Author Archives: Paul Chimera

Colossus of Rhodes

Salvador Dali’s ‘Gigantic’ Surrealism!

By Paul Chimera

Salvador Dali Historian

 

Today’s generously illustrated blog post is gigantic. I mean literally huge, because I want to talk about Dali paintings in which a towering presence looms large. There are lots of them.

 

Why is this important?

 

Well, Salvador Dali was a master on many levels. One of them was his uncanny use of space and perspective to evoke different perceptions of space and time. Sometimes simply the sheer size of the predominant figure in a Dali painting or print lent enormous impact to the work, serving to grab our attention as well as convey various emotions.

 

A good example is “Corpus Hypercubus.” Look at the size of the body of Christ compared to Mary Magdalene’s.

Corpus Hypercubus

Corpus Hypercubus

 

To say it is a towering and transcendent figure is an understatement. And the size of Christ really adds a greater sense of awe to this stunning 1954 masterpiece, which hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

 

While “Corpus Hypercubus” stands some 7 feet tall, a small canvas – “Collosus of Rhodes” (about 2 ft. 3 in. x 1 foot 3 in.), painted the same year – nevertheless manages to give us the impression that it’s much larger than it is, thanks to proportion – pitting the enormity of the statue, depicting the Greek island of Rhodes’ patron god Helios (the god of the sun) – against the dwarfed figures below.

 

Colossus of Rhodes

Colossus of Rhodes

 

The similarly named “El Coloso” (“The Giant”) is dominated by precisely what its title suggests, representing Spain and the various icons to which the imposing behemoth is metaphorically giving birth.

 

El Coloso

El Coloso

 

Speaking of Spain, Dali employed a huge, contorted self-destructing figure in “Soft Construction with Boiled Beans; Premonition of Civil War” (1936) to symbolize the Spanish Civil War as a country devouring itself. This work is often compared with the giant featured in an important painting by the Spanish master Francisco Goya: “Colossus” of 1808 -1812.

Soft Construction with Boiled Beans

Soft Construction with Boiled Beans

 

Goya's Collosus

Goya’s Collosus

 

Grandeur characterizes the huge and majestic rearing steed in “Santiago El Grande” (1957), in comparison with which the cloaked figured of Gala Dali at lower right, and a man lolling on the middle ground below, are diminutive.

 

Santiago El Grande

Santiago El Grande

 

Likewise, the horse, elephants and other elements in “The Temptation of St. Anthony” serve to create a kind of soaring space in which St. Anthony vows to resist the seduction of sin.

 

The Temptation of St. Anthony

The Temptation of St. Anthony

 

One of the great prints in Dali’s famed illustrations for Dante’s “Divine Comedy” is “A Logician devil – Lucifer,” whose huge presence is both human and mountain-like in form.

Divine Comedy print

Divine Comedy print

 

And there are many other Dali works that feature giant-like figures evoking a sense of ascension, infinity and endless depth. An additional short list would include “The Hallucinogenic Toreador,” “Celestial Ride,” “The Specter of Sex Appeal” “The Elephants,” design for the set of “Labyrinth,” “Cosmic Athlete,” “Palace of the Winds” and “Architectural Reminiscence of Millet’s Angelus.”

 

Large or small, Salvador Dali paintings, prints, drawings, watercolors, and sculpture remain huge in the minds and hearts of Dali art collectors worldwide. Indeed, we’re witnessing continuing growth in Salvador Dali’s popularity as more people discover the enormity of his genius.

 

 

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Dali’s ‘Apotheosis of the Dollar’ a Montage of Myths and Mysteries

By Paul Chimera

Salvador Dali Historian

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One of Salvador Dali’s largest and most complex paintings also boasts one of his most verbose titles: “Salvador Dali in the Act of Painting Gala in the Apotheosis of the Dollar in Which You Can See on the Left Marcel Duchamp Masquerading as Louis XIV behind a Vermeerian Curtain Which Actually Is the Invisible but Monumental Face of ‘Hermes’ by Praxiteles.”

 

Phew…time to come up for air!

