Author Archives: Paul Chimera

Not your typical portrait!

A Look at the Quirkier Side of Salvador Dali!

By Paul Chimera

Salvador Dali Historian


It’s great fun and a fascinating adventure studying and examining the wide and varied aspects of the life and work of this celebrated Catalan artist. This wild and wonderful genius, Salvador Dali. There’s literally an endless supply of truths and myths, current news and historical morsels to discover, explore, dissect, enjoy, and learn from.


Take, for example, two somewhat mysterious, or at least unusual works by Dali I want to briefly discuss today. Of course, it could be argued that an “unusual work by Dali” is a bit of an oxymoron. Anyway, take a look at these two paintings:


Why was it left unfinished?

Why was it left unfinished?


One is Automatic Beginning of a Portrait of Gala (Unfinished), 1932. First off, why was it left unfinished? Especially given that its subject was the one constant in Dali’s life that was most important to him: his wife Gala. It’s truly one of the finest portraits of her in profile he ever painted. But she has no ear and neck (not in oil, anyway), mysteriously leaving the work unfinished for all time.


When a nose becomes a plane


It may be reasonable to draw a parallel between the incomplete Automatic Beginning of a Portrait of Gala and another especially unusual work – it, too, a portrait of Mrs. Dali: Portrait of Gala with Lobster (Portrait of Gala with Airplane Nose), 1934.


Not your typical portrait!

Not your typical portrait!


This work is just plain crazy and silly! Even the expression on Gala’s face seems to be one where I sense she’s going to start laughing at any moment. Unlike the juxtaposition of so many elements in Dali’s richly textured surrealist paintings, here we have two blatant objects that just seem so odd, appearing in the manner in which they do: a lobster unceremoniously plopped on the lady’s head. Gala’s nose morphing into an airplane. Utter lunacy – even for the master of crazy, Salvador Dali.


The “Other” Ghost of Vermeer

I’m pretty sure when Dali aficionados think of Dali’s ghostly representation of Vermeer, the Flemish master Dali so greatly revered, their mind’s eye focuses on the delightful little canvas in the Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida, titled The Ghost of Vermeer of Delft, Which Can Be Used as a Table (1934). It’s a gem of a painting – very precise and jewel-like.




But a similar work (and there are additional versions Dali painted on the same theme), which I happen to like better, is Spectre of Vermeer of Delft, 1935. Is it Gala, insouciantly seated on a stone wall, with her back turned to us, that’s so appealing? The large earthen pot behind her? The cypress tree impaling the Vermeerian figure’s gaping chest? The threads dangling from his sewn-up thigh? Or perhaps the tall shafts of wheat that lend a natural air to a very unnatural scene?




Of course, that greatly elongated leg-table is a unique, perplexing, and surreal element common between both surrealist tributes to Vermeer. Can you name another Dali painting I’m betting most Dali enthusiasts don’t think of that also features this curiously elongated limb? A painting that, speaking of elongated, is one of the longest ones Dali ever created?


Give up?


I’m talking about The Battle of Tetuan. Indeed, in the upper left quadrant of this massive painting, there’s that Ghost of Vermeer leg again, this time bared to the bone.


All little quirky but fascinating factoids that make the study of Salvador Dali so intriguing. I’ll be looking at other quirks, oddities and nuances in future posts.


(All images used under Fair Use provisions for journalistic purposes only)


"Masturbatory grip"?

Dali was the ‘Imp of the Perplexing,’ as TIME magazine once Wrote

By Paul Chimera

Salvador Dali Historian


Today I want to look at several Dali paintings, and a photograph, that have their own special stories to tell, at least for this historian/blogger. One of them is a little naughty, so fair warning!


OK, let’s get straight to the impish, at least as this beholder sees it. It’s the rather recently unknown portrait of Dali’s sister, Anna Maria – Figure in Profile, 1925 – which was acquired by the Teatro-Museo Dali in Figueres, Spain after its successful bid for the canvas at auction on March 2, 2017.


My observation doesn’t appear to be shared by others – or publicly acknowledged, anyway – but I feel certain it’s something Dali intended. Especially given his ambiguous and ultimately strained and estranged relationship with his younger sister, Anna Maria.


