style!

By Paul Chimera

Salvador Dali Historian

 

Very shortly, a larger-than-life character-hero traverses the globe in a rather unlikely vehicle – a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer. Salvador Dali – our own brand of character-hero – never got a driver’s license. But he managed to get around in a variety of conveyances – including one of his own invention.

 That would be his Ovocipede, which he created and presented to the world, in Paris, France, in 1959. It was to be a new means of locomotion, and it seems it was inspired by Dali’s oft-discussed memories of the paradise-like nature of his vivid intra-uterine memories.

 

Egg-like, "intra-uterine," and ready to roll!

Egg-like, “intra-uterine,” and ready to roll!

 

The transparent sphere, fashioned of plastic, was occupant-propelled – no motors or engines, thank you very much. Instead, the operator would run along on the inside track like a caged hamster on a wheel. Explained one description: “Dali claimed it could be rolled over land, water, ice or snow. The operator stands and holds the two hand bars on the axis, or can sit on the seat to coast. Steering is managed by shifting the weight along the axis in the direction of the turn. The driver turns around to reverse.”

 

To my knowledge, this “vehicle” never rolled on beyond a one-off prototype. You can bet, however, that it served as a great photo-op for the master of performance art. And another example of his constantly propelled imagination and inimitable sense of creative innovation.

 

Since we’re talking vehicles, let’s look at some other means of travel Salvador Dali chose. As noted, he never drove himself. I think most would agree Dali was simply too disconnected with the practical side of life to be steady and trusted enough to operate heavy equipment! Geniuses often have difficulty with things most of us take for granted.

 

With winter here, let’s look at a photo of Dali being spirited around New York’s Central Park in a horse-drawn sleigh. He’s accompanied by Gala – and a firearm! Just why Dali was pointing a (toy?) gun at someone is unclear – a playful move that would be very politically incorrect in today’s social climate.

 

Armed but not dangerous!

Armed but not dangerous!

 

The photo of Dali and Gala in a taxi here reminds me of what the artist once said about his fame. He noted that, for example, if artist Joan Miro were spotted in a taxi, no one would recognize him. But with Dali, people constantly exclaimed, “Look! Look! It’s Salvador Dali!” His mustache needed to take a bow, for sure.

Catalan in a cab.

Catalan in a cab.

 

While Dali never drove an automobile, he had no aversion to bicycling. And his pose on a motorcycle is a classic, as it was with his surreal idea: a grass-covered Volkswagen!

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Fishing boats were an everyday fixture at Port Lligat, Spain, and we see Dali here, relaxed upon the bay. Bigger boats, to be sure, ferried Dali, Gala, Capt. Peter Moore – even Dali’s pet ocelot – to and from America on the SS France and SS America.

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Dali was often paraded through the streets as the conquering hero, and sometimes these grand chariots took on elephantine characteristics!

 

Dali riding high!

Dali riding high!

 

Finally, in a flight of promotional fancy, a jetliner was painted with a Dali mustache and related information when the remarkable “Dali: The Late Work” exhibition soared to high-flying attendance results at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Georgia, in 2010 – 2011. And late in life, Dali finally got over his fear of flying.

Coffee, tea -- or Dali?

Coffee, tea — or Dali?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Dali’s Spectacular Portraiture Continues to Fascinate!

By Paul Chimera

Salvador Dali Historian

 

I think I know why Salvador Dali’s portrait work is so intriguing: it gives us an opportunity to see the way Dali saw when his vantage point was not through the lens of his paranoiac-critical vision. In other words, his imagination – for the most part – did not play a leading role in the outcome on canvas. Instead, he had to convey a true representation of his subject matter, his sitter.

 

As a result, we get to see Dali the realist, the disciplined, commissioned conveyor of what anyone would see, and not – for a change – an often bizarre interpretation nuanced by Dali’s inimitable creative twists.

 

Of course, that’s not entirely true. Because invariably (though not always) Dali added peculiar flashes of his unique iconography that lent an irrepressibly surrealist aura to an otherwise realistic portrait. And that’s an important characteristic of Dali’s portraits: they captured the genuine look of their subjects, frequently with startlingly photographic precision. By the same token, they almost always also featured background oddities and surprises that put an unmistakable Dalinian stamp on them.