 

Like another of Dali’s large canvases – known more tersely as “The Perpignan Railway Station” – this 1965 masterwork is better known as “Apotheosis of the Dollar,” and occupies a special, cordoned-off enclave in the Teatro-Museo Dali in Figueres, Spain. It used to be owned by Dali’s first secretary, Capt. Peter Moore and was shown in the Spanish pavilion at the 1964 World’s Fair.

 

It seems Dali has put everything into this unusually complicated, even perhaps overly busy, 9 ft. x 13 ft. canvas. Perhaps for the first time anywhere, today’s blog shows pictorially some of the many references that informed this extraordinary picture.

 

Pop and op art were in vogue at the time, so Dali employed a moiré pattern throughout much of the central area of the canvas. The large undulating columns – which Dali has configured to look like dollar signs – were traced onto the canvas with the aid of a back-lighting system that can be seen in the upper-left photo here, taken from a magazine feature. You can also see a male model posing for the image of Hermes by the sculptor Praxiteles.

Dali back-lit the canvas in order to trace tall columns

Dali back-lit the canvas in order to trace tall columns

 

The helix form of these tall columns is a clear nod to the double-helix structure of the DNA molecule, to which Dali paid homage two years earlier in his large “Homage to Crick and Watson” (Dali Museum, St. Petersburg, Florida).

 

Here’s what the Gala-Dali Foundation in Spain writes about “Apotheosis of the Dollar”; I’ve threaded relevant images throughout their description:

 

“In this canvas, just as in his Theatre-Museum, Dali reflects all the tendencies, myths and obsessions that accompanied him throughout his life….Duchamp on the left-hand side dressed as Louis XIV with Watteau’s lute player over his head:

Watteau's "Lute Player"

Watteau’s “Lute Player”

 

Jose Nieto, the Queen’s quartermaster of Las Meninas, who appears as many as three times.

Jose Nieto from "Las Meninas" by Velazquez

Jose Nieto from “Las Meninas” by Velazquez

 

Beside Duchamp-Louis XIV, the profile of Hermes by Praxiteles, who has the figure of Goethe in the shadow of its nose, and in the corner of its mouth, the portrait of Vermeer de Delft.

Hermes by Praxiteles

Hermes by Praxiteles

 

“On the right-hand side, Dali paints himself, like Velazquez, in the act of painting Gala, at whose side appears the double image of Dante’s Beatriz, who is, at the same time, a kneeling Quixote. Above, we can see Napoleon’s defeated armies, while in the top left-hand corner we can make out the soldiers of the Battle of Tetuan in full force (reminiscences of Meissonier in some and of Fortuny in others).”

 

On part of the dollar sign image are the words Non plus ultra (“Nothing further beyond”). This, according to Wikipedia, was said to have been inscribed as a warning on the Pillars of Hercules at the Strait of Gibraltar, which marked the edge of the known world.

Pillars of Hercules

Pillars of Hercules

Charles adopted the motto following the discovery of the New World by Columbus, and it also has metaphorical suggestions of taking risks and striving for excellence.

 

 

 

 

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How the Tall Sunflower Influenced Two Giants of Dali’s Art

By Paul Chimera

Salvador Dali Historian

 

Shades of summer are fast descending. Reminding us that fall is about to ascend, and many of the things we associate with summer will be absent from our view as the change of seasons inexorably unfolds. It reminds me of a glorious emblem of summer while a sliver of the season’s light and warmth still remains: the remarkable sunflower.

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Of course, to the Dalinian mind, the mention of sunflowers recalls two magnificent Salvador Dali paintings in which the rivulets of the sunflower are prominently featured: “The Virgin of Guadalupe” and “Ascension of Christ” (alternatively known as simply “Ascension”).

 

A woman in Sanborn, N.Y., north of Buffalo, this summer opened up her private property for passers-by to stroll through her endless expanse of the tall, feel-good annuals. I of course immediately envisioned the aforementioned paintings by Salvador Dali. Like the sunflower itself, both paintings are stunning in their beauty and in their power to evoke feelings of joy.

