Author Archives: Paul Chimera


Dali’s Wife Immortalized in More than 80 of his Paintings

By Paul Chimera

Salvador Dali Historian


It’s Gala’s turn.


At least that’s how most are viewing the newly opened Gala Salvador Dali exhibition at the National Art Museum of Catalonia in Barcelona, which runs through the rest of the summer and into the fall until the 14th of October. After all, the show – featuring upwards of 300 paintings and a spate of related memorabilia, including letters, photos, apparel, and other “Galinian” artifacts and ephemera – is all about Elena Diakonova, better known as Gala.




She was the power behind the throne. A Russian muse who influenced several early 20th century artists, most especially, of course, Salvador Dali.


So it seems fitting that, 36 years after Gala’s death, the world is drawn to the first-ever exhibition dedicated entirely to her influence and importance as a powerful force in the direction of some of the unique creative minds of the last century.


But Gala’s turn to shine actually occurred for some 50 years – throughout the long arc of Salvador Dali’s prodigious and prolific career. It’s an extraordinary phenomenon, in a sense: Gala appeared in more than 80 major works by the Master. Sometimes as the singular subject of the canvas, sometimes as a small detail, and sometimes twice in the same painting.


Of the multitude of Dali’s depictions of his wife, here are a few that are especially notable . . .


The first appearance of Gala in a Dali painting, so far as I’m aware, was titled, appropriately enough, First Portrait of Gala (1931), which actually was a photocollage.




Then, ironically, a year later Dali painted Automatic Beginning of a Portrait of Gala – albeit the highly realistic portrait went unfinished.


Never finished, forever remembered.

Never finished, forever remembered.


Speaking of realism, Dali executed a near-photographic likeness of his wife in an otherwise more ethereal masterpiece when, in 1952, the awe-inspiring Nuclear-Mystical masterwork, Assumpta Corpuscularia Lapislazulina emerged from his easel.


Detail of "Assumpta" is scrupulously realistic.

Detail of “Assumpta” is scrupulously realistic.


One of Dali’s smallest paintings, if not the smallest, is his Portrait of Gala of 1933, in the Dali Museum in Florida. It may be diminutive in size, but its impact on museum visitors is huge, due to the wonderful detail Dali achieved on such a tiny panel.


Not much more than 2" x 3" of Gala-inspired magic!

Not much more than 2″ x 3″ of Gala-inspired magic.


If ever there were an unusual pairing of Gala’s portrait and something else, it would be hard to top his Portrait of Gala with Two Lamb Chops Balanced on her Shoulder (1933). “I love my wife,” Dali reasoned, “and I love chops. Why not paint them together?” Then again, maybe this one tops it: Portrait of Gala with a Lobster (Portrait of Gala with Aeroplane Nose), 1934.


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Of the few paintings Dali did that included not one but two portraits of his wife, one of the most realistic is The Angelus of Gala (1935), correlating the double portrait with Dali’s obsession over Millet’s The Angelus, a version of which appears as a framed picture on the wall. The other is The Battle of Tetuan, in which we see Gala both at top center and turbaned on a horse next to Dali in the middle foreground.


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Perhaps the piece d’ resistance when it comes to the portraits Dali painted of Gala is Galarina of 1944-’45, his Mona Lisa of the modern era.


Dali's "Mona Lisa" -- Gala!

Dali’s “Mona Lisa” — Gala!


And one of his highest priced works at auction showed Gala nude from behind in My Wife, Nude, Contemplating her own Flesh Becoming Stairs, Three Vertebra of a Column, Sky and Architecture (1945).




Gala appeared straight out of a Murillo painting in Discovery of America by Christopher Columbus (1959); sullen looking in Hallucinogenic Toreador (1970) (she didn’t care for the bullfights); flirty and barefoot in the stereoscopic work, Gala’s Foot (1974); unabashedly and classically naked in Leda Atomica (1949); spiritually revered in The Madonna of Port Lligat (1950); atomically composed in Galatea of the Spheres; reflected in a mirror in Dali from the Back Painting Gala from the Back Eternalized by Six Virtual Corneas Provisionally Reflected in Six Real Mirrors (1973); and Raphalesque in The Virgin of Guadalupe (1958).


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I know of no other artist who made the love of his life more ubiquitous in his work than how Salvador Dali immortalized Gala, now the subject of her own internationally important exhibition.


(Images used under Fair Use provisions for journalistic purposes only)



Dali’s Tiger; Gala’s Time to Command the Spotlight

By Paul Chimera

Salvador Dali Historian


Are there some paintings by Dali – or prints, drawings, or sculptures for that matter – that just keep speaking to you? Calling your name? Inserting themselves in your mind’s eyes?