What I want to do in today’s blog post is take a look at a selection of Salvador Dali portraits, together with photographs of their subjects. You can decide for yourself how closely Dali came to capturing a good likeness of the man or woman who commissioned him.

Let’s start with his controversial portrait of Ann Woodward, painted in 1953. Apparently Ms. Woodward had some issues with the way her portrait turned out; sued Dali; lost. The lady was an American socialite best known as a murder suspect for the death of her husband, William Woodward, Jr. – a wealthy heir and prominent member of New York society circles – who had planned to divorce her. She was never convicted of the crime.

Portrait of Ann Warner

Portrait of Ann Warner

 

Photo of Ann Warner

Photo of Ann Warner

Two years earlier, in 1951, Dali painted the portrait of Jack Warner of Warner Bros. Studios fame. Dali got to know him when he was living in California during World War II and courted a number of important entertainment luminaries. Dali also painted an arguably more interesting portrait of Mrs. Jack Warner.

Portrait of Jack Warner

Portrait of Col. Jack Warner

 

Col. Jack Warner

Jack Warner

 

Warner's wife

Warner’s wife

In 1954, Dali painted the portrait of Prince Gourielli, husband of the famed cosmetics queen, Helena Rubinstein, whose portrait Dali made nine years earlier.

Portrait of Helena Rubinstein

Portrait of Helena Rubinstein

 

Portrait of Prince Gourielli

Portrait of Prince Gourielli

 

Dali, Ms. Rubinstein and the portrait

Dali, Ms. Rubinstein and the portrait

 

Helena Rubinstein's princely husband.

Helena Rubinstein’s princely husband.

 

In 1955, Dali painted Sir Laurence Olivier as Richard III – perhaps the most famous portrait of the many Dali created. Various photos were taken of Dali making preliminary sketches of the iconic actor.

Olivier as Richard III

Olivier as Richard III

 

Dali sketches Olivier costumed for Richard III

Dali sketches Olivier costumed for Richard III

 

Three excellent portraits by Dali emerged in 1958. C.Z. Guest posed for a truly exquisite portrait. Lucy Douglas “C.Z.” Guest was an American stage actress, author, columnist, horsewoman, fashion designer and socialite. Her status as a fashion icon really comes through in this stunning canvas, which fittingly includes horses in the background.

C.Z. Guest portrait by Dali

C.Z. Guest portrait by Dali

 

Photo of C.Z. Guest

Photo of C.Z. Guest

 

In the same year, Chester Dale – and his beloved dog, Coco – sat for Dali, resulting in a dandy portrayal of the philanthropist and art collector (though it’s doubtful Coco posed for long!). And we can see a clear comparison between the photo here of John Langeloth Loeb, Sr. – American investor and executive who served as president of Loeb, Rhoades & Company – and the painting Salvador Dali did of him.

Dali's portrait of Chester Dale and Coco

Dali’s portrait of Chester Dale and Coco

 

Photo of Chester Dale

Photo of Chester Dale

 

Dali's portrait of John Loeb, Sr.

Dali’s portrait of John Loeb, Sr.

 

Photo of Mr. Loeb

Photo of Mr. Loeb

Here’s the Portrait of Sao Schlumberger of 1965, along with a photo of her in later years posing with the picture. The Portuguese beauty was married to an aristocrat French oil-industry tycoon (and was said to have lots of affairs!).

Portrait of Sao Schlumberger

Portrait of Sao Schlumberger

 

Ms. Schlumberger with her earlier portrait by Dali

Ms. Schlumberger with her earlier portrait by Dali

And there’s the rather strange portrait of Jonathan and Ann Green of 1963. The Fundacio Gala-Salvador Dali’s excellent online Catalog Raisonne features this interesting communication from Mr. Green to Mr. Dali:

Portrait of Jonathan & Ann Green

Portrait of Jonathan & Ann Green

 

The Greens pose for Salvador Dali's portrait of them

The Greens pose for Salvador Dali’s portrait of them.