 

In 1959, Dali completed “The Virgin of Guadalupe,” paying homage to the story of how a man encountered the Virgin Mary – Mexico’s patron saint – in Mexico City on December 9 and 12, 1531. The woman he encountered was said to be surrounded by a ball of light, whose brightness rivaled the sun itself.

Virgin of Guadalupe

Virgin of Guadalupe

 

In a stunning display of both beauty and brains, Dali chose to put the figures of the Madonna and Child behind a triumphant sun-like halo that is, in fact, the face of a sunflower. Dali was focused at this period in his career on classic principles of mathematics and science. He was enamored – more accurately, obsessed – with places in nature where one finds examples of the logarithmic curve or spiral. Most notably for Dali was the horn of the rhinoceros. But he also pointed out how the unique logarithmic curve occurs naturally in the morphology of the small rivulets of the sunflower.

 

Their precise, orderly arrangement accords with the exacting nature of “Virgin of Guadalupe.” It is about as perfect as a Dali masterpiece gets, from the glittering gemstone crucifix seen in a crown upon the Virgin’s head (who’s depicted with Gala’s face), to the so-real-looking-you-can-practically-smell-them roses encircling her dynamic presence.

 

And then we come to “Ascension of Christ” (1958), where the large glowing sphere may be seen in a multitude of ways: as a sea urchin shell; as a splitting human cell; as an atom’s nucleus; and of course as the rivulets of a sunflower.

Ascension of Christ

Ascension of Christ

Given the various symbolic interpretations ascribed to the remarkable sunflower – a symbol of energy, fertility, faith, longevity, nourishment, spiritual knowing and more – it seems fitting that Salvador Dali would incorporate this distinctive flower into some of the most important religious paintings of his career.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

El Coloso

Mystery of Largely Unknown Dali Masterpiece Begins to Unravel

By Paul Chimera

Salvador Dali Historian

 

Today I’m excited to consider the nearly impossible: a huge Dali masterpiece that almost literally no one has ever seen or known about.

OK, maybe that’s my effusiveness running amok some. But I know for certain that, since this work was never shown in any English-language book or catalog of Dali’s work (and perhaps never in any other language, either, until it was up for sale in 2007), the painting will be a total revelation to most Dali aficionados. And at least a few scholars, too.

 

The Dali work is titled “El Coloso” (“The Giant”), completed in 1956 after it was reportedly commissioned by one of Spain’s banking families. That arrangement must have been kept extraordinarily on the down-low, for reasons utterly unknown to this blogger.

The Dali painting no one knows.

The Dali painting no one knows.

 

The large work, measuring some 11 ft. x 8 ft., first came to my attention thanks to Nigel Simmins, a loyal friend who lives in England and is absolutely one of the world’s biggest collectors of Salvador Dali memorabilia – and one of the most enthusiastic Dali fans on the planet.

 

Years back, Nigel shared with an internet Dali collectors group a newspaper story of 2 June 2007 in the London Times, headlined, “Homage to the Grandeur of Spain.” The article included a picture of “El Coloso” and was the first – and only – time I’ve ever seen or read anything whatsoever about this remarkable picture.

 

Nigel’s beloved partner Lesley was kind enough, just today, to type out the text of the Times story so that I may share it below. With gratitude to both Nigel and Lesley, here’s what the Times reported:

 

El Coloso is the largest picture that Dali is known to have painted (blogger’s note: actually, many others are larger). He made a preliminary sketch in 1954 and completed it in 1956. It is a symbolic representation of Spain, with the nation’s feet buried deep in the earth and its arms stretched up towards the sky.

Dali's preparatory sketch was magnificent in itself.

Dali’s preparatory sketch was magnificent in itself.

 

Out of the Colossus’s powerful body spring the essential elements of Spain’s rural economy, ears of corn and olive trees. The giant figure is also giving birth to the great monuments of Spain’s artistic heritage.

 

We discern panoramic views of Madrid; Granada with the silhouette of the Alhambra; and the Plaza de los Capuchinos in Cordoba, with its white marble sculpture of Cristo de los Faroles. Other, more generalized castles throng the architectural scene, including, probably the cast of Siguenza, now a parador.