And are you sometimes puzzled by just what it is about a particular Dali work that beckons you? That won’t let you go?


This is exactly what occurs when I consider Dali’s large 1962 canvas, often shortened to the title, The Royal Tiger, but is known in full as Fifty Abstract Paintings Which as Seen from Two Yards Change into Three Lenin’s Masquerading as Chinese and as Seen from Six Yards Appear as the Head of a Royal Bengal Tiger.


One of the great works in the Teatro-Museo Dali.

One of the great works in the Teatro-Museo Dali.


This may sound strange, but every time I look at the work, it takes me back to an earlier period in my life. It reminds me of something from my childhood, but I can’t put my finger on it. Was it a board game of some sort? The back of a cereal box? A hidden-image page in an early scholastic magazine?


In more recent times, am I thinking of Rubik’s Cube? Does Dali’s Skull of Zurbaran painting enter the mental mix? I’ll probably never know the answers.


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What’s more, The Royal Tiger has always struck me as rather untypical of Salvador Dali’s work. It has an almost pattern-like look to it, as if it could have been a design for a woman’s scarf. Or a flashy necktie. Or a jig-saw puzzle.


In short, it’s a work that’s always puzzled me, while at the same time intrigued me by some of its peculiar and impressive details.


One such particularity involves the apparent rips or tears in the canvas, seen in the eyes of the two Chinese faces in the triangle shapes under the eyes of the tiger. This trompe l’ oeil technique of fooling the eye was demonstrated in a similar fashion by Dali three years earlier in his 1960 religious painting, The Maid of the Disciples of Emmaus.


As in 'Tiger,' the canvas tears aren't real!

As in ‘Tiger,’ the canvas tears aren’t real!


At a time when his modern art contemporaries were literally ripping holes in their canvases, Salvador Dali chose to create the illusion of such damage, thanks to his razor-sharp technical skill.


There’s certainly far more in The Royal Tiger painting, especially given Dali’s allusion to Lenin. Dali specialist Dr. Elliott King writes that the work “…playfully engages its audience with optical trickery whilst concurrently suggesting the seriously tenuous relations among the Soviet Union, the People’s Republic of China and the United States, all at the brink of nuclear war.”


Geopolitical matters aside, it’s interesting that a tiger has appeared not only here, but in Dali’s popular work, One Second Before Awakening from a Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee Around a Pomegranate.


Detail from "One Second Before Awakening..."

Detail from “One Second Before Awakening…”


We know a lion has long symbolized the predatory and aggressive nature of paternalism; i.e., Dali’s father, from whom he was estranged. Could this apply to the tiger as well? More to ponder. And that’s what makes Salvador Dali so fascinating.



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Speaking of fascinating, it’s just been announced that Dali’s intriguing and enigmatic wife will be the center of attention this time, when the exhibition, Gala Salvador Dali, opens Friday, July 6, at the Museu Nacional d’Arte de Catalunya in Barcelona, running through October 14.


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The show purportedly will try to answer the question, “Who was the real Gala?” In addition to works by Dali, there’ll also be pictures and photos by Max Ernst, Pablo Picasso, Man Ray, Brassai, and Cecil Beaton.


Little by little, I believe Gala – more enigmatic than her husband – will be more fully revealed, since she was a powerful force behind the kingpin of surrealism.




Several recent media reports that came across my radar note that a pair of lamps made in Britain, which Dali designed in collaboration with Dali patron Edward James, have been temporarily stopped from being exported.


According to an internet blog, “The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sports say that the pair of lamps, which feature champagne glasses (see photo) are the finest examples of British modern lighting and have banned them from export. It wants a buyer to pay 440,000 (British pounds) for them, otherwise the export ban will be lifted….Richard Calvocoressi of the Reviewing Committee of the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Significance said:


“The lamps are everything one would expect of Dali. Witty, erotic – the champagne cups can be read as female breasts – the lamps are also strikingly sculptural, standing about the height of a person, with the line of vertical cups resembling a spinal column; a brilliant example of fantasy lighting.”


(Images used under Fair Use provisions for journalistic purposes only.)





Mother Nature Can’t Take Wind Out of Dali’s Sails!

By Paul Chimera

Salvador Dali Historian


BREAKING NEWS (St. Petersburg, Florida)… What meteorologists are calling a freak hurricane, packing far more punch than would be expected this time of year, has destroyed virtually all of the permanent collection of priceless art in the Salvador Dali Museum here, sources say.