This work is a portrait of Jonathan and Ann Green commissioned by Montgomery M. Green, a farmer and patron of the arts. In the letters he sent to the artist, he clearly exposes how painting should be: ‘This portrait might contain an allegorical message contrasting what is good and worthwhile in our American and Western bourgeois Christian world against the evil forces that now confront the whole Christendom.

“There are, of course, numerous ways that this challenge can be symbolized,” the note continues. “For instance, I should think that the lighting of the picture might show beams of sunshine on the Western Christian side with dark thunder clouds overhanging the Eastern atheistic side. […] My suggestion that having Jonathan, the boy, depicted holding a space helmet under his arm occurred to me because he was born at the very dawn of the space age and is facing life in that age. You expressed disapproval of this concept, but I was not entirely clear as to what your objection was. Certainly I am not insisting on this anymore than on any of the suggestions that I have made, but I am setting the matter down here in order to explain to you what prompted the thought.’ (Letter from Montgomery M. Green to Salvador Dalí, April 20, 1962).

 

 

 

 

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Fundacio’s Dali Catalog Raisonne Features Rarely Seen Portraits & More

By Paul Chimera

Salvador Dali Historian

 

What an adrenaline rush to discover works by Salvador Dali you’ve never seen before! It’s like encountering this master painter for the first time. Or like a wide-eyed child opening a present under the Christmas tree and going flailing-arms-bonkers over what’s inside.

 

Thanks to the Fundacio Gala-Salvador Dali in Figueres, Spain, Santa brought me – and the world – a special gift, as it has just announced completion of its wonderful on-line catalog raisonne of Dali paintings.

 

This important research tool had documented and published, online, original works through 1964 for some time. Now the years spanning 1965to 1983 have been completed, and they include a good number of paintings I’ve never seen before – most especially works of portraiture.

 

“The Catalog Raisonne of Paintings by Salvador Dali,” the Fundacio notes on its website, “is an online project for the definitive and scientific cataloging and attribution of the paintings made by Salvador Dali between 1910 and 1983. The project is conceived as a work in progress, modified and enriched with information compiled by the specialists of the Fundacio Gala-Salvador Dali and other scholars and collaborating institutions.”

 

I alluded to portraiture a moment ago, and this fascinating segment of Dali’s diverse and prolific oeuvre warrants some attention. In fact, two Dali scholars I know have been hard at work for several years now on a proposed book on Dali’s portraiture, recognizing that this body of work represents a unique dimension of the artist’s talent, not to mention a key chapter in his life as a self-employed “businessman.”

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And while few people would use the term “businessman” to characterize Salvador Dali, the fact is the man knew how to bring in business! And, oh yeah, how to make a fortune at a vocation from which very few ever reap significant financial gain.

 

Portraiture was found treasure for Dali. Not that he didn’t work diligently for it; he certainly did. But people practically stood in line – checkbook in hand – to enjoy the distinction of having their portrait painted by the unpredictably famous kingpin of surrealism. Society portraits helped make Dali rich. And they’re also examples of some of his most impressive work.

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Most of the portrait reproductions shown here are of people few of us would know. Some are famous, including Helena Rubinstein, C.Z. Guest, Sir Lawrence Olivier, Jack Warner, and the great collector and benefactor, Chester Dale (along with his unwittingly famous poodle, Coco!). One portrait in particular still blows my mind – the Briggs Family portrait – because it’s so resoundingly atypical of what most of the world has come to associate with the “madman” of Surrealism!

Detail of Helena Rubinstein portrait

Detail of Helena Rubinstein portrait

 

C.Z. Guest, by Dali

C.Z. Guest, by Dali

Sir Lawrence Olivier as Richard III

Sir Lawrence Olivier as Richard III

Dali's portrait of Jack Warner of Warner Bros. Studio fame

Dali’s portrait of Jack Warner of Warner Bros. Studio fame

Dali's portrait of Chester Dale & "Coco"

Dali’s portrait of Chester Dale & “Coco”

Dali's Briggs Family portrait shows off Dali's incredible technical skill.