 

Scattered about the dry earth are many details from paintings by Velazquez, including his equestrian portraits of Felipe IV and Prince Baltasar Carlos, the famous painting of Las Meninas and other portraits of the Infante Don Carlos and – indispensable, no doubt for Dali – a joker called Calabacillas, or Pumpkins. Don Quixote is also to be found among the offspring of the Colossus.

 

This is Dali’s homage to Spain, a rich fantasy but far more straightforward than most of his work. It is for sale for 2.8 million euros…and can be seen at the Lopez de Aragon gallery in Madrid.

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It’s a bit mind-blowing that such a large painting by a world-famous artist could somehow fly under the radar all this time. There is virtually nothing known about this Dali work. It has never been exhibited, pictured in a catalog or book, or written about anywhere, save for the short London Times story (and in an auction catalog in Madrid).

 

I’m reminded of the Maltese cross-like structure of Dali’s large painting, “The Perpignan Railway Station.” One also cannot help but consider the giant-like figure here in comparison to that seen in Dali’s 1954 “Colossus of Rhodes.”

The outstretched limbs in El Coloso recall the bands of light in Perpignan Railway Station

The outstretched limbs in El Coloso recall the bands of light in Perpignan Railway Station

 

Dali's 1954 Colossus of Rhodes

Dali’s 1954 Colossus of Rhodes

 

Dali authority Enrique E. Zepeda tells me the work, which is tempera and acrylic on canvas, was exhibited for sale at an art fair held in the Netherlands in 2007. While Dali really never worked in acrylics — he didn’t like them — it was noted by Dali protégé Louis Markoya that Dali used acrylics here because apparently that was a condition of the commission assignment.

How “El Coloso” has managed to remain virtually unknown to the Dali world is still something of a mystery. This blog post today will help lift at least a thin layer of the shroud that has kept this masterpiece in the dark for over 60 years.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Did Dali’s Iconic ‘Fried Eggs’ Start Sizzling in the 1600s?

By Paul Chimera

Salvador Dali Historian

COPYRIGHT 2017

 

I can’t say so with absolute certainty. But today I believe I’m revealing an undetected fact of Dalinian iconography that has never before been reported in any book or magazine or any other media about history’s greatest Surrealist: Salvador Dali.

 

Risking melodrama, this might qualify as breaking news or a news flash. I say “might,” because I cannot be positive the parallel you’re about to read between a well-known trope in Salvador Dali’s surrealist works and an Old Master has not been brought to light before.

 

If it has, I’ve never known of it. So, unless shown otherwise, I’m sticking to my story: you’re reading it here first, at the Salvador Dali Society, Inc. (dali.com).

 

My most recent blog post dealt with the Dutch artist Vermeer, whom Dali passionately admired and to whom he paid tribute in a number of important surrealist paintings, drawings, prints and other works.

 

I’d noted that Vermeer was placed second in the hierarchy of great masters Dali venerated and emulated.

 

The first was the great Spanish court painter, Diego Rodriguez de Silva y Velazquez.

Dali's late work was inspired by this Velasquez painting

Dali’s late work was inspired by this Velazquez painting

 

We’re moving closer to the revelation…

 

Perhaps the best-known tribute Dali made to Velazquez was how he paraphrased Velazquez’ large painting, “Surrender of Breda” of 1635 (Prado Museum, Madrid) in his 1959 masterwork, “Discovery of America by Christopher Columbus.” The numerous tall lances and flags and other details from “Breda’s” large horizontal canvas appear in Dali’s equally large (about 14 ft. high x 9 ft. wide) vertical masterpiece, which hangs in the Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida.

"Surrender of Breda" by Velasquez

“Surrender of Breda” by Velazquez

 

"Discovery of America..." by Dali

“Discovery of America…” by Dali

 

Growing closer to the reveal . . .

 

Now, while there are other Dali pictures that acknowledge the influence of Velazquez, one of Dali’s final paintings, done in 1982, is an amusing surrealist tribute to Sebastian de Morra, a court dwarf and jester at the court of Philip IV of Spain.