Major paintings by the Spanish Surrealist master – including enormous canvases such as The Hallucinogenic Toreador, Discovery of America by Christopher Columbus, and Lincoln in Dalivision – have been reduced to sagging, worthless sheets of former greatness…




But could it happen? In theory, it could. In reality, the likelihood is very, very remote.


The thought of the world’s largest and, in my view, best collection of original masterpieces by Salvador Dali being destroyed by such a massive display of Mother Nature’s fury is unimaginable. Obviously, human and pet life comes first, but coming to terms with the loss of such a priceless and extraordinary collection of artistic genius would really never find closure.


There was the fear of this very thing happening, most especially back before the Dali Museum moved to its present, virtually hurricane-proof building. No one is naïve enough to believe it would be impossible for the museum’s treasures to be devastated by a hurricane, but from all indications such a disaster appears to be virtually impossible.




That’s because the museum at 1 Dali Boulevard, designed by architect Yann Weymouth, was built to withstand a Category 5 hurricane.




Wikipedia tells us a total of 33 recorded tropical cyclones have reached Category 5 strength on the Saffir-Simpson hurricane wind scale in the Atlantic Ocean north of the equator, the Caribbean Sea, and the Gulf of Mexico. Hurricanes of such intensity occur once every three years in this region, on average.

On the wisdom of aiming for higher ground, the Dali Museum houses the nearly 100 paintings and other works on its third floor, reportedly 40 feet above the 100-year flood plain. The building’s walls were designed to withstand a Category 5 storm, with winds of 165 miles per hour, while the glass of the building is said to be capable of withstanding the 135-mph winds of a Category 3.






The walls are 18 inches thick with, according to the architect, a greater than normal amount of steel reinforcing beams inside.

We’ll leave the niggling details at that. The overarching point, of course, is that anyone staying up at night worrying that the incomparable collection of Dali originals in St. Petersburg is in any danger of being dunked into oblivion needs to rest easy.

And for those prone to nightmares, the image of Dali’s paintings, sculpture, holograms, prints, watercolors, drawings and more washing out to sea is far more frightening than any bit of stormy phantasmagoria Dali himself may have whipped up on canvas.


(Images used under Fair Use provisions for journalistic purposes only)







Some Believe Dali was an Even Greater Writer than Artist

By Paul Chimera

Salvador Dali Historian


Salvador Dali, one of history’s great writers.


What? Writer? I thought Dali was an artist? You know, the Spanish surrealist who was a press agent’s dream, with his penchant for publicity and ability to make headlines with every twitch of his mustache.


All true. But Salvador Dali was also a prolific and deft writer. And more than a few critics and scholars have opined he was actually a better writer than artist. There was a time when I found that notion unsupportable, but no longer.


A non-typist, Dali wrote his books in long-hand!

A non-typist, Dali wrote his books in long-hand!


Dali had extraordinary facility with words. While it was not uncommon to find much of his writing verbose and inscrutable, there are plenty of examples that prove he was an undeniable artist when he took pen rather than brush in hand.


And just as Dali was a precocious child when it came to painting – his first landscape at age six is remarkable by any measure – he began his writing career early on, too.


Landscape painted by a 6-year-old Salvador Dali.

Landscape painted by a 6-year-old Salvador Dali.


While attending L’Institut de Segon Ensenyament de Figueres at age 15, young Salvador began working on the student publication, Studium. He contributed artwork to it, but also wrote extensive articles on such topics as the great masters of painting for each of the publication’s six issues, extoling the virtues of Leonardo, Goya, Durer, Michelangelo, El Greco, and his favorite, Velazquez.


A more mature Dali, age 31, penned Conquest of the Irrational, an important little book – now a collector’s item – that offers insights into how Dali’s work was informed by Freudian theories. It was published by Julien Levy, who had a New York gallery in which Dali exhibited, including the showing of The Persistence of Memory.




In 1937, after having painted one of his best pictures – The Metamorphosis of Narcissus, which he brought with him to his meeting with Sigmund Freud – Dali wrote a poem of the same name, published in book form. It helped make it clear that his eponymous painting was one he himself held in especially high regard.



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The Secret Life of Salvador Dali came along in 1942.


The Secret Life of Salvador Dali_ 91724


It was the first of two autobiographical books he would write, and is recommended to anyone who truly wants to explore the various influences that made the limp watchman of Surrealism tick. Its opening three sentences are legendary:


At the age of six I wanted to be a cook. At seven I wanted to be Napoleon. And my ambition has been growing steadily ever since.


