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Is there no end to Salvador Dali’s ability to astonish us? I think not.
Two things about the great painter are swirling around in your host’s head this week, so I’ll briefly discuss them here. They’re related to each other, in that – in effect – Dali brought back or resurrected something from an earlier period. No, I’m not talking about his Resurrection of the Flesh oil (which for years held the record for the highest price ever paid at auction for a living artist), but two other chapters from the fascinating history of our Catalan hero.
Out of the Ashes
It’s incredible to me when I think about something a lot of people, even ardent Dali collectors and aficionados, don’t realize: Dali’s original paintings for Broadway impresario Bill Rose’s The Seven Lively Arts production in 1944 were destroyed in a fire. Precious one-of-a-kind treasures lost forever – melted, if you must, like Dali’s famous soft watches.
But Mr. Rose asked Dali to paint them again! A second time! And Dali did so, though this surrealistic resurrection brought similar but different results from the Master’s brush. Basically, here’s what happened . . .
Dali first painted a series of seven large and amazing canvases under the Lively Arts title. Rose commissioned the works to decorate the foyer of his Ziegfeld Theatre in New York; the series’ name shared the title of Rose’s review that was soon to open there. The production – to be a musical spectacle – would meld the traditional arts with current, experimental forms of expression.
But while Dali’s fabulous works were being kept in Bill Rose’s country home in Mt. Kisko, New York, a fire broke out and the remarkable paintings – exploring the art of music, dance, cinema, radio, opera, ballet, and concert – were destroyed. Up in smoke like a Dalinian dream shattered by the sound of those fierce tramuntana winds.
One more time!
Bill Rose, the man who commissioned Dali to paint The Seven Lively Arts the first time, commissioned the artist again (reportedly using money from the insurance settlement). It had to have been a daunting task, given that most creative endeavors – painting to be sure, but also, say, a piece of fiction or non-fiction writing – are extremely difficult to do over, once the initial creative spark ignites and the finished product enjoys its last brush stroke or final written word.
But Dali, motivated by a paycheck but also a desire to please the popular and influential Mr. Rose, set to work again, this time producing new depictions of the same theme – and, to some connoisseur’s eyes, doing an even better job the second time around. Opinions vary on that point (one work, originally called “Boogie-Woogie,” was changed in this second time around to “Rock and Roll”).
Personally, your Melting Times host liked the original series of paintings better, though the post-fire redux was nonetheless superb. Shown here are two examples for comparison purposes: The first Art of the Concert (black & white image) shown in contrast to the second version (in color). Likewise, the work Dali titled Art of Boogie-Woogie juxtaposed for comparison purposes with the re-painted “Rock and Roll” effort. Clear parallels and contrasts can be drawn between the two versions. Which ones do you prefer?
The other resurrection of sorts in which Salvador Dali was involved was his incredibly faithful replication, in oil, of his beloved Jan Vermeer’s iconic masterpiece, The Lacemaker. Interestingly enough, Dali became friends with Robert Lehman in the early 1930s. Lehman was a well-known U.S. banker who owned a renowned art collection.
Both men agreed, however, that Lehman’s collection was absent of one elusive, rare, and always superb centerpiece of what could be considered one of the finest collections anywhere: an original Vermeer. Lehman reportedly asked Dali himself if he could paint a faithful reproduction of a Vermeer masterpiece, to which Dali replied that such an undertaking would be out of the bounds of possibility.
Ironically, though, many years later, in the mid-1950s, Dali happened to be working on a copy of The Lacemaker by Vermeer, remembered his years-earlier conversation with Lehman, and got the executive to commission him to recreate the classic Vermeer masterpiece.
Dali was such a consummate craftsman and perfectionist – especially when it came to something involving the Dutch painter, whom he admired perhaps more than any other artist – that he actually ordered canvas, brushes and colors as closely matched as possible to those used by Vermeer himself. The result is uncanny – see for yourself.
Lacemaker by Jan Vermeer Dali’s 1954-’55 version.
Speaking of replicating things . . .
The Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida, is currently considering the proposed design for the new $35 million building that remarkable collection hopes to be comfortably showcased and protected in (from hurricanes) by 2010. But some observers are raising eyebrows and wagging fingers at the design, thinking it un-Dalinian.
Others think it’s just fine. Imagine trying to agree on an architectural design for a Dali Museum! No easy task. I’m sure that, whatever ultimately gets built will continue to feature what is surely the planet’s single greatest collection of works by the divine Dali!
Until next time, and as always, viva Dali!
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Summer’s just around the corner, which means taking to the nation’s highways for vacations and weekend get-aways – the oppressive price of gasoline notwithstanding. Thus, I believe this installment of The Melting Times will forever be known as the “transportation issue.”
Dali, You Can Drive My Car…NOT!