 

Velazquez did a number of portraits of the fellow, and Dali made his own interpretation of him in the oil on canvas with collage, “Velazquez Dying Behind the Window on the Left Side out of which a Spoon Projects” (Teatro-Museo Dali, Figueres, Spain), shown below.

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Most startling in this late work are the fried eggs into which the seated dwarf’s hands have been transformed, and which appear on his shoulders and head as well.

 

Why would Dali take fried eggs – which were popular in his much earlier surrealist works, such as “Eggs on a Plate Without the Plate” (1932, Dali Museum, Florida) – and put them in a tribute to a well-known portrait by Velazquez? Especially since fried eggs generally symbolized the intrauterine visions Dali insisted he had in that “super-gelatinous” environment in which he lived before the “trauma of birth”?

Dali's "Eggs on a Plate Without the Plate" of '32

Dali’s “Eggs on a Plate Without the Plate” of ’32

 

The reveal . . .

 

The answer may lie in another Velazquez painting!

Namely, “Old Woman Frying Eggs”

 Because, lo and behold, look at what’s smack-dab in the middle of Velazquez’ 1618 painting: none other than fried eggs on a plate!

 

Did Dali's fried eggs begin with those in this Velasquez painting?

Did Dali’s fried eggs begin with those in this Velazquez painting?

 

 It may be one of the most significant reasons why Dali was obsessed with fried eggs throughout his career. Because he was obsessed with the genius of Velazquez more than any other painter.

 

You read it here first, exclusively for The Salvador Dali Society, Inc. (dali.com).

 

 

 

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Inspired by Vermeer, Dali Pays Special Homage to the Dutch Painter

By Paul Chimera

Salvador Dali Historian

 

(Today’s blog post is my 100th exclusively for The Salvador Dali Society, Inc.!)

 

Salvador Dali never lost sight of the important painters who shined long before him and greatly influenced his art – and he wanted us to remember them, too. One excellent example of this is represented in Dali’s oil on canvas, “Apparition of the Town of Delft,” completed in 1936.

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This wonderful little Dali oil on panel, about a foot high and wide, offers in some respects the quintessential surrealist style of the artist, combining Freudian symbolism, unexpected juxtapositions of objects, and a nod to a precursor Dali admired – all executed with the tight, precise technique that typified virtually all of Dali’s paintings, as well as his drawings, watercolors and other works.

 

In the left distance we see Dali’s quoting of the lovely cityscape by painter Johannes Vermeer, titled “View of Delft” (c. 1661). The Dutch Vermeer applied an extraordinary technique of exacting precision and stunning use of light, and is considered one of history’s most meticulous painters. Salvador Dali placed only the Spanish master Velasquez above his veneration of Vermeer, and Dali paid homage to Vermeer in a good number of important paintings.

 

Vermeer's home town of Delft, quoted many years later in Dali's work

Vermeer’s home town of Delft, quoted many years later in Dali’s work

 

Here we see an almost exact transcription of Vermeer’s work, save for the river running through the town, which Dali supplants with a wide barren open space, in whose foreground sits a cabinet with a cloth dangling from a drawer.

 

This reminds us – as do the bizarre, evanescent figures seated at a table – that this is Surrealism, where unlikely and unexplained elements often appear simultaneously – just like in our dreams. The cabinet motif was seen often in Dali’s surrealist canvases, most especially during the fecund decade of the 1930s. Interpretation of Freudian symbolism tells us that the cabinet alludes to Sigmund Freud’s belief that our repressed thoughts are often locked away in our subconscious, inaccessible by the conscious mind.

 

Of course, it doesn’t get much more surrealist than a kind of fossilized automobile – its back side door constructed like a brick wall – sprouting from a dead tree emerging from rocky terrain. Dali never drove, and detested most mechanical everyday objects (we can include timepieces here!), so he relegates the common car to a discarded piece of junk.