Two years later, Dali – not merely content with developing as one of the great artists of his time – actually penned a novel, Hidden Faces. It’s a difficult read, laden with symbolism, but it’s a novel nonetheless, written at a time when Dali was producing some of his best oil paintings.




In 1948, Dali set pen to paper to create the instructive book, 50 Secrets of Magic Craftsmanship, in which he spoke to budding artists about various secrets that made his special brand of craftsmanship sing.


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I noted earlier that Dali’s Secret Life was one of two autobiographies (has anyone else ever written more than one autobiography?!). The other came along in 1963 and remains my favorite book by Dali – Diary of a Genius. You have to love the immodesty of the title alone!


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Many of his Diary entries were wonderfully detailed and expressive. On June 30, 1952, for example, Dali wrote:


A day again destined chiefly to slavering and salivating. I finished my breakfast at six in the morning, and as I was rather impatient to start the great sky of my Assumption, I first assigned myself the task of painting meticulously one single scale, though the most brilliant and silvery one possible, of a flying fish that was caught yesterday. I did not stop till I really saw the scale shimmer as if inhabited by the very light of my brush tip, in the same way Gustave Moreau wanted to see gold come out of his.


There are many other things Salvador Dali wrote – including additional books, such as Dali on Modern Art and his extraordinary cookbook, Les Diners de Gala, plus numerous articles, reviews and much more.


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My purpose in today’s blog post was mainly to broadly sketch the breadth of Dali’s work in this genre, underscoring that the man who did everything in art was also a man whose prowess with the written word was, once again, genius.


Artist. Writer. Genius.

Artist. Writer. Genius.



(Images used under Fair Use provisions for journalistic purposes only)








Salvador Dali http:/

Dali’s Simulation of Paranoia Secret to his Magic

By Paul Chimera

Salvador Dali Historian


Can you name one of the most important keys to Salvador Dali’s genius? Something the average Dali aficionado probably doesn’t know about? Something intangible yet widely considered among scholars to be of enormous consequence in the ability of Salvador Dali to create so many extraordinary paintings, prints, drawings and works in other media?


What I’m talking about is exceptional. Exclusive to Salvador Dali. And a major secret to his magic.


I’m referring to Dali’s unique Paranoiac-Critical Method. It was a creative technique that enabled the artist to see in ways few others could.


The way Dali himself described his Paranoiac-Critical Method was typically inscrutable and confounding: “a spontaneous method of irrational knowledge based on the critical and systematic objectivity of the associations and interpretations of delirious phenomena.”


Now that’s a mouthful! Fortunately, Dali experts Dawn Ades and Fiona Bradley, in their book, Dali – A Mythology (SDM Editions, 1998) boiled it down into terms easily understood. They noted that Salvador Dali had an interest in the clinical condition of paranoia “as a means of destabilizing the interpretation of visual clues.”


But it’s these five words they wrote that may be most helpful in understanding Dali’s Paranoiac-Critical Method: Dali’s “controlled simulation of paranoid vision.”


This is one of the best – and briefest – explanations of this very special creative technique I’ve ever come across. Dali was able to simulate paranoid visions, but in a controlled, deliberate manner – then take those paranoid visions, which often involved the appearance of double-images, and transfer them methodically and carefully to canvas. That was the “critical” element of the Paranoaic-Critical Method.


The one painting I find the most impressive, of the many Dali did that were the result of this unprecedented method of seeing in new ways, was his huge Hallucinogenic Toreador of 1970 (Salvador Dali Museum, St. Petersburg, Florida). The story has been told many times of how Dali happened into a store to buy a box of Venus de Milo-brand drawing pencils.


On the cover of the pencil box was the image of the famous Greek statute of Venus de Milo – ordinary to everyone else, extraordinary to Dali. Because his ability to simulate the state of paranoia led to a vision others would simply be incapable of having. In this case, he saw in the breast and abdomen of the Venus figure what appeared to be the image of a nose and lips.

three venus the-hallucinogenic-toreador-1



This very sighting was the genesis of what some consider Dali’s single greatest work. This is one of those phenomena where now it’s virtually impossible to look at that pencil box cover and not see what Dali saw.


Salvador Dali http:/

A simple pencil box inspired a legendary masterpiece, thanks to Salvador Dali’s Paranoiac-Critical Method. No wonder that, years back, a local St. Petersburg TV station produced a documentary titled “You, Sir, Are a Genius.” You’ll get no argument from me.


(Images used under Fair Use provisions for journalistic purposes only.)


Salvador Dali and Celebrity: He was a ‘Star’s Star!’