Dali’s Briggs Family portrait shows off Dali’s incredible technical skill.

 

Among other works pictured for the first time (to my eye, anyway) in the Fundacio’s Catalog Raisonne is a surprising picture called “Path in Pubol,” painted in a classic and Impressionist style that seems to defy the fact that it was created by Salvador Dali around the same time he painted his spectacular “Hallucinogenic Toreador.”

"Path in Pubol" never published before now.

“Path in Pubol” never published before now.

Such discoveries of “new” material really do keep Dali’s legacy and mystique alive. For me, they’re like wonderfully wrapped presents whose treasures that lie within definitely do not disappoint. Here are a few more portraits to enjoy:

Mrs. Jack Warner

Mrs. Jack Warner

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Dali's first surrealist painting?

Is This Salvador Dali’s Earliest Surrealist Painting?

By Paul Chimera

Salvador Dali Historian

 

It seems that, depending on with whom you talk, a painting that is reportedly the earliest known surrealist work by Salvador Dali may be the real deal or subject to further research.

 

The news hit in 2014, when a collector came forward to reveal an oil painting he’d purchased in an antiques shop in northern Spain some 26 years earlier. His name is Tomeu L’Amo, and he suspected the canvas may have been an early Dali.

 

The man paid what would amount to slightly under $180 for the picture, according to news reports.

 

Dali's first surrealist painting?

Dali’s first surrealist painting?

Then, in 2014, art experts proclaimed the work – which took on the title, “Salvador Dali’s Intrauterine Birth” – the real deal, describing it as the first surrealist painting ever created by the man who would come to define Surrealism itself.

 

It was estimated that Dali would have painted it at around age 17 – well in advance of when Surrealism as an art movement developed beyond its original literary incarnation. That has set some skeptics to wondering if this work is in fact by Dali.

 

On the other hand, Salvador Dali had an uncanny capacity for being ahead of his time. Could his style have anticipated Surrealism at this early age, even as Dali was to go through various other genres as he experimented with his craft as a fledgling teenage artist?

 

The color palette in this early painting certainly does seem to parallel that seen in such works as “Self-Portrait” of 1921; “Self-Portrait in the Studio” (c. 1919); and, indeed, in “Portrait of My Father” of 1921, the latter work’s sky color scheme and technique bearing a discernible resemblance to the “Intrauterine…” work.

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Perhaps more significantly is how the work invites comparison with Dali’s 1921 watercolor, “Sardanas of the Witches” in the Dali Museum, St. Petersburg, Florida.

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Quoted in a British newspaper, the original owner, L’Amo, commented, “When I saw its colours I suspected it was a Dali. That was my opinion but I did not have proof. I investigated and little by little I became convinced that it was indeed an early work by Dali,” he said at an unveiling of the painting in Madrid’s Institute of Bellas Artes.

 

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(Photo from Irish Times, used for journalistic fair use only)

 

It’s fascinating to encounter such discoveries and revelations when it comes to the art of Salvador Dali. It seems that, every year or so, something utterly new emerges about this man of many of guises and surprises – and indisputable genius.

 

One of the biggest mysteries, or at least yet unanswered questions, is the matter of just how many Dali paintings, or drawings, or watercolors, prints or sculpture, still remain in private hands and may never have been published in any book or catalog? Every time something heretofore unseen comes out of the woodwork, I for one feel positively jubilant, convinced yet again that the excitement of Salvador Dali will live on forever.

 

Dali once quipped, “Never a dully moment with Dali!” The man was spot-on.

 

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Photography Played a Starring Role in Dali’s Life and Work

By Paul Chimera

Salvador Dali Historian

 

Photography played a major role in the most photographed international artist ever: Salvador Dali. Indeed, photographers for decades loved focusing their lenses on the artist, because his colorful and legendary antics – together with his facial expressions, facial hair, and fanatical poses – all made for amusing and provocative pictures.