 

The contrast in “Apparition of the Town of Delft” is part of what makes it so unusual: this decrepit vehicle rendered utterly useless on the right, while at left we’re given a spectacular glimpse of the beautiful town immortalized in Vermeer’s glistening masterpiece.

 

When people ask me what it is about Salvador Dali that puts me in such awe of the artist, my answer is always three-fold: he was a great non-conformist, which I relate to; his technical skill was breathtaking; and his ideas always resulted in a completely unique twist on things. A very different way of seeing.

 

 

Once again, Dali comes through in the privately owned “Apparition of the Town of Delft” – putting a car in the most unlikely of places while paying homage to one of history’s greatest painters.

 

 

 

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Visiting Dali? Make Sure You Call Ahead!

By Paul Chimera

Salvador Dali Historian

 

“Call ahead!”

 

That timeless advice – usually reserved for dinner and hotel reservations – absolutely applies when it comes to making sure your favorite Salvador Dali painting is where it’s supposed to be.

 

You can’t always count on that. And unless you thrive on monumental disappointment, you must call ahead. Trust me on this (you’ll read why momentarily).

 

I’m reminded of this sage advice by the recent announcement that Dali’s iconic “Christ of St. John of the Cross” – the undisputed crown jewel of the Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum in Glasgow, Scotland – will be on temporary loan in October to The Royal Academy in London. One can only imagine the unspeakable disappointment it would mean to anyone who waited their whole life to see this masterpiece in person, traveled to Glasgow for that expressed purpose, then found it…….gone.

The arisen Christ may be on the road.

The arisen Christ may be on the road.

 

Trust me, I lived that nightmare.

 

In the 1970s, Salvador Dali’s wall-sized oil painting, “Galacidalacidesoxiribunucleicacid” was owned by and displayed in the New England Merchants National Bank at Prudential Plaza in Boston, Massachusetts. I had been wanting to see this work for many years, finally booking train tickets to travel there from my home in Buffalo. I confirmed days and hours of bank operation.

 

But when I arrived, I discovered to my absolute horror that the bank was being renovated. The huge canvas (also known as “Homage to Crick and Watson”) was crated in plywood and propped against the wall on which it normally hung! Despite my futile attempt to get bank officials to agree to remove the gigantic plywood cover so my journey wouldn’t be in vain, their good sense prevailed over my desperation, naiveté – and lack of planning.

Genius, covered with plywood!

Genius, covered with plywood!

 

The train ride back to Buffalo was an especially long and depressing one.

 

I will always, always call ahead now. I can only speculate on how ballistic I’d have gone had I made the ill-fated move of traveling all the way up to New Brunswick, Canada, when my favorite Dali painting, “Santiago El Grande,” was lent for the first time in decades to Atlanta’s High Museum of Art in 2010. “Santiago” is the Beaverbrook Art Gallery’s most popular work, just as “Christ of St. John of the Cross” is the Kelvingrove’s – and, in fact, the entire country of Scotland’s – favorite work of art.

 

Now listen carefully: if you’re hoping to see “Christ” after its exhibition in England, it won’t be a matter of simply heading back to Glasgow. That’s because calling ahead to Glasgow will get you this message: sorry, Dali’s Christ has left England en route to America.

 

You see, the masterpiece, beginning sometime in February 2018, is next headed to the Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida. I don’t know for how long – but it’s destined to be very big news.

 

The point is clear: your favorite Dali painting, or Dali watercolor, or Dali print or sculpture, may not be where you’re expecting it to be. Dali’s popularity continues to grow. Museums enjoy loans of his works with increasing frequency.

 

Plus, you never know when your favorite Salvador Dali masterpiece may spend some downtime in a plywood box.

 

Call ahead. Always, always call ahead.

 

 

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Dali ‘Remembers’ Africa, Though He was Never There!

By Paul Chimera

Salvador Dali Historian

 

“Impressions of Africa,” which Salvador Dali painted when he was 34 years of age, is one of the most widely reproduced of Dali’s surrealist canvases. Surely you’ve seen it in books or posters. It’s another example of how Dali’s voracious appetite for reading and synthesizing the world around him informed his art.