The issue in question is the woman’s right hand, and the precise form it takes, based on the positioning of her fingers. Is there any way to say it delicately? It appears she’s gesturing as if she’s adopting a male masturbation grip.


"Masturbatory grip"?

“Masturbatory grip”?


Look again. Do you see what I mean? It’s not only the positioning of her fingers, but the way her wrist is tipped slightly forward. It seems a rather unnatural way one’s hand would be resting on one’s lap while relaxing before a tranquil outdoor view.


I know of two other Dali paintings in which the same basic hand gesture or pose is impossible to overlook. One is Figure at a Table, 1925. The other is The Hand, 1930, which is unquestionably a picture about Dali’s exploration of autoeroticism.



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Did Dali deliberately make this indecorous suggestion to mock his sister? To immortalize the friction between them? You decide.

What’s clear, however, is that this important portrait of Anna Maria — whose somewhat awkward seated position is also noteworthy — is a major acquisition of and addition to the Teatro-Museo Dali in Spain.



Sex at an Early Age


It’s significant to note that Dali’s interest in sexually-evocative things took root early in his artistic career. And the nudes Dali wasn’t shy about painting allow us to embrace some wonderful and very early Dali paintings we might not otherwise consider. Not because of the nudity, but because I fear we too often overlook the charm and talent inherent in the many fine pictures a young Dali created long before he became a famous Surrealist.


Here are some wonderful examples from the 1921 – 1925 era, when Salvador was as young as 17:


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A Flight of Fantasy?


It recently came to my attention that Spain’s Iberia Airlines rolled out a DC10 line of airplanes in 1973, in which two Dali paintings (reproductions of them, that is) appeared on reversible panels inside the aircraft. They could then be turned around and replaced by a screen for in-flight movies.

While I’ve been unable to find an image of the works themselves, I did manage to locate this photo of the Master inside a DC10, with model airplanes at his feet.




In some ways, it’s something of a surreal scene in itself.


(All images used here under Fair Use provisions for journalistic purposes only.)



Enigmatic Elements

Little-Known Velasquez Work Inspires a Religious Dali Painting

By Paul Chimera

Salvador Dali Historian


We know how passionately Salvador Dali revered the Old Masters. He advised fledgling artists to “begin by painting like the Renaissance masters; after that, do as you wish, you will always be respected.”


Dali knew that refining one’s technique and taking to heart Ingres’ belief that “drawing is the essence of art” was the first order of business, if one had aspirations of becoming a great artist.


Dali’s admiration of the masters is readily apparent in his meticulous painting style. Virtually every painting and drawing (and to a lesser extent prints and sculptural pieces) exemplifies Dali’s nearly obsessive quest for realism and precision. While he thought himself a modern-day master (though not necessarily saying so, but rather acknowledging he was the best painter of his time only because “the others are so bad!”), we know today that in fact he was.


Dali’s veneration of the masters is not seen solely through his emulation of their exacting technique. He also paid homage to them by reflecting elements of their works in his – sometimes very directly, other times rather subtly.


You might be aware, for example, that Dali quoted Raphael’s Sistine Madonna in both Madonna of the Ear and The Virgin of Guadalupe, as you can see here. In Virgin of Guadalupe, Dali made the bold move of supplanting the Virgin’s face with that of Gala’s – a move some decried, but which was totally in keeping with Dali’s non-conformity.


 Raphael-sistine-madonna the-virgin-of-guadalupe d8b1a521d08cb2a852ec5b03c775b76a


He paid homage to Vermeer in a host of works, including Enigmatic Elements in a Landscape (Teatro-Museo Dali, Figueres, Spain) and more obviously in The Ghost of Vermeer of Delft, Which Can be Used as a Table (Dali Museum, Florida).


 salvadordalienigmaticelementsinthelandscape The_Ghost_of_Vermeer-600The_Art_of_Painting_Jan_Vermeer


On a very large scale, Dali chose the 500th anniversary of the death of Spanish master Velasquez to pay homage to him in the 1959 masterwork, The Discovery of America by Christopher Columbus. The tall lances and flags in the modern work are borrowed directly from Velasquez’s painting, Surrender at Breda.


 breda the-discovery-of-america-by-christopher-columbus-1959



Another Velasquez picture that Dali nodded to – an example of this kind of homage far less commonly known among Dali aficionados – is Kitchen Maid with the Supper at Emmaus, 1618. Salvador Dali nodded to and reinterpreted this fine painting in the surrealist’s 1960 work titled The Servant of the Disciples at Emmaus.