To your Melting Times host’s knowledge, Salvador Dali never drove a car. Not ever. I’m quite certain he never had a driver’s license. (Although Dali can be found in the most unlikely pose, nattily attired and seated upon a Harley-Davidson! See accompanying picture.) But he did seem to have a surreal thing for cars, and it’s interesting how varied his depictions were of this fixture of everyday society. And how the automobile swerved into his artistic activities in other ways, too.
For example, his important retrospective in 1979-1980 at the Pompidou Centre in Paris featured a vintage car hanging from the ceiling in the main entrance hall, along with gigantic sausages, all overlooking an enormous spoon! His famous Dec. 17, 1955 lecture at the Sorbonne in Paris, about rhinoceros horns, cauliflowers, and logarithmic spirals, was preceded by his arrival at that venerable institution in a Rolls Royce – which just happened to be crammed with hundreds of cauliflowers.
The Cadillac that was once owned by the notorious Al Capone has sat since 1974 as an outdoor fixture at the Teatru-Museu Dali in Figueres, Spain, atop of which a large sculpture by Austrian artist Ernest Fuchs stands. Also there is his Rainy Taxi, where it rains inside the cab. A version of this was first shown at the International Surrealist Exhibition in 1938, and was alternatively known as Mannequin Rotting in a Taxi Cab. And Dali had a Volkswagen Beetle completely covered with grass in the 1970s.
Can a car be pregnant? It can in Dali’s world!
One of Dali’s most popular and important paintings, with the bewildering title, Debris of an Automobile Giving Birth to a Blind Horse Biting a Telephone (1938), was considered Dali’s revolt against a mechanized and materialistic society. It was also a statement about the Spanish Civil War, and nods to Picasso’s large-scale work, Guernica.
The earliest important oil in which Dali depicted an automobile was at the bottom of the impressive Imperial Monument to the Child-Woman of 1929, where the vehicle’s high beams illuminate an ironing board – driving home the point that our dreams often serve up pretty strange combinations of images.
Imperial Monument to the Child-Woman
Dali transformed the ordinary, everyday automobile into elements of the landscape in 1935-1936 canvases such as Apparition of the Town of Delft, Paranoiac-Critical Solitude, and Fossilized Automobile of Cape Creus. An automobile appears in a distant mountain detail in The Angelus of 1932. And when cars didn’t deserve to be part of a craggy terrain, Dali felt they should be properly dressed, with part of them transformed into a brick wall. He pulled it all off with aplomb in his 1941 Clothed Automobile, deigning to compromise the high-profile image of Cadillac as only the amusing master Surrealist could.
Sell, Sell, Sell!
We don’t see the motorcar turn up in any significant Dali work since the 1940s – until advertisers discovered the Dali Midas touch. Nissan commissioned Dali to paint a picture that would feature their Datsun 610 wagon in 1972 magazine ads, as well as a 30-second TV spot showing Dali cavorting about the vehicle, while the voice-over was dubbed in by someone who was clearly not the Master. Although I have no information on what kind of results Nissan realized from its drive down marketing lane with Dali, something tells me the return on investment was surreally good!
Speaking of Peculiar Tales about Taxis.
Your Melting Times host remembers well the time when, as publicity director of the Salvador Dali Museum when it was originally located in Beachwood, Ohio, I was asked by A. Reynolds and Eleanor Morse to drive them to the airport, as they embarked on one of their periodic sojourns to Port Lligat. The Morses were the antithesis of flamboyance! While Dali sported brocade vests and walking sticks from Sarah Bernhardt, Reynolds sported a floppy old western-style hat and rancher-style string ties.
And the Morses drove..a Checker taxi. It was, to my knowledge, their only vehicle.
Yes, a powder blue Checker, and that’s what I drove them to the airport in. I’ll never forget how a miniscule knick of paint on the driver’s side door caught Reynolds’ attention when I picked him and his wife up a few weeks later. I had no idea how the knick got there – it was virtually imperceptible to me – but Morse somehow spotted it and raised a little bit of hell over the matter. It wasn’t exactly a rainy taxi, but there was a verbal storm of thunder and lightning.
Planes & Trains, too.
Dali didn’t drive, and he also didn’t fly. At least not until very, very late in life, when his globe-trotting secretary/manager Enrique Sabater finally coaxed the artist into leaving terra firma for the expediency and efficiency of air travel. For many years, of course, Mr. & Mrs. Dali traveled to the United States aboard ships, and fishing boats and sailing boats turn up in numerous Dali paintings.
A freight train car is a prominent element in his huge Perpignan Railway Station masterwork of 1965, paying tribute to what others saw as merely a mundane transportation hub from which Dali shipped his paintings – but which Dali considered the center of the universe, and whose ceiling design inspired his ruminations on the third-dimension and how to achieve it in painting.