By Paul Chimera

Salvador Dali Historian


My friend, Elliott King, Ph.D., a Dali expert, professor, author, and exhibition curator, summed it up nicely: “Dali was sort of a star’s star.”


So true. Which is why this post focuses on Dali and celebrity – his, and those celebs with whom he had some connection. By no means is this an exhaustive survey or in-depth study of the topic at hand.


I’ve simply touched upon well-known personalities who played some role in the not so secret life of Salvador Dali. The take-away is a realization of just how wide the net was cast when it came to this star’s star.


Dali’s meetings with Coco Chanel inspired him to venture into the world of clothing design. Now a forthcoming new biography of Chanel – Coco Chanel: An Intimate Life – reportedly suggests that Dali and Chanel had an affair.


Dali and Chanel

Dali and Chanel


Hmmm. What I know for sure is that the photo here of Salvador and Coco having a cigarette together is really quite surprising, considering Dali was not a smoker at all (photo notwithstanding) and was in fact a hypochondriac.


Dali lighting up??

Dali lighting up??


Dali collaborated with Christian Dior to design costumes for plays, and of course with Alfred Hitchcock in designing the famous dream sequence for Spellbound.


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Speaking of cinema, Dali became good friends with Jack Warner of Warner Bros. Studio, and painted portraits of Warner and his wife Ann.


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Dali and Gala’s war time residence at Del Monte Lodge in Pebble Beach, Calif., allowed Dali easy opportunity to rub shoulders with the movie crowd. Dali’s Surrealist Night in an Enchanted Forest surrealist party at the Del Monte Lodge in 1941 drew the likes of Jackie Coogan, Bob Hope, and Ginger Rogers, among others.



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Marie-Helene de Rothschild held her famous Surrealist Ball of Dec. 2, 1972, and the requirement that everyone attending had to come with a surrealist head logically appealed to Dali.


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That Rothschild was a member of the super-wealthy Rothschild banking family and Parisian high-society appealed to him, too!


Also along the cinema trail were the likes of Walt Disney, with whom Dali collaborated on the cinema short, Destino. Harpo Marx and Salvador Dali became fast friends, and while a film Dali wrote for the Marx Brothers never saw the light of day, it’s reported that a novel is due out in November that’s an adaptation of Dali’s Giraffes on Horseback Salad script.


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Oh! Back momentarily to fashion to acknowledge the collaboration between Dali and designer Elsa Schiaparelli – so impressive that it warranted a special exhibition some months back at the St. Pete Dali Museum.


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One of Dali’s idols was the early cinematic genius, Charlie Chaplain. Dali once explained that he, Dali, fancied himself as someone who wanted to be both a great painter and “one cloon (clown), like Charlie Chaplain.”


Chaplain was Dali's hero.

Chaplain was Dali’s hero.


One of the all-time movie and stage greats, Sir Laurence Olivier, had a key role in Dali’s celebrity when he was the subject of a famous portrait by Dali of Olivier in the role of Richard III.


Salvador Dali painting Laurence Olivier, 1955


Speaking of portraits, Dali painted an interesting one of cosmetics queen Helena Rubinstein, shown chained to a steep cliff by a string of pearls. Dali painted a portrait of her prince husband, too. Come to think of it, Dali did a fine pencil portrait of Harpo – I almost forgot.


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In the quasi-portrait category land two other well-known cinema luminaries – the irrepressible Mae West, whose features inspired Dali’s Portrait of Mae West, Which Can Be Used as an Apartment, and the iconic Mae West lips sofa. Meanwhile, little Shirley Temple, whose collage head appears in Dali’s 1939 painting showing her with the body of a sphinx-like lion. On top of that cute little head sits a purple bat.


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The list of celebs who Dali knew, and in some cases collaborated with, seems endless: Jackie Gleason (Dali designed his Lonesome Echo LP cover); Raquel Welsh (Dali did a splatter-dash “portrait” of her as a promotional stunt to promote the feature film, Fantastic Voyage, for which Dali also painted a splendid canvas); Marilyn Monroe (the two never met, so far as I know, but Dali created a wild piece titled Marilyn Monroe, employing the 3-D effects of Rolex and Fresnel lenses); Alice Cooper (he was the subject of one of Dali’s holograms).


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Then there was Andy Warhol, and folks he helped Dali meet, such as Jagger and Jones of The Rolling Stones. David Bowie was in the mix, too. And we cannot leave out Mia Farrow…Sigmund Freud…French singer/artist/actor/director/writer Serge Gainsbourg…Yul Brenner…Bobbie Kennedy…The Duke and Duchess of Windsor…Merv Griffin…Ed Sullivan…Dick Cavett…Whitey Ford…John Lennon. A rather diverse group!


