Posted by: PaulChimera
“Swans Reflecting Elephants” (1937, private collection), is one of those magical Salvador Dali paintings that virtually everyone falls instantly in love with! It’s a stunning work by any meaasure: beautiful color scheme, super-fine draftsmanship, smooth, fluid tone to the composition – and simple but irresistible double-imagery.
As the title promises, the three graceful swans’ reflections in the shimmering turquoise lake become…elephants! Not only is their mirror images at least partly plausible, but it points up a favorite obsession of Dali: the ambivalence and paradox of unlikely pairings. In this case, the lightness of the delicate swan contrasted with the tonnage of the world’s heaviest land animal.
A very interesting debate, of sorts, has ensued with respect to the lone man standing off to the left, in white shirt and brown pants, looking away from the scene. Some have claimed the figure is that of artist and Dali friend Marcel Duchamp. However, in the mid-‘70s, a Sotheby’s catalog stated the following fascinating information from a letter of May 2, 1976, written by Dali collector/patron Edward F.W. James, referring to the man standing at left as “quelque petit bourgeois” and that “he was intended to resemble a chemist in a neighboring village called Ampurdan, north of Barcelona.”
The letter went on to say, “I believe from what Dali once told me, that such figures are recollections of uncles and cousins from his early childhood – or simply sometimes just of business associates of his father’s; in fact, the sort of people who dominated a dry, materialistic and prosaic world from which he was already a small boy fighting to escape. He is thus defeating them, getting the best of those ‘petits bureaucrats’ by putting them in landscapes and in situations where they would find themselves totally lost.” Of course, it could also be, in fact, Duchamp.
Of the sinewy trees, the one at left appears to morph into the figure of a woman, nearly identically to the way a woman emerges from the trunk of the tree in “Asher,” one of the graphics in Dali’s popular “Twelve Tribes of Israel” print suite.
Interestingly, “Swans Reflecting Elephants” sold some years back for about $3.7 million at auction. In the aforementioned Sotheby’s catalog from the mid-1970s, the work was priced by Sotheby’s at $142,000. I saw the painting once – at the 1990 Dali retrospective in Montreal, Canada. I couldn’t take my eyes off of it!
Posted by: PaulChimera
Salvador Dali was a surrealist, of course. But fundamentally, and always, he was a realist. Dali admired great draftsmanship. He deeply respected the masters: Ingres, Velasquez, Vermeer, Michelangelo, DaVinci, Raphael, Zurburan, and others. All of whom painted in a realistic manner.
At the age of 32, Dali demonstrated his formidable technical skill in “White Calm” (1936, Collection G.E.D. Nahmad, Geneva, Switzerland). He was inspired to create the composition from a post card scene, and he has infused it with an almost eerie yet calm photorealism.
If paintings could speak, “White Calm” would be strangely silent. You can almost feel it, can’t you! A figure at left is poised steadily on a rock, perhaps recalling — because of the pitchfork he holds — a similar figure in Millet’s “The Angelus,” a painting with which Dali was obsessed all his life. The middle foreground female bather is joined by another swimmer in the distance behind her, while some boaters appear at right, pulled up along the rocky terrain. But what you feel most here is the overwhelming sense of stillness. Of calm.
Unlike other sea and beach scenes in Dali’s oeuvre, this canvas includes no rippling waves, no stylized clouds in the sky — not to mention the complete absence of the typical blues and other colorful hues that usually make up the sky in Dali landscapes and seascapes. All that is supplanted here by a perhaps disquieting calm, as if we might expect that, at any moment, something may happen to interrupt the tranquility of the moment — a moment that looks like a snap-shot in time.
The broken amphora — a vase often used for oil or wine — appearing in the immediate foreground alludes, according to authors Elizabeth Keevill and Kevin Eyres, “to the many Greco-Roman remains discovered on the coastal plain of Catalunya.” Certainly anything Dali observed was theoretically eligible, as it were, for inclusion in his paintings. The same broken vase is seen in several other of his works from the ’30s, including, for example, “The Average Fine and Invisible Harp” of 1932. Dali often painted as much of what was seen as what was imagined!