Largely unknown to most Dali followers, however, is Dali’s interesting re-work of the Perpignan painting, placing the image of a streamlined, modern-day passenger train where the four gold bans of light form the Maltese cross.
Just as Dali didn’t seem to be enamored of the automobile – and thus tended to depict it in unflattering or unorthodox ways – so too did the airplane receive some unconventional treatment from him. Often it was used as part of a political statement. Take, for instance, the great picture, Daddy Long Legs of the Evening..Hope! of 1940. A flaccid airplane limps out of a canon, as part of a composition that expresses the horrors of war (yet hope, too, symbolized by the daddy long legs spider, referring to an old and optimistic French legend). The original can be enjoyed at the Dali Museum in Florida.
Daddy Longs of the Evening…Hope!
A B-52 bomber appears as foreboding facial features in Dali’s dramatic Melancholy, Atomic, Uranic Idyll, 1945, and that specific detail was reproduced on the front page of the artist’s Dali News, on Nov. 20, 1945. In Allegory of an American Christmas, painted two years earlier, a plane emerges from a globe that looks like a cracked egg, but the aircraft appears more vegetable-like than mineral in its curious construction.
I can think of no other work by Dali in which an airplane appears. A helicopter, of course, was used as one of the elements in the famous photo by Philippe Halsman, where – through some clever juxtaposition – he and Dali made it appear as if Dali were being hoisted off the ground with his mustache antennae attached to the chopper! And Dali had proclaimed that Spain’s national pastime – bullfighting – would have a more Dionysian conclusion were the dead bull lifted out of the arena via helicopter, an idea Dali actually proposed but was judged too dangerously impractical.
Alas, a fitting point for me to hoist myself from The Melting Times until we land ourselves here again next week. As always, viva Dali!
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With spring now in bloom, thoughts turn to renewal, rebirth, and revival. Which set your Melting Times host to thinking: are there Dali works that perhaps a lot of people – even ardent Dali aficionados – don’t know about?
You bet there are! And just maybe this is the first time you’ll get to see some Dali’s that never made it to the mainstream book world. Now, courtesy of The Melting Times in particular – and The Salvador Dali Society, Inc. in general – let’s take a look behind some Dalinian doors that may have never before been opened to you.
Tour des heures aux papillons
Let me be clear about something: writing a blog about Salvador Dali, and having enormous respect for Dali’s prodigious career, does not mean I love everything the man did. This work is a case in point. I don’t recall ever seeing it in any book (it appeared in Christie’s auction catalog, London, 2 February 2004). It’s a gouache and pencil on board, 1964, about 56 in. x 20 in., and had most recently been in a private collection. It’s too cartoonish for my tastes, featuring every color in the rainbow, and then some. But beauty – even of the surrealistic kind – is ultimately in the eye of the beholder.
Here’s a curiosity never reproduced anywhere I know of, except in the auction catalog out of which I photographed it (Christie’s, London, 9 December 1999). Signed and dated Dali 1972, the work is oil on lenticular plastic, about 50 in. by 20 in., and was exhibited at the now defunct Knoedler Gallery in New York and in a show titled Dali, Monumental, March-August 1998 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Dali was experimenting with different surfaces’ properties at the time, especially those that could help achieve some illusion of depth. His more popular Tristan and Isolde was done during this same period, utilizing a newly emerging plastic material known as Rolux.
St. George Tuant Le Dragon
Dali has depicted the theme of St. George slaying a dragon many times, and in various mediums – but never quite so colorfully and dramatically as this seldom reproduced work from 1942. It’s painted on ivory in a gold frame decorated with seed pearls and baguette-cut diamond corner motifs, and measures a diminutive 3 in. x 4 in. The work carries an inscription to the Marquis of Cuevas, who was a Cuban patron of the arts and founder of the Nouveau Ballet de Monte Carlo in 1947, an organization for which Dali executed commissioned stage backdrops and costume designs. Dali went on to paint The Marquis of Cuevas’ portrait as well, also shown here.
Le Voyage Fantastique
Details of this work show up here and there in some books and magazines, but always in black & white, usually behind a wig-wearing Dali and, in the foreground, Andy Warhol. This view – technically a detail but most of it I captured in my camera’s viewfinder – is in color, which really livens up this 1965 gouache, watercolor, wash, brush and India ink and pencil on paper, about 40 in. x 60 in. It was executed as part of the promotion of the 1966 film, Fantastic Voyage, starring Raquel Welch in her first major movie role.
As part of the promotion, Dali held a publicity stunt inside a New York bank, in which a bikini-clad Ms. Welch posed for him while he essentially flicked his paint-laden brush at a canvas. Yours truly was in touch many years later with the gentleman who owns that dubious work, which unfortunately featured heavy impasto and was subject to uncharacteristic damage because of the tentative nature of the paint’s application. The work is simply globs of paint spattered randomly about – making it one of Dali’s truly abstract, instant paintings!