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Dali detested the idea of not being noticed. Fortunately, he never had to worry about that.


Dali and B.B.

Dali and B.B.


For even if he wasn’t partying with Bridgett Bardot, or seen dining with Gina Lollobrigida, he would forever be noticed for being Salvador Dali. A star’s star.



(Images used under Fair Use provisions for journalistic purposes only)


One of History’s Greatest Paintings, by Dali, Returns Home

By Paul Chimera

Salvador Dali Historian


I’m returning today to Salvador Dali’s monumental masterpiece, Christ of St. John of the Cross, upon news of its long-awaited return home. Scotland’s favorite work of art had been away from the Kelvingrove Art Museum in Glasgow for months – first on loan to the Royal Academy of Arts in London, then a stint at the Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida.




Now the nearly 7-foot-tall canvas – possibly the most popular religious painting of the 20th century – is back in its permanent digs.


Can you think of any other painting whose return after being out on loan would warrant stories in major news outlets? The BBC News, under the headline, “One of the Best-Known Paintings in Scotland has Returned to Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum in Glasgow,” wrote:


“Glasgow Life chairman David McDonald said, ‘After a hugely successful visit to the Royal Academy and the Dali Museum it’s wonderful to welcome Christ of St. John of the Cross back to Kelvingrove, in time for the upcoming holiday period. The must-see painting is one of the best-loved works in Glasgow Museum’ entire collection, for both tourists and Glaswegians alike. It’s certain to captivate the thousands of people who will visit the museum during the summer months.’”


Art Daily’s headline read, “Dali’s ‘Christ of St. John of the Cross’ back on show at Kelvingrove Museum.”


This is a big deal, folks! Surely you realize the immense importance and stunning grandeur of this very special masterpiece.


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I recently wrote a post here at The Salvador Dali Society® about the horror of showing up at a museum that owns an art piece you’ve had on your bucket list, only to be shocked to learn the piece is on-loan somewhere.


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Can you imagine the agony of this happening, after making the trip to Glasgow to finally see in person the iconic Christ of St. John of the Cross? I’m not sure there’s a word to adequately describe how deeply the sorrow and frustration would cut.


The very core of Salvador Dali’s genius is embodied in a work like Christ of St. John of the Cross. Grown men have literally wept upon seeing it in person.


Why? What makes this painting so magical?



I believe the answer is found on two main levels. One is the unique way Dali portrayed the crucified messiah: not with a cruel and humiliating crown of thorns; nor nailed wrists and feet; nor bloodied spear-pierced side – but, instead, as a symbol of beauty. Of a joyous arisen son of God. With a beautiful, unharmed body – fit, strong, perfect.





All seen from an unprecedented vantage point, from above – as if God Himself is looking down to welcome the ascension of His Son.


The other level on which Dali’s Christ is so admired is the virtuosity of its execution. Dali’s command of his craft was masterfully displayed in the anatomical realism, the handling of light, the stunning nature of the sky and clouds. It looks indeed like it might have been painted by Leonardo or Velazquez or Caravaggio.


A vote in Scotland some years back placed the Dali masterpiece as the country’s favorite work of art. It’s easy to see why. And when such a glorious triumph of art history returns home, it’s a homecoming worthy of international headlines.


Yet I have to wonder why Christ of St. John of the Cross’s several-month stay in St. Pete wasn’t a headline in every major American newspaper. Why it wasn’t a story on every major network news show.


I don’t think it’s overstatement to say that Dali’s Christ of St. John of the Cross is one of the most famous – and certainly one of the most remarkably executed paintings – in history.


Dali and Bobby Kennedy before a world masterpiece.

Dali and Bobby Kennedy before a world masterpiece.


The Persistence of Memory is surely Salvador Dali’s most renowned painting. But Christ of St. John of the Cross might be his best.


(Images used under Fair Use provisions for journalistic purposes only.)


Dali’s Double-Imagery was a Hallmark of his Genius

By Paul Chimera

Salvador Dali Historian


With summer just seven days away, let’s embrace a lovely little motif that Salvador Dali employed in a number of his works – whether oil paintings, prints, watercolors, even three-dimensional items.


I’m talking about his double-image of birds in a sunny sky that collectively form a human face. When people try to define just what it was about Salvador Dali that set him apart from his contemporaries, one distinction that emerges is his invention and application of his unique creative process known as the Paranoiac-Critical method. That’s going to be the subject of a forthcoming blog post here at The Salvador Dali Society®.