And unlike so many celebrities, who generally shun the paparazzi, Dali devoured the attention. Many have said his early fame in America was solidified when his black & white photo portrait landed on the cover of TIME magazine.

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Far more important was how Dali employed elements of photography in his art. We know he worked frequently from photographs (while also using plenty of live human models and stuffed animal models as well. An example of the latter were seagulls that appear in Dali’s huge masterpiece, “Tuna Fishing,” and the dove that’s found in his large canvas, “The Ecumenical Council”).

Dali used a photograph of a horse in painting the main element in his monumental 1957 work, “Santiago El Grade,” and a highlight on the neck of the horse ended up as a kind of hidden image in the finished painting, where it appears to take the form of an angel – repeated just beyond the horse’s neck as the angel rises toward the heavens.

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Probably the most famous photograph owing to the collaboration of Salvador Dali and photographer Philippe Halsman is “Dali Atomicus.” It gets its name from one of the elements suspended in the intra-atomic-like scene: Dali’s terrific  painting, “Leda Atomica.”

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Much has been written and illustrated about how this unique photo came to be, with many takes of Dali jumping on command in a coordinated effort to have all the elements appear to float in air simultaneously.

The creative partnership with Halsman was a long and productive one, and I have reason to believe that, of all the people Halsman captured so artfully on film, his favorite was the Catalan master of surrealism.

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Their special friendship and artistic connection came together in the charming little book, “Dali’s Mustache,” which featured a wonderful collection of photos of Dali in various amusing and outrageous poses, together with delightful text that helped make the first edition a collector’s item. Some of those images appear here.

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Photography also figured in Dali’s work in less dramatic, or at least less commonly known ways. For example, the large version of Dali’s “Lincoln in Dalivision” (this being a shorter version of the work’s title), which hangs in the Teatro-Museo Dali in Figueres, Spain, was actually painted on photographic paper.

Dali even painted directly on photographic images, such as his mixed-media portrait of King Juan Carlos of Spain.

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And an obscure and sexy photo of a young woman leaning over in a pair of hose and loafers served as the model for the woman in Dali’s ultra-provocative oil painting, “Young Virgin Auto-Sodomized by Her Own Chastity.”

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Let’s not forget, too, Dali’s hugely popular photo, in cooperation with Halsman, of a skull formed by the artful positioning of seven naked women.

USA. New York City. 1951. Salvador DALI. "In Voluptate Mors."

It all makes sense when we consider Dali’s very definition of his artistic technique: “Color photography, hand-painted.”

(Halsman photos and other images used under Fair Use journalistic provisions)

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Jolly Dali Found Special Inspiration in Holiday Magic!

By Paul Chimera

Salvador Dali Historian

 

Thanksgiving in America is over, so next up are Christmas and Hanukkah – and Salvador Dali’s creativity most definitely did not take leave for the holidays. In fact, his gift of artistic genius seems to have shone in a magical way, as seen in a number of his Christmas-themed works.

"Noel"

“Noel”

Most notable is his beautiful “Noel” of 1946, which found wide popular exposure when it graced the special Christmas cover of Vogue magazine. Its editors pointed out to readers that the two arched sections, when joined together, form the face of the Madonna.

Dali's Vogue Christmas cover has long been a collectible.

Dali’s Vogue Christmas cover has long been a collectible.

 

The snow on the stone arches, the shadow of a kneeling angel at lower left, the festive, gleaming pine trees – they all converge to make this one of the most delightful and truly lovely works ever created by the master of Surrealism.

 

One organization that took notice of jolly Dali was Hallmark, which commissioned the artist to produce 19 designs for greeting cards, only a few of which are seen here. One of those card images – to my knowledge never actually produced by Hallmark – is this one of Santa Claus, seen below.

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I supposed drawers curiously emerging from Santa’s torso (a literal chest of drawers!) was just too radical a departure from the traditional depiction of old St. Nicholas. But when I only recently first saw this illustration, I fell in love with it.