Punster Dali has made an ordinary feline as exotic as Cleopatra, in his Cleo-catra, a pen and India ink and watercolor over pencil on board, about 5 in. by 4.5 in., created in 1946. The work – to my knowledge never reproduced anywhere beyond its appearance in Christie’s Impressionist and Modern Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture auction catalog, New York, February 26, 1990, was a gift from Dali to one Lincoln Kirstein of New York, and at the time of the auction was the property of the School of American Ballet.
Some people say Dali was too commercial. Many of those same people were what I would call too jealous! But let’s not get into a debate over it. Instead, here’s a nifty cigarette box Dali designed, signed and dated 1942. It’s oil on ivory plaque, set into a sliver box made by Verdura, Inc., New York, and measuring about 3 in. by 3.5 in. Never appearing in any book on the artist (to your Melting Times host’s knowledge), the work was put on the auction block at Sotheby’s Madison Avenue galleries on February 26, 1981. It was commissioned in 1941 and is one of the earliest pieces of jewelry that Dali made in collaboration with Duke Fulco di Verdura.
The Walls of Babylon
Before you suggest that this work appears in the big Taschen book by Descharnes and Neret, look again. The Walls of Babylon, oil on canvas, 1955, bears a definite resemblance to Symphony in Red of 1954, a work that is featured in the aforementioned book. The Walls of Babylon is quite likely, however, a work you’ve never seen before. It was in the collection of Carstairs Gallery in New York prior to its being owned by a private European collector, who put it in Christie’s London auction, The Art of the Surreal, on February 6, 2001.
The foregoing proves the axiom that a picture is worth a thousand words. And raises the intriguing question, Just how many Dali’s are still out there, yet to be discovered?
Waxing Poetic – to the Max!
I herewith share with Dali enthusiasts a delightful poem given to me many years ago by a college professor, Phillip Hey, of the University of Wisconsin. Prof. Hey was a huge Dali fan, and his inventive verse shows that he really gets it. It is reproduced here in the exact line length variation Phillip intended – resembling, perhaps, a rhinoceros horn . . .
The Maximum Speed of Salvador Dali
(After Diary of a Genius)
By Phillip Hey
This is Dali.
This is the mustache of Dali.
These are the flies of the mustache
of Dali. This is the problem of the
flies of the mustache of Dali. These are
the academics confounding the problem of the
flies of the mustache of Dali. This is the down-
fall of the academics confounding the problem of
the flies of the mustache of Dali:
I think it is Dali
who is Avida Dollars
Who horns in to see Vermeer in the helical,
whose clocks are his modus tempori, dis-
tempered canvases, avid of whose
cabbages roll into the money
whose sun flowers on
Until next time, and as always, viva Dali!
* Salvador DalÃ (Spain 1904-1989), Tour Des Heures aux Papillons. Â© Salvador DalÃ, FundaciÃ³ Gala-Salvador DalÃ, Artists Rights Society, 2008.
* Salvador DalÃ (Spain 1904-1989), Angel. 1972. Oil on lenticular plastic. Â© Salvador DalÃ, FundaciÃ³ Gala-Salvador DalÃ, Artists Rights Society, 2008.
* Salvador DalÃ (Spain 1904-1989). St. George Tuant Le Dragon. 1942. 7.5 x 10 cm. Â© Salvador DalÃ, FundaciÃ³ Gala-Salvador DalÃ, Artists Rights Society, 2008.
* Salvador DalÃ (Spain 1904-1989). Le Voyage Fantastique.1965. Medium gouache, watercolor, wash, brush and India ink and pencil. 101.5 x 152.5 cm. Private collection. Â© Salvador DalÃ, FundaciÃ³ Gala-Salvador DalÃ, Artists Rights Society, 2008.
* Salvador DalÃ (Spain 1904-1989). Cleo-catra. 1946. Watercolor, pencil, brush, ink/board , Drawing-Watercolor. 12.4 x 11.4 cm. Private collection. Â© Salvador DalÃ, FundaciÃ³ Gala-Salvador DalÃ, Artists Rights Society, 2008.
* Salvador DalÃ (Spain 1904-1989). Cigarette Box. 1942. Oil on ivory plaque. 7.5 x 8.75 cm. Private collection. Â© Salvador DalÃ, FundaciÃ³ Gala-Salvador DalÃ, Artists Rights Society, 2008.
* Salvador DalÃ (Spain 1904-1989). The Walls of Babylon. 1955. Oil on canvas. 27 x 77 cm. Private collection. Â© Salvador DalÃ, FundaciÃ³ Gala-Salvador DalÃ, Artists Rights Society, 2008.