 0106vela the-servant-of-the-disciples-at-emmaus_jpg!Blog


The pitcher from the 17th century painting appears in Dali’s modern version of the scene, while clearly the religious figures in the upper left of the Velasquez find an obvious echo in the Dali. Now, of course, reimagined through the lens of Dali’s Nuclear-Mysticism.

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



Looking Back on the Original Salvador Dali Museum in Beachwood, Ohio

By Paul Chimera

Salvador Dali Historian


The two photographs below have never been published anywhere before.


They pertain to the original Salvador Dali Museum established provisionally in a wing of an office building in Beachwood, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland, way back in 1971.


The one-room museum – which, due to zoning restrictions, had to be visited by appointment only (to control traffic) – housed part of the renowned Dali collection of A. Reynolds and Eleanor R. Morse. As most anyone reading this blog knows, the museum, which opened on March 7, 1971, closed its doors in the late ‘70s in preparation for its rebirth in St. Petersburg, Florida in 1982.


Here’s a photo of a museum staffer and me in 1973, as we stood in what was known as the Salon of the Masterworks. That’s where three of Dali’s huge masterpieces hung: Discovery of America by Christopher Columbus; The Ecumenical Council (part of which can be seen in the photo); and The Hallucinogenic Toreador, which the two of us are seen admiring.


First venue for public display of "Hallucinogenic Toreador"

First venue for public display of “Hallucinogenic Toreador”


What a gigantic stroke of painting genius!


It’s really something to rewind back to that time, given how far things have come since, what with the opening of the Dali Museum in St. Pete in 1982 and now the current, far superior museum building that has become one of the world’s greatest cultural attractions and architectural triumphs.


Now to this rather remarkable black & white photo:


The single-room museum was contiguous with the plastics company offices owned by Reynolds Morse. So here, in a disheveled, prosaic, bureaucratic-looking business office is the celebrated, world-famous master of Surrealism! Salvador Dali, resplendently dressed, right down to the snake bracelet, sits at a common office worker’s desk!


Catalan in Cleveland.

Catalan in Cleveland.


An executive of the IMS Co. hands him a reproduction of Christ of St. John of the Cross for Dali’s coveted signature. This occurred, I believe, shortly before Dali appeared across the hall to a clutch of news media and specially invited guests.


Isn’t that photo something!




I again take my hat off to the Fundacio Gala-Salvador Dali in Figueres, Spain, for its online Catalog Raisonne of Dali paintings (The Salvador Dali Society will be coming out soon with a definitive Catalog Raisonne of Dali prints). Two very early works cataloged by the Fundacio have caught this blogger’s eye, which I’m sharing with readers today.


I’m certain most of you have never seen these images – and while both are portraits, they stand in stark contrast to one another.


Portrait of Grandmother Anna Sewing (c. 1919, oil on canvas, private collection, Italy) was originally owned by Anna Maria Dali in Cadaques. What a dramatic portrait! There’s a kind of haunting, shadowy, almost ghostly aura to it, punctuated by the indiscriminate impasto technique that overspreads the entire work.




And then, in stark contrast, is the truly beautiful portrait of an enchanting young lady in an untitled work, a.k.a., Portrait of a Girl (c. 1920, oil on burlap canvas, private collection). The subject seems to have at once both a contemplative look and one revealing the beginnings of a smile.




Dali did a wonderful job, technically, with her blouse. And whoever the girl was, she was stunning, captured sensitively by the precocious brush of 16-year-old Salvador.







Easter Sunday, 1955: Dali’s ‘Sacrament of the Last Supper’ Unveiled to the World

Paul Chimera

Salvador Dali Historian


I find discussions of Salvador Dali’s “Sacrament of the Last Supper” fascinating – but often unpredictable. That’s because the work has the dubious distinction of being one of the most highly lauded and vigorously derided paintings of the modern era.