 

Who but Salvador Dali would find a clever way to meld the charm and tradition of Santa Claus with the psychoanalytical symbolism of Freud! The drawers that have long been a Freudian symbol of hidden secrets and repressed thoughts also accord fittingly with packages of holiday surprises. The two drawers-cum-gift boxes offer soft watches and an adorable bunny with oddly elongated ears.

 

Metaphorically, it’s not hard to see how the drawers of Santa are a revelation of the soul and spirit of Christmas itself. But I see something further in this wonderful portrayal of the main man of Christmas (besides Jesus, of course, whose birth is celebrated on this special day).

 

Here we see Salvador Dali a bit more “humanized.” The somewhat mysterious Surrealist kingpin, with his saucer eyes and outlandish mustache, his ever-present walking stick and irrepressible penchant for publicity, is seemingly transformed and “normalized” into a man with a robust sense of humor and a charming way of interpreting a holiday icon.

 

The face of Dali’s Santa is rather interesting. My guess is that Dali used a model for this, as it seems to capture a very specific countenance. A face that looks like one that just might be a bit weary from all the hard work dear Santa invests each December 25th!

 

Of course, we see young Dali, decked out in his popular sailor suit, looking up in wonderment at the towering pillar of Christmas, who holds a soft watch and reveals two others in his top drawer. I love Dali’s etched signature in the large foreground snowball.

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What we get to unwrap here is Salvador Dali’s sense of humor and his ability to be child-like in his interpretation of Santa Claus – a side of the artist we don’t often see when we consider the usual dreams and nightmares that typify his work. The image is really beautifully executed.

 

Here, for a moment, Dali was a child. For which so much of Christmas is meant.

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Jolly Dali!

Jolly Dali!

Genius, covered with plywood!

‘Dead Body’ Discovered in Huge Salvador Dali Masterwork

By Paul Chimera

Salvador Dali Historian

 

Ever look at something you admire over and over again, then discover – either on your own or through the keen eye of someone else – something you’d just never noticed about the item before?

 

That happened to me this week, thanks to Tampa, Florida artist Steven Kenny, who, in addition to being a highly successful and very talented painter, is also a docent at the Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg.

 

I confess that, while Mr. Kenny has detected a remarkable similarity between a rather haunting detail of the Dali painting in question – “Galacidalacidesoxiribunucleicacid” – and a work by the 16th century German artist, Hans Holbein, I didn’t even know the detail in the Dali canvas even existed! And I have a hunch most people have not been aware of it either.

Genius, covered with plywood!

Here’s the discovery . . .

 

In the lower right quadrant of the large painting is a group of Arabs pointing rifles at other Arabs – some standing, some kneeling – achieving the effect of a kind of molecular model. But Mr. Kenny’s discernment comes in when we home in on the bottom horizontal part of the lowest cube: it’s a man lying on his back.

 

That in itself is a revelation to me. I’d never noticed it before. But it’s not just any person.

 

It seems more than coincidental that the reposed figure, who appears to be deceased, bears an astonishing resemblance to Hans Holbein’s dramatic painting, “The Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb.” Examining Holbein’s extraordinary work in the reproduction of it here, and a close-up of the detail from the Dali work (which is alternately known as “Homage to Crick and Watson”), makes it very clear to me that Salvador Dali absolutely had the Holbein masterpiece in mind when he painted this small, virtually hidden element in his 1963 canvas.

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While Dali nods to DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) in both the Arabian tableau and the genetic model at middle left, he was also drawing a correlation between science and religion. This explains the various religious details in the work, including God floating in the heavens with his arm reaching down and lifting his Son, who can be faintly made out above and to the left of the back view of Gala.

 

Floating in the upper left clouds is the prophet Isaiah, which echoes the manner in which he was captured centuries earlier by the brush of Raphael – a fascinating comparison and nod to an important artistic precursor that was again first brought to my attention by artist Kenny.

Raphael's depiction of Isiah nearly identical to Dali's at upper left of "Galacid..."

Raphael’s depiction of Isiah nearly identical to Dali’s at upper left of “Galacid…”

 

There’s a lesson in all of this. Art is better appreciated, at least for my money, when you not just look at it – but really look at it. When you study it closely. Carefully. Thoroughly. Critically. Don’t assume, as I and many have, that all sides of that Arabian cubic composite, for instance, are alike; one just might come to life. Or death.

