By Paul Chimera
Salvador Dali Historian
With all the award shows these days – Best of this, Best of that – I’ve decided to cite my own “Best of” when it comes to the paintings of Salvador Dali. Dali’s prints and drawings, too, might get their own “awards show” at some future date (one drawing actually does appear in today’s list).
Here, then, are the winners (or at least my votes) in 10 categories, presented in no particular order . . .
MOST NOVEL… Seven Flies and a Model. This delightful, amusing, and very different 1954 ink and watercolor on paper is one that I personally loved to discuss with visitors at the original Salvador Dali Museum in Beachwood, Ohio, when I was publicity director there in the early 1970s.
Dali drew six of the flies with his ultra-realistic technique, while one of them is a real fly glued to the paper! Which one is the real one? You simply must get to the Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida to find out. (OK, spoiler alert: it’s on the far right in the detail here that shows four flies).
MOST HUMOROUS…Celestial Ride. I crack up every time I look at reproductions of this outrageous painting!
Unfortunately I’ve not yet seen the original in person. The playful-looking rhinoceros on skyscraper-tall flamingo legs – unfazed by the fact that its flank has a television set installed in it, on which a baseball game is telecast – is, for me, the most uproariously funny work by Dali – a man possessed of an undeniably wild sense of humor.
MOST COLORFUL… Tuna Fishing. It’s pretty hard to challenge this great painting as the winner in this category. The masterwork brings together virtually every painting style practiced at the time it was executed in 1967-’68. And it does so with colors that practically blind us with their vividness – especially the blazing-gold dagger in the middle of this writhing and dazzlingly colorful tableau.
MOST SPANISH… The Hallucinogenic Toreador. I’ve intentionally listed this one after the above category, because it’s arguable that Hallucinogenic Toreador should be considered Dali’s most colorful painting. But let’s not debate it.
The important point is that this masterful canvas brings together everything Spanish, and almost everything Dalinian: the bullfight, with all its color and pageantry; homage to Cubist painter Juan Gris; a nod to Federico Garcia Lorca; a reference to the Spanish legend of the flies of St. Narciso; a revisit of Dali’s childhood self-portrait first seen in Specter of Sex Appeal; the Bay of Port Lligat; extraordinary double-imagery; and more.
SCARIEST…Cannibalism of the Praying Mantis of Lautreamont. This work gives me the creeps!
It makes the hair on my arms stand up some, every time I see it. There’s just something about that doll-like figure of a girl amidst those gruesome towering figures that elevates this work to the winner in the “scariest work” category. (What is it about dolls and clowns, anyway?!)
MOST MAJESTIC… Santiago El Grande. Where does one begin? This huge painting – whose immenseness and grandeur can only be truly appreciated by seeing it in the flesh – literally knocks people over when they see it. I’m not kidding. It’s said to be best viewed from the vantage point of the viewer literally lying on his or her back underneath the rearing steed.
From the gallant mightiness of the rising horse, to the Crucifix with rays of sunlight shooting from it, to the grand and endless heavenly vaulted backdrop, Santiago El Grande (St. James the Great) exudes a majesty to which no other Dali work can quite compare.
SMALLEST…Portrait of Gala. This tiny (3-7/16” x 2-5/8”) but masterfully painted oil on panel is a giant attraction at the Dali Museum in St. Pete, Florida.
LARGEST… Apotheosis of the Dollar. The proportions of this huge canvas are different from all the other Dali masterworks. And while I confess to not having considered the square footage of them all, I’m fairly confident in saying that Apotheosis of the Dollar – whose complete title is also huge – is the largest Dali oil on canvas, at approximately 13 ft. x 16 ft. 4 in..
STRANGEST… The winner in this category has to go to The Enigma of William Tell. The elongated hat brim and, most especially the elongated buttock of “William Tell” – a metaphor for Dali’s own predatory view of his father – are too outrageous not to earn this work the honor of being dubbed the strangest.
SEXIEST… Young Virgin Auto-Sodomized by Her Own Chastity.
While Dali infused sexual references in countless paintings, prints, drawings, watercolors, and sculpture, it’s hard to beat the erotic implications of this provocative painting, which for years was owned by the late Hugh Heffner of Playboy magazine fame.
(Images used under Fair Use provisions for journalistic purposes only)