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It’s known that Dali never visited Africa. But that fact really had no bearing on his “impressions” of the country. Why? Because Surrealism shunned rules, borders, parameters, or logic. Perhaps Dali dreamed of what Africa was like. Or he just imagined the impressions that swirled around in his brain and which he transferred to canvas.

 

Alas, in the case of this remarkable picture, its inspiration – and title – actually sprang from the 1910 novel, “Impressions of Africa,” by Raymond Roussel, the French poet, novelist, and playwright whose work was known for its gender confusion; the double meaning of certain words; and a central character who invents a contraption that automatically produces paintings.

 

In a review of Roussel’s book, writer Stephanie Sobelle captured the likely reason Dali was drawn to his work: “A devotee of both Jules Verne and Victor Hugo, Roussel rather used the idea of Africa – a place to him as fanciful and unimaginable as possible – as a setting and an organizing device for his most imaginative of tales.”

 

The “carnivalesque travelogue” of Roussel’s literary work, as one writer put it, finds an echo in Dali’s pictorial work. The barren, earthen, untamed African look to the painting is populated by a mélange of double-images: robed figures and baskets morphing into the heads of mules; an arcaded building with dark cave-like arches becoming the face of Gala Dali; mountains along the desert plain doubling as details of human figures; and other hidden images.

 

Of course, the predominant image is that of Dali himself, mysteriously and dramatically posed at his easel, peering out at the viewer with a trenchant eye and an outstretched hand that, in its foreshortened form, creates a distinct sense of three-dimensionality.

 

The palette here is quite appropriately dark and earthen, yet – as I recall when I first saw this work in the “Dali’s Optical Illusions” exhibition in Hartford, Connecticut in 2000 – it was framed with a green felt matt. I personally thought that color didn’t accord well with the color scheme of this important surrealist masterpiece.

 

Some people have claimed – incorrectly – that Dali included his own image in every painting he did, similar to the frequency with which Norman Rockwell painted his own image into many of his compositions. Nevertheless, here is yet another Dali work in which, yes, Dali’s self-portrait appears, as well as a rather ghostly depiction of his wife Gala.

 

“Impressions of Africa” was painted while Dali was traveling in Italy, safe from the civil war in Spain and inspired by the great Italian Renaissance masters.

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Wherever They Appear, Dali Works Steal the Show! (Sorry, Renoir)

By Paul Chimera

Salvador Dali Historian

 

Salvador Dali remains a big, big, big draw. Bigger than most realize. Dali’s “Persistence of Memory,” tiny in size, has been a huge pull for New York’s Museum of Modern Art. After all, it owns the most universally recognized Dali painting – and  the most popular Surrealist picture – ever created.

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It’s impossible to know, but you can bet an enormous number of visitors to the MoMA have paid its price of admission expressly because they had to see in-person the iconic melting watches that etched Salvador Dali onto the Surrealist map and the world’s collective conscience.

 

Also in the Big Apple is Dali’s “Crucifixion” of 1954, whose title is better known (though not as easily repeated) as “Corpus Hypercubus.” I have personally seen how crowds line up to gaze upon this awe-inspiring masterpiece, which surely has motivated countless people to visit the great Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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I remember the first time I saw it there. To its left was an abstract (quite forgettable), to its right a portrait of Gertrude Stein by Picasso (quite nice). I made it a point to watch the watchers that day. There was a continuous throng not around the unremarkable abstraction or the Stein portrait, but indeed in front of the nearly 7-foot-tall vision of Jesus ethereally integrated within a hypercube, towering high above Mary Magdalene in the form of Gala, whose gold satin robe could have been painted by Raphael.

 

Then there’s “Christ of St. John of the Cross,” a 1951 canvas so popular that a national poll in Scotland found it handily earning the moniker of that country’s most popular work of art. No surprise there. It’s a monumental depiction of Christ, unlike anything seen before or since. Its craftsmanship is perfection, its perspective unique, its beauty undeniable. 

