Big or Small, Dali Did it All!
By Paul Chimera
Salvador Dali Historian
Size matters. I’ve always thought it important that, when a painting, print, drawing, watercolor, or sculpture by Salvador Dali is reproduced in books and catalogs, the dimensions of the work should be noted. A sense of scale should be conveyed. This isn’t done often enough. And I think it unfairly omits significant information.
Size matters, because it can have an impact on us – big or small. I’ve found that most people not closely acquainted with Dali’s art are really surprised to learn, for example, that his best-known painting, “The Persistence of Memory,” is very small – only about 9 x 12 inches. Numerous reproductions of it that have adorned dormitory rooms and other walls for generations seem to imply – or at least aficionados tend to infer – that the work is large, if not huge.
In reality, the opposite is true.
Meanwhile, showing someone a repro of Dali’s 1970 masterwork, “The Hallucinogenic Toreador” without noting its dimensions is, in my view, insufficient for one to fully appreciate the true wonder of this great canvas. The impact of both the ingenious double-image central to this picture’s appeal – coupled with the impact of the grand scale of the work – blows viewers away in a manner that a medium or small-size canvas wouldn’t be likely to.
That’s not to say a work like “Hallucinogenic Toreador” wouldn’t be impressive were it a quarter of its size, or even smaller. It’s a dazzling painting on so many levels, not the least of which is the stunning colors that make the canvas so rich and vibrant. But in my view the monumental dimensions of the painting plays a significant role in its powerful impact on viewers. Just like “The Chair” stereoscopic work that appears under this post’s headline.
Now consider a remarkable work such as “Metamorphosis of Narcissus.” I sometime imagine it being the size of “Toreador.” “Metamorphosis” is a truly exquisite and inventive work, but can you picture it as a wall-size canvas? Wow! It intrigues me to imagine it that big.
The flip side of the coin is when you presume a Dali seen in a book is probably small or perhaps medium-size, only to discover with some amazement that it’s actually much larger. This happened to me when I first saw reproductions of “Sleep,” “The Great Masturbator,” and “The Sacrament of the Last Supper.”
Regarding the latter picture, I had seen in my youth a reproduction of this great Dali religious painting hanging in my grandparents’ home. It always fascinated me, mainly because it was so beautifully executed. But because I’d seen it only within the confines of its wooden frame as it hung in my grandparent’s home, it was always about 10 inches high and 24 inches wide in my mind.
And even though, as I got older, I came to understand that Dali’s “Last Supper” was a large painting owned by the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., it nevertheless stunned me with its immense size and powerful imagery when I finally saw it in person. It embodies perfection in painting. And a wholly new twist on the iconic Biblical feast. But I don’t think it would pack nearly the punch it does, were it 10” x 24.”
We should never overlook the many great Dali paintings categorized as miniaturist. Works like “The Ghost of Vermeer of Delft,” “The Specter of Sex Appeal,” and “Untitled (Dreams on the Beach),” to name just three. To some extent, these works are impressive because they’re so petit.
Meanwhile, the large-scale masterworks occupy a place all their own in Dali’s catalog because they’re so large.
Does scale matter when it comes to fine art? I think so. How about you?