“White Calm” is yet another painting during Dali’s important 1930s surrealist period that deviates from what we more often associate with the artist. No flaccid watches or barbecued giraffes here! Instead, another reverent nod to his native countryside; his affinity for the sea; and his penchant for depicting imagery with startling realism.
Posted by: PaulChimera
Salvador Dali is perhaps one of the most misunderstood artists of the last century. So powerful and popular were his unforgettable, iconic images of “soft watches,” for instance, that many people don’t realize that – among many additional representational works he produced – he painted some dandy portraits. Just a painter of “limp watches”? Not quite!
As portraitist, Dali tended to do two things: (1) put his subject in a surrealist setting; and (2) capture a quite faithful, sometimes near-photographic likeness of his sitter. Such is clearly the case in his 1945 Portrait of Mrs. Jack Warner (private collection), wife of iconic movie magnate, Jack Warner of Warner Bros. Studio fame.
While Dali’s likeness of Mrs. Warner is pretty much spot-on, she appears to be staring blankly off into some unknown distance, as a bizarre landscape and sky complete the unusual tableau. There’s a knot of classical buildings, together with a bridge to apparently nowhere. Adding to the somewhat murky mood is the structure on which Mrs. Warner’s arms rest – possibly a classical sarcophagus.
This unconventional, Dalinian portrait was painted in the mid-‘40s, when Dali and Gala were residing in the United States during the war. They spent part of their time at Pebble Beach, Calif., and it wasn’t long before they courted the likes of Warner and his wife, along with Walt Disney and Alfred Hitchcock.
It’s said that after commissioning Dali to paint his wife and finding the finished work excellent, Mr. Warner hired the Catalan master to paint a portrait of himself – which he amusingly described as “an excellent portrait of my dog!” It seems both he and Dali had a quick sense of humor, no doubt accounting in part for why they got along so famously.
I remember years ago making special arrangements with Syracuse University in Syracuse, New York, so that I could drive to the campus for the expressed purpose of seeing the Jack Warner portrait in person. Julia Pine of Canada, by the way, is an author currently working with British Dali expert Dawn Ades on a book surveying Dali’s work in society portraiture. It’s about time.
Posted by: PaulChimera
Ever notice how, with some Salvador Dali works, you just love them – even if you can’t quite explain why? That’s the case for me with “Skull of Zurbaran” (1956, Hirshhorn Museum & Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.). With this being President’ Day in America, I thought it would be fitting to select a Dali painting from our nation’s capital (eventually we’ll be looking at Dali’s “Sacrament of the Last Supper,” in the National Gallery of Art, also in Washington.).
There’s something simultaneously haunting yet strangely beautiful about this painting – one of the few perfectly square (39.5 in. x 39.5 in.) canvases by Dali. He has made no secret of his veneration of certain of the great master painters who came before him, and among those from Spain was Francisco Zurbaran, widely revered as one of the great 17th century still-life artists, with an extraordinary ability to achieve dramatic light effects in his works.
Dali was quoted in a book on his major paintings that it was while reading his own treatise, “Fifty Secrets of Magic Craftsmanship” – which became an important published volume – that “I really learned how to paint almost as well as Zurbaran.” For the unabashedly egocentric Dali, it was nevertheless his style to put himself on a secondary artistic plain when comparing his talents to those of the artists he admired most: Velasquez, Raphael, Vermeer, and, indeed, Zurbaran.
In “Skull of Zurbaran,” Dali achieves an engaging optical illusion, where the dark surface of the ascending cubes is at once both their top and their bottom, depending on how our visualization of it shifts back and forth. Try it. Stare at the dark surfaces long enough, and if you see them as the top of a given cube, soon that same surface will morph into the bottom of the same cube, and vice-versa!