I’m pretty sure no one is neutral about this imposing masterwork: you either really love it or really dislike it. There’s no fence-sitting when it comes to this Dali canvas.


Why is that?


I suppose it could be like the well-known admonishment not to discuss religion or politics in social gatherings, lest you want a fight on your hands. Religious subjects – especially one so ingrained in our consciousness, mainly due to Leonardo Da Vinci’s “Last Supper” fresco in Milan – are inherently tricky. Depicting Jesus Christ can be a sensitive road to venture down.


Leonardo's fresco

Leonardo’s fresco


Indeed, look how Dali did it. Christ clean shaven. Blonde. Transparent. Some even believe His face is that of Gala, as it is widely known that Dali painted her as the Madonna in several other works, and included her in a large number of his paintings.


Protestant theologian Paul Tillich is famously known to have called Dali’s picture “junk.” A National Gallery employee I spoke with years back – responding to my question of why, at the time, the painting was hanging on an obscure wall in the museum’s gift shop – told me, “I’d put it in the basement if I had my way.” (Chester Dale, the banker/collector who inspired Dali to paint this work; purchased it as soon as he laid eyes on it; and ultimately donated it to the Gallery, surely would not have appreciated that employee’s outrageous comment.)


Dali pointing out details to Chester Dale.

Dali pointing out details to Chester Dale.


Mssrs. Dale and Dali, with another unidentified gentleman.

Mssrs. Dale and a dapper Dali, with another unidentified gentleman.


Some of the disdain – which of course is counterbalanced by countless worldwide admirers of the work – is certainly due to the unconventional nature of the Passover feast. However, we know that Dali did not intend to depict the historical scene of Christ’s Passover meal at all.


Instead, Dali’s aim was to focus on the sacrament of the Eucharist. Indeed, the work’s title, unlike that of Leonardo’s, is “The Sacrament of the Last Supper” (italics mine).


Moreover, some people just couldn’t wrap their head and hearts around the stark symmetry in the work, with the anonymous disciples on the left mirroring those on the right. And what are we to make, many have wondered, of the enigmatic torso at the top of the composition?


Of course, it’s clear that figure takes on several meanings: God the Father, whose face we mustn’t see; Christ’s ascension to heaven; the Holy Spirit embracing the entire scene.


The geometric figure that forms the background is part of a dodecahedron, a 12-sided figure which Plato described as embodying the universe. Dali was striving for a sense of purity and perfection in this picture. Its technical virtuosity — a kind of photographic precision — nearly takes one’s breath away.


Speaking of perfection, Dali employed the Golden Ratio or Golden Rectangle here, which is known as one of the most visually satisfying of all geometric forms. It’s also related to the Golden spiral, created by making adjacent squares of Fibonacci dimensions.


CWiPeWyWEAAdrbS the-golden-ratio-53-638


“Supper’s” purity of technique, moreover, recalls “Nature Morte Vivant” (Dali Museum, Florida), painted the following year and featuring the same Eucharistic glass of wine.


"Nature Morte Vivant" echoes wine glass and table cloth of "Last Supper."

“Nature Morte Vivant” echoes wine glass and table cloth of “Last Supper.”


Still, some detractors contend Dali’s “Sacrament of the Last Supper” is too cerebral and cold. Others disagree, including me, to be sure. It’s my belief that the calculating underlying mathematics employed in this work; the stark symmetry; the dodecahedron details; and the unusual appearance of Jesus’ see-through torso all contribute to a sense of perfection. A sense of harmony, mystery, and a transcendent spirituality that make this painting by Salvador Dali the most popular work of art in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.


One could simply say it’s miraculous.


Dali said of it, The first Holy Communion on Earth is conceived as a sacred rite of the greatest happiness for humanity. This rite is expressed with plastic means and not with literary ones. My ambition was to incorporate to Zurbaran’s mystical realism the experimental creativeness of modern painting in my desire to make it classic.


Advised Dali, in one of his best-known quotes: “Don’t worry about perfection; you will never attain it.” But I think he did in this very special masterpiece. It was unveiled to the world on Easter Sunday, 1955, in our nation’s capital.


Unveiled on Easter, 1955.