 

I can think of no greater artist whose work invites this kind of scrutiny than Salvador Dali. Now I can’t wait to visit the Dali Museum in Florida again and look anew at “Galacidalacidesoxiribunucleicacid.”

 

 

 

 

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Dali Work Still Highest Auction Price for a Work of Surrealism

By Paul Chimera

Salvador Dali Historian

 

The major art auctions have been on fire lately.

 

The big news, of course, was the recent sale at Christie’s of “Salvator Mundi” (“World Savior”) by Leonardo Da Vinci – the last of the few paintings Leonardo did that remains in private hands. It fetched an out-of-the-stratosphere $450 million. Extraordinary.

Leonardo painting fetches a cool $450,000,000.00.

Leonardo painting fetches a cool $450,000,000.00.

 

Who has the money to buy such a virtually priceless thing? Come to think of it, there are plenty of billionaires out there, and any one of them could have dropped that cool $450 million the way most of us spend 500 bucks! I’d like to know who now proudly, privately displays that Leonardo. What an exceptional possession to call your own!

 

The same night the Leonardo shattered the previous record for a painting sold at auction ($179.4 million for a Picasso), a fine 1934 surrealist work by Dali, “Night Specter on the Beach,” didn’t do too shabby, garnering a nearly $7 million hammer price at Sotheby’s. Obviously that impressive sale was eclipsed mightily by the banner headline-making news of the Leonardo sale.

 

Dali's "Night Specter on the Beach"

Dali’s “Night Specter on the Beach”

 

The Leonardo blockbuster brings to mind something I’ve done fairly often with fellow Salvador Dali collectors and aficionados: speculate on what a certain Dali would be likely to sell for, were it consigned to Sotheby’s or Christie’s.

 

The one we love to speculate about, not surprisingly, is “The Persistence of Memory.” Painted in 1931 and about the size of your average laptop computer screen, “The Persistence of Memory” is certainly the single most recognized and iconic painting in all of surrealism. What’s more, I have no hesitation in stating that, in my view, it is probably the most recognized painting of the 20th century, surrealism or otherwise.

Could this little painting bring the biggest price ever?

Could this little painting bring the biggest price ever?

 

Given the relatively small size of the Leonardo masterpiece, what would Dali’s “Persistence” fetch, were it to find itself off the wall of New York’s Museum of Modern Art and on the auction block at one of the big auction venues? Could it exceed what the Leonardo went for?

 

I think it could. Not only is “Persistence of Memory” the most universally recognized of all the great catalog of creative work by Salvador Dali, but the painting is emblematic of the entire movement of Surrealism itself.

 

No one can consider the surrealist art movement without immediately thinking of Dali’s little masterpiece, painted when the Spanish artist was a mere 27 years of age.

 

As a journalist, I’ve sometimes played with “fake news” to surprise and amuse my Dalinian friends. Something like this:

 

New York, NY (AP, Nov. 20, 2017) – Salvador Dali’s iconic painting, “The Persistence of Memory” of 1931 – considered the Catalan surrealist’s most universally recognized work and originally sold to its long-time owner, the Museum of Modern Art, for just $250 – fetched a record-breaking $550 million Monday evening at Sotheby’s auction house here.

 

But back to reality: the highest auction price for a Dali was $22.4 million, when his “Portrait of Paul Eluard” sold at Sotheby’s in London in 2011. It is the most ever paid at auction for a work of Surrealism. Runner-up was “Springtime Necrophilia,” which brought $16.3 million a year later at the same venue.

"Portrait of Paul Eluard" tops Dali's auction price history.

“Portrait of Paul Eluard” tops Dali’s auction price history.

 

 

 

 

allegory-of-american-christmas

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.

 allegory-of-american-christmas

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).

 salvador-dali-geopoliticus-child

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

Dali

 

the-temptation-of-st-anthony

‘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.

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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.

A master paints a masterpiece.

A master paints a masterpiece.

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.