But another clear hallmark of Dali’s surrealism was his mastery of double-imagery. It was a kind of optical playground he loved to romp around in, and quite frequently.




The birds/face visual trope was seen perhaps most picturesquely in his watercolor over pencil on board painting titled Dance of the Flower Maidens (1942). I think it’s one of the most sensuous and beautiful pictures of Dali’s prodigious career.


The double-image is obviously seen in the six doves in the middle of the circular work (it was designed for a porcelain plate) that form the eyebrows, eyes, nose, mouth and chin of the woman’s face.


Dali also perpetuated the women with heads of roses idea that was first seen in his Woman with Head of Roses of 1935.




A similar appearance of the face comprised of birds in flight was seen in the large wall panel Salvador Dali painted for cosmetics queen Helena Rubinstein’s New York City apartment. It was one of three such panels he created for her, sold some years back at Christie’s or Sotheby’s auction. He also painted a somewhat controversial portrait of Rubinstein, chained to a cliff by a string of pearls.


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The birds/face double-imagery turns up yet again on one side of a silver Israeli-commissioned Peace Medal Dali designed, in this case the sides of the face formed by two olive branches – the traditional symbol of peace.




The repetition of images and leitmotifs in the artist’s work was all part of what was known as Dalinian Continuity. It was a purposeful reappearance of certain images throughout Dali’s oeuvre.


This phenomenon alone – this carefully planned, carefully executed linkage – is enough to form the basis of a detailed study. Perhaps a book. Because it rather ingeniously tied things together through the long arc of his career. Even small, esoteric details found in his works of the 1920s returned in paintings and prints and other works many decades later.


Just further evidence of the man’s genius.


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Sorry, Dali’s ‘Persistence of Memory’ Isn’t Home Right Now.

By Paul Chimera

Salvador Dali Historian


Would the Louvre be quite the same without Leonardo’s Mona Lisa? Would New York’s Museum of Modern Art be the same without Dali’s Persistence of Memory?


A recent news report about The Persistence of Memory being on loan to an art exhibition in Australia brought back a personal memory that got me thinking about the worst potential museum-going experience: learning that the one main work you came to see is not there!


It’s not at all hard to imagine folks traveling long distances – perhaps from locations across the world, in some cases – to check off their bucket list seeing Dali’s iconic melting watches in the flesh.




Small in size, The Persistence of Memory qualifies as one of the biggest achievements in art history. It’s not only the most universally recognized Salvador Dali painting, but is unquestionably the most famous surrealist canvas ever created.


So it’s not at all inconceivable that people would travel very long distances to see the work, which has been a part of the Museum of Modern Art’s permanent collection for many decades, when it was acquired for $250!


But anyone visiting the MoMA today, as I write this on June 10 (coincidentally the 36th anniversary of the death of Dali’s wife, Gala) will be profoundly disappointed to learn, perhaps to their very real horror, that if they want to see it, they’re on the wrong continent. At least for some months to come.


Sorry, but Dali’s Persistence of Memory isn’t home right now.


The mega-masterpiece will hang until Oct. 7 in the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, Australia, part of a collaborative exhibition between the Gallery and New York’s Museum of Modern Art. A newspaper recently quoted MoMA director Glenn Lowry: “I keep thinking, ‘What? We lent (it)? What were we thinking?”


That’s surely what untold numbers of MoMA visitors will be wondering between now and when the priceless Dali returns to the Big Apple about four and a half months from now.


*     *      *     *     *


I myself had two similar experiences – one very close to home, the other more distant. Years back I paid my admission price to enter the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in my hometown of Buffalo, New York. As was my habit, I headed straight for the wall on which a number of surrealist paintings hung, including works by Joan Miro, Yves Tanguy, and, of course, Salvador Dali: his stunning Transparent Simulacrum of the Feigned Image of 1938.


It wasn’t there.




A quick inquiry found that the painting was out on loan at an exhibition in Europe. I checked out Picasso, Miro, Warhol, Van Gogh and others, but I sure missed that perfectly painted Dali.


Things got much worse when, back in the late 1970s or early ‘80s, I don’t quite recall, I traveled by train from Buffalo to Boston, Massachusetts for the expressed purpose of seeing Dali’s large Homage to Crick and Watson painting. It was owned then by, and displayed at, New England Merchants National Bank at Prudential Plaza.


I was beyond crestfallen when I traveled all that way, only to find the bank was undergoing a major lobby renovation, in which the huge painting was normally displayed. The painting was there when I showed up, all right – crated within miles of plywood nailed hopelessly shut!