The meticulously-painted bowed monk-like figures form the teeth of the skull, while a kind of art-nouveau arch becomes the face’s nasal socket. Obvious cubes above become the eyes. Skulls were a frequent motif in Zurbaran’s paintings, while the cubes seem to recall the cubic approach Dali took about a year earlier in his monumental religious work, “Corpus Hypercubus” (“Crucifixion”), in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
I’ve seen “Skull of Zurban” in at least one traveling exhibition and several times at the Hirsshorn. If you get to D.C., you’ll not only want to take in the hugely popular “Last Supper” by Dali at the National Gallery, but also visit the Hirshhorn, to which New York art collector Joseph Hirshhorn donated this lesser-known but remarkable painting in 1966. It’s a dazzling work, exquisitely painted, and a must-see. Its shimmering colors, painstaking, jewel-like craftsmanship, and interesting double-image make me love it…even if I’m not entirely sure why!
Posted by: PaulChimera
The observant, intelligent and creative mind of Salvador Dali seems to have gone into overdrive when he painted “Tuna Fishing” (1967-’68, Paul Ricard Foundation, Bandol, France) – unquestionably one of Dali’s greatest masterpieces. Many consider it his single best painting.
What a masterful stroke of genius that, at a time when pop and op art were all the rage, Dali would reflect dazzling psychedelic colors and pop imagery – such as the poster-style male figure with the then-popular fish-net T-shirt – while at the same time melding modern imagery with classical influences. And all in an immense canvas, some 10 ft. x 13 ft. – adding obvious impact to an already explosive composition, whose realism in the lower left makes you think your fingers would get wet if you touched the agitated cobalt-blue water!
At least two things inspired Dali to paint this colorful masterwork: Gericault’s “Raft of the Medusa” (1818-1819), which Dali had seen many times in the Louvre, and, on a more personal level, the stories about the fierce and bloody tuna fishing his father would tell him – fishing expeditions that actually took place on the Mediterranean, and which captivated young Salvador.
“The epic topic was related to me by my father who, although a notary in Figueras in Catalonia, possessed a narrative gift worthy of Homer. He had shown me in his desk, at the same time, an engraving by a Swedish ‘pompier’ artist depicting tuna fishing, which I also used in working out this oil,” Dali told his friend and Dali expert Robert Descharnes.
Dali was later quoted about this painting that he was trying to represent the notion of a finite rather than infinite universe, underscoring the idea “that all the cosmos and all the universe converge in one point, which, in the present case, is the ‘Tuna-Fishing.’ This accounts for the terrifying energy in this picture! Because all these fish, all those tuna, all the human beings in the act of killing them, personify the limited universe.”
As you can see, “Tuna Fishing” synthesizes virtually every artistic style into one formidable canvas: realism, abstraction, pop art, op art, cubism, surrealism. The classic statue-like figure of Alexander at left, balanced by a modern-day, shaggy-haired human figure at right. The great tragedy is that the Paul Ricard Foundation has a policy of not lending this painting. Its absence has been conspicuous at recent Dali retrospectives. This blogger sure hopes that policy changes in the future.
Posted by: Joe
This work, part of Dali’s Surrealist Visions suite, titled “Obsession of the Heart,” represents an imprisoned and weeping man, who stares longingly at three dancing nude women, perhaps, the Three Graces. The bold red used by Dali indicates the darker emotions of jealousy.
Posted by: PaulChimera
With the exception of the iconic “Persistence of Memory” – Dali’s most universally known work – “The Metamorphosis of Narcissus” (1937) may be his finest canvas of his great surrealist period of the 1930s.
Dali and Gala were in Italy when the artist painted this magnificent work, exiled by the Spanish Civil War, and some critics note that an Italian Renaissance influence can be seen in Dali’s masterpiece, in both the human figures in the background and the distinctive color palette.
But it’s mythology – always a fascination for Dali – that literally and figuratively rears its head in this picture, and in an ingenious double-image manner. The gold-colored figure at left, his head resting on his right knee, represents the mythological Geek figure, Narcissus, who was in love with his own image, and did nothing but admire his own reflection.
Remarkably, the same image finds an echo (reflection) in the stone-like figure to the right, this time formed by a human hand holding an egg, whom the gods turned into a flower. This is without doubt one of the most spectacular double-images Dali ever developed.