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A story is told of a group of Italian businessmen who traveled to Scotland for the expressed purpose of finally seeing in the flesh a painting whose reproductions hung in their homes for years. Priding themselves in being stoic, disciplined professionals, the group – upon looking up at Dali’s extraordinary vision of the crucified Christ – broke into tears, overcome with emotion.

 

Crossing the Atlantic back to the U.S., we’ll end with the painting at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. that reportedly replaced Renoir’s “Girl with a Watering Can” as the museum’s most popular work. Dali’s “Sacrament of the Last Supper” – though its various placements in the museum over the years have caused dissatisfaction among Dali aficionados – remains a tourist magnet.

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The large work is painted so photographically that visitors cannot quite believe what they’re witnessing. And its unconventional depiction of the iconic repast mesmerizes us with its perfect symmetry, the grand dodecahedron background, and the transparent image of the beardless Christ.

Renoir's once most popular work in National Gallery is now second to Dali's "Last Supper."

Renoir’s once most popular work in National Gallery is now second to Dali’s “Last Supper.”

 

Science & religion together.

Dali Embraces Science & Religion in Spectacular ‘Nuclear Cross’

By Paul Chimera

Salvador Dali Historian

 

Today let’s consider the absolute mastery of Salvador Dali as an easel painter. Make no mistake: the man was a 20th century master. He surely earned that reputation on two key grounds: his ideas were unparalleled in their imagination and prescience; and his technique was worthy of being called Old Master-like.

 

I like to say that – most especially with the more subconscious-induced surrealist paintings, drawings, and watercolors in his oeuvre – Dali’s near-photographic technical skill made the unreal real! It sure seemed that way.

 

A great example of Dali’s precision is “Nuclear Cross” of 1952 (private collection). Here the 48-year-old Catalan master, now driven more by science and religion than Sigmund Freud, delivers perfection by however you wish to measure it.

Science & religion together.

Science & religion together.

 

A cross is formed by multiple cubes painstakingly painted, though none of the four arms of the cross touch each other – suggestive of intra-atomic physics with which Dali was fascinated and which informed his then new Nuclear-Mystical period.

 

Floating like an atom in the center is a round Eucharistic loaf of bread painted as if it could just as easily have come off the easel of Raphael, Velasquez, Zurbaran, or Vermeer. Whatever else critics have said about Salvador Dali, not one has ever questioned the man’s ability to paint extraordinarily well.

Meanwhile, more Renaissance master-like perfection is seen in the cloth (called a corporal), parts of which are threaded and frayed with such wonderful meticulousness that one could mistake it for a photograph. Reminding us of how Dali defined his technique early on: “Color photography, hand-painted!” The cloth here makes us recall a similar-size work from two years earlier – “Carnation and Cloth of Gold” (private collection), and, even more so, the 1952 oil, “Arithmosophic Cross” (whereabouts unknown).

The gold trim on the corporal is said within the Christian lexicon to symbolize joy, triumph, and resurrection.

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Isn’t it interesting to note that every major religious painting by Salvador Dali was done with a sense of perfection, unity and rigorous balance? Take, for example, “The Sacrament of the Last Supper” (National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.). Dali constructed this famed masterpiece along exceptionally precise mathematical dictates of the Golden Ratio. And the unusually strict symmetry of the painting adds to the sense of uncompromising order.

 

Likewise, his “Christ of St. John of the Cross” (Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum, Glasgow, Scotland) and “Corpus Hypercubus” (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City), were executed in a quite purposeful mathematical manner – the former beginning with a simple triangle, the latter inspired by a hypercube.

 

Unlike so many painters before him, who predictably portrayed religious scenes in a more conventional manner that may have captured greater emotion than Dali’s work, the Surrealist master was more interested in the symbolism, orderliness and spiritual perfection of such events as the Last Supper and even the crucifixion of Christ, which Dali chose to express not as a moment of unspeakable suffering, but as a symbol of perfection, beauty and hope, glorifying the risen son of God.

 

“Nuclear Cross” is a kind of text book example of what Dali endeavored to achieve with his Nuclear-Mysticism: a nod to science and nuclear physics, while also a nod to religion in general and the power of the cross in particular.