Unveiled on Easter, 1955.

I want to add a final word. And while the term is vastly over-used, I cannot think of a better one: Dali’s “Sacrament of the Last Supper” truly has an awesome quality to it. It evokes an overwhelming sense of the ethereal, the human spirit, the human soul. Indeed, it is said that Dali crafted the arc of the seated Apostles in such a manner that we, as the viewer, get a sense that we’re not merely looking at the scene — we’ve become included in it.

That, my friends, is genius.






Salvador Dali Enjoyed ‘Fooling the Eye’

By Paul Chimera

Salvador Dali Historian


Fool me once, shame on you; fool me hundreds of times….and you may be describing a large chunk of Salvador Dali paintings, drawings, prints and more.


Take the master of the double-image, add in technical virtuosity worthy of the Old Masters, and you’ve got the recipe for some fantastic illusion with paint and brush.


And that includes the always-fun phenomenon of trompe l’oeil, or “fool the eye.” A number of Salvador Dali’s works embrace this technique in impressive ways. Some are dramatic, others more subtle.


Let’s look at just a few.


Two that are quite fun are found on the walls of the Pubol castle that Dali bought for Gala, in which she lived separately from Dali in their later years. He was allowed to visit her only by written invitation. At least that’s how the story goes. Whether she ever actually penned and sent such a strange invitation is an unknown, at least to me.


One trompe l’oeil work is the “false door,” which shows what appears to be a heavy wooden door opened onto a tiled floor and revealing a background wall in need of a paint job. In reality, it’s all an eye-fooling illusion, as it was painted on the flat surface of the castle wall. “It absolutely looks like a real opened door!” effused Dali collector Nigel Simmins, who’s based in England, has visited the Pubol castle a number of times, and has seen the eye-fooling false door. He’s a loyal reader of this blog.



Then, in the Pubol castle’s Piano Room, Dali painted two radiators on a large panel that conceals real radiators behind it! It was a wonderful example not only of Dali’s technical skill, but also of his great sense of irony and humor.

Castillo-Gala-Dali-Pubol 72Radiators

In a recent blog post here at The Salvador Dali Society, Inc., I wrote about Dali’s large canvas, “The Sistine Madonna,” alternately known as “Madonna of the Ear.” Dali’s trompe l’oeil addition to this complex painting appears along the left side of the work, where a string hangs down, attached to a folded sheet of paper and suspending a cherry, whose shadow is cast on an adjoining piece of paper on a string. It’s unreal – literally – because it appears to be photographic in nature, but was masterfully painted to fool the eye.



Two religious paintings by Dali, neither especially well-known but both beautiful, feature trompe l’oeil. One is “The Christ of Valles,” where the loin cloth area of the Savior looks three-dimensional, as do the drop of blood and crown of thorns. Amazing.


salvador_dali_cristo_del_valles_d5699318g the-servant-of-the-disciples-at-emmaus_jpg!Blog


The other is “The Maid of the Disciples of Emmaus,” 1960, where – in response to the then-modern trend of artists actually tearing parts of their canvas – Dali painted tears that looked like the real thing, until one gets close enough to see they’re the product of Dali’s formidable draftsmanship. Brilliant.


Finally, my own personal experience that may not be trompe l’oeil in the traditional sense, but which sure fooled my eye.


It happened in 1973, when I first saw “The Hallucinogenic Toreador” as it hung in the original Dali Museum in Beachwood, Ohio. As I came upon the large painting from about 50 feet, I noticed the bullfighter’s cream-colored collar button. “Will you look at that,” I remarked to my wife. “Dali actually glued a real plastic button onto the canvas!”


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As I got up close, of course, I realized with amazement that it, too, was another product of Dali’s eye-fooling realism.


Dali: “Somebody ‘Food’ My Cookies!”

By Paul Chimera

Salvador Dali Historian


This photo of Salvador Dali, taken at the Plaza Hotel in New York, reminds me of a charming true story told to me when I was being considered for the position of publicity director of the original Salvador Dali Museum in Beachwood, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland (I got the job).



Specifically, I’m focused on the woman in the background of this Plaza Hotel photo, who seems to be looking over as if she’s stunned to realize that, my heavens, that’s Salvador Dali seated over there!