The train trip back from Boston was sad and long.


I never got to see the work until some 10 years later, when it was part of the big Dali retrospective at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in Montreal, Canada. It is now, of course, in the permanent collection of The Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida.


So my advice to you is simple and so, so important: call ahead!


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Dali: ‘I Wanted to Become the Most Spectacular Painter in the World!’

By Paul Chimera

Salvador Dali Historian


In the book, Salvador Dali, by Robert and Nicholas Descharnes (Edita – Lausanne, 1993), Dali is quoted thusly: “At the age of 25 I wanted to become the world’s most sensational painter, and I did.”


It’s interesting that Dali didn’t say he wanted to become the world’s “best” painter. He said he wanted to become the most sensational painter. This is a telling comment about how he viewed himself and his destiny.


Some people say Salvador Dali’s greatest work was himself! That he was a genius at creating and cultivating a persona that was impossible not to notice – even if, alternately, it charmed some and enraged others. Dali himself admitted he loved “being Dali.” He loved creating scandals. He loved being a “cloon” (clown) like his idol, Charlie Chaplain.


“Let them speak of Dali,” he quipped, always referring to himself in the third-person, “even if they speak well of him!”


Sensational Dali began developing at an early age. Anecdotes abound about him kicking friends in the head; biting into a dead bat; jumping from dangerous, precarious heights just to shock onlookers; even intentionally leaving his own feces around the house, like an untrained dog. Yeah, disgusting, I know.


His insubordinate behavior at the San Fernando School of Fine Arts in Madrid got him expelled. His “too surrealist” politics got him ousted from the formal Surrealist group, over which Andre Breton lorded.


Dali with his "grass car"

Dali with his “grass car” — just one of countless antics that kept him in the headlines!


Dali’s antics sprang from two key motivations: (1) to aggressively if not intrusively establish his own identity – free from being the reflection of his dead brother before him; and (2) the desire to market his life’s work by being a publicity agent’s dream; i.e., someone who had a real genius for getting noticed by the press.


01 Jan 1974 --- Spanish Painter Salvador Dali --- Image by © John Bryson/Sygma/Corbis

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All the while, however, Dali’s talent broke through the mire of megalomania like burning giraffes and weightless elephants that simply couldn’t help being noticed. His early one-man exhibitions in Paris and Barcelona pretty much sold out.


No doubt his eccentric behavior as well as his undeniable gifts as a painter landed him commissions from people such as the Vicomtesse de Noailles – money that helped him and Gala purchase a small fisherman’s hut at Port Lligat. Dali went on to paint the Vicomtesse’s portrait.


Portrait of his first patron.

Portrait of his first patron


And, of course, to greatly expand that little hut into a remarkable sprawling villa, which is now a museum that’s part of the Dali Triangle (the Port Lligat villa, the Teatro-Museo Dali in Figueres, and the Castle at Pubol).


At one point, Dali’s sensationally flamboyant behavior was viewed as a liability. Author Paul H. Walton once wrote, “The reputation of Salvador Dali has been so aggressively established through self-promotion that it forms a barrier to the calm assessment of his art.”


Walton was referring to things like:

  • Dali arriving for a lecture at the Sorbonne in Paris in a Rolls Royce filled with cauliflowers.
  • Dali delivering a lecture in London dressed in a deep sea diving suit, in whose helmet he nearly suffocated when he and others struggled to get it off his head.
  • Dali beginning an interpretation of Vermeer’s Lacemaker by seating himself on a wheelbarrow in the rhinoceros pen at a Paris zoo.
  • Dali holding a press conference with shock-rocker Alice Cooper, announcing his intention to create a cylindrical hologram of Cooper’s brain – topped with ants and a chocolate éclair.


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Such a list could continue endlessly. And author Walton’s observation was no doubt true at the time. But today it seems clear it was Dali’s very “craziness” (crazy like a fox!) that helped make him world famous and, indeed, an international sensation.


The capes…the walking sticks…the bulging eyes…the surreal entourage…and of course the iconic Velazquez-inspired mustache — it was all carefully cultivated and calculated to get attention and create the spectacle Dali knew would help bring him fame and fortune.


Had that alone been his act – just a brilliant knack for performance art and headline-making, with incidental, mediocre artistic talent – Dali might well have been a flash in the pan. A forgotten footnote in the history of art and pop culture. But we know the rest of the story.


Today, Salvador Dali’s comment, quoted in the previously referenced book, must be modified: “At the age of 25, Dali wanted to become the world’s most sensational artist. He succeeded. Along the way, he also became the world’s best artist.”


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