And that’s the entree to my story . . .


Back in 1973, a fellow named Edward* was vice-president of the IMS Co. in Beachwood, Ohio – a plastics process equipment manufacturer founded and owned by A. Reynolds Morse. The very same man who, along with his wife Eleanor, amassed the largest collection anywhere of original Dali’s.


It was actually an annexed wing of the IMS Co. in which the Dali Museum’s treasures were exhibited – a partial sampling of the private Morse collection, the rest sequestered in their home on nearby Chagrin Boulevard.


Dali came to Beachwood, Ohio, for his museum's inauguration in '71.

Dali came to Beachwood, Ohio, for his museum’s inauguration in ’71.


Edward wore two hats under Morse’s presidency: general manager of the plastics business, and a kind of supervisor of goings-on at the contiguous one-room museum. It was Edward with whom I met for lunch one day as part of the interview process.


We dined at a then-popular eatery in Beachwood called The Pewter Mug. I hear it’s no longer there. But at the time it was described by The Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper as a “mecca for high-powered customers.”


Edward told the story of how he and the Morse’s took Dali to that very same establishment while Dali was in town for the March 7, 1971 inauguration of his eponymous museum; Gala remained in New York City. In fact, I’m just now reminded of another little anecdote, which I’ll share presently, before I get to the Pewter Mug story.


Reynolds and Eleanor picked Dali up in Manhattan and drove him to Ohio via limousine. On the trip to the Buckeye State, Dali had to stop to “make divine pee-pee,” as he called it. They pulled into a Howard Johnson’s restaurant, and in the foyer was a display case with a particular cookie on which Dali had his eye.


Upon returning from the restroom, however, Dali noticed the cookie was gone. “Somebody food my cookie!” the artist bemoaned, in his unwittingly amusing English, where “food” became a verb!


But back to The Pewter Mug in Beachwood. Edward reminisced about the night before the museum opening, where Dali, the Morse’s and Edward and his wife were out to dinner. A woman at a nearby table was overheard exclaiming to her husband, whose back was to Edward’s table: “Honey! Look! That’s Salvador Dali!”


“Sure,” the man said to his wife in amused disbelief. “OK, honey, now get serious and let’s enjoy our meal.” To which his wife tenaciously stuck to her story. “No, no, honey, really. I’m serious. It’s Salvador Dali!”, as she gestured toward the nearby party.


Still certain she was playing some sort of game with him, the man remained focused on his wife and the meal in front of them. Finally, his wife physically moved her husband so he could see for himself. And, by George – or, make that Salvador – his wife was right!”


Reynolds Morse, Salvador Dali, Eleanor Morse in the Morse living room.

Reynolds Morse, Salvador Dali, Eleanor Morse in the Morse living room.


Imagine going out to dinner at some unassuming neighborhood restaurant and finding Salvador Dali seated at a nearby table. Now that’s a high-powered customer! And it surely must have been a surreal dinner out, which that couple was never to forget!


(Footnote: Edward, now well into his 70s and so far as I know continues to run his own plastics firm in Ohio, shot a 16mm film of Dali at the museum inauguration in Beachwood on March 7, 1971. I viewed the several-minute-long footage at Ed’s residence. I don’t know if he ever plans to make it available to the general public. *For privacy purposes, I chose not to use Edward’s last name in this post.)


[Images used for Fair Use one-time journalistic purposes only]




A Great Dali Painting that Too Often Flies Under the Radar

By Paul Chimera

Salvador Dali Historian


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


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




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


Raphael work inspired Dali.

Raphael work inspired Dali.


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


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


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


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


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


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


dali cavett

Dali Used TV as Performance Art and Brilliant Career Promotion

By Paul Chimera

Salvador Dali Historian


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


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


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


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



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


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


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


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


Dali blushing?

Dali blushing?



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


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


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


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


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

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






Dali & Disney Struck a Chord Few Have Known About

By Paul Chimera

Salvador Dali Historian


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




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


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


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


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


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

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




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


Sports or television -- do we know for sure?

Sports or television — do we know for sure?


I think it’s delightful.


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


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


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


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


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

(All images used under journalistic fair-use provisions)