“Metamorphosis of Narcissus,” showcasing Dali’s clear, pure, meticulously-detailed technique, was the painting he took with him on his famous meeting with Sigmund Freud, father of psychoanalysis and patron saint of the Surrealists. Freud, it is written, considered the Surrealists, as a group, rather odd. But the famous Austrian psychiatrist said his opinion changed for the better after meeting Dali and realizing his considerable talent. “A complete example of a Spaniard – what a fanatic!,” Freud has been quoted of his introduction to the then 34-year-old Catalan painter.
I first saw this painting when it was on special loan to the Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida, and was positively blown away by the precision with which Dali executed it. It may have been influenced by the Italian Renaissance, but, on its own, in my book, it’s as good as any work of the Old Masters.
Posted by: Joe
Enigma of the Rose
In 1976 Salvador Dali created a series of limited edition prints titled, “Surrealist Visions.” The most profound work in the series is “Enigma of the Rose.”
Dali has taken the face of the man from his famous painting, “Old Age, Adolescence, Infancy” from 1940. There are three images in the face of man, first the man himself, the face of the Old age, inside is a woman bowing, her head being the eye of the Old Man. It also represents a craggy cliff with trees growing over its edge. A classic Dalinian optical illusion.
Cypress trees are often seen in Dali works, being a common tree found in Spain. In this case the trees are symbols of death and borrowed from Arnold Boeklin’s “Isle of the Dead.” Dali was drawn to Boeklin’s haunting painting and here its influence in undeniable.
The Boeklin – Cyress tree cradles the old man. It is sliced at the stump and ascending, breaking the bonds of earth. The symbol of death in the form of reaper bows its head bidding him farewell.
In contrast to the death all around, the Rose is emerging form the ground, Dali’s symbol of beauty, vitality and his own mother is born. The future of the rose has no limitations, it can grow into anything it wishes to be, hence the title, “The Enigma of the Rose.” -Joe Nuzzolo
Posted by: PaulChimera
A “hearty,” happy Valentine’s Day to readers of this blog – the perfect time to take a quick look at Salvador Dali’s genius in a three-dimensional medium, and one of his most extraordinary creative accomplishments: his legendary Art-In-Jewels.
It seems there was no limit to Dali’s creative expression – whether in painting, prints, watercolors, drawings, sculpture, and on and on.
Shown here is Dali’s magnificent jewel, The Royal Heart, which some consider the cornerstone of this monumental achievement – a jeweled creation that actually “beats,” thanks to a mechanical device that makes the rubies pulse in and out, like the valves of a human heart!
Known as Dali-Jewels, and owned by the Teatro-Museo Dali in Figueras, Spain – specially housed in a museum annex – these 37 jewels in gold and precious stones are originally from the Owen Cheatham collection and span Dali’s detailed designs executed between 1941 and 1970. The Gala-Salvador Dali Foundation acquired the collection in 1999 from a Japanese organization.
Initially, 22 of them were acquired by U.S. millionaire Cummins Catherwood, after they were actually executed in New York by silversmith Carlos Alemany, under Dali’s exuberant supervision. The Owen Cheatham Foundation acquired them in 1958, which lent the jewel collection out primarily for fund-raising purposes.
I saw this heart-stopping collection when they were on extended display at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, Virginia, and published a sizeable feature about them in The Buffalo News (Buffalo, New York), along with color photographs of some of the most exciting pieces – many of which actually undulate or move in other ways, making them almost literally come to life!
“My jewels,” explained Dali, “are a protest against emphasis upon the cost of the materials of jewelry. My object is to show the jeweler’s art in true perspective – where the design and craftsmanship are to be valued above the material worth of the gems, as in Renaissance times.”
I can tell you, friends, that – while the Richmond museum permanently houses a famous collection of Faberge eggs – the Dali jewels unabashedly upstaged them, as one made his or her way up a magnificent flight of stairs, carpeted in red, to come upon Dali’s heart-stopping creations!
Salvador Dali personally selected each of the materials used in the Dali-Jewels – not only for their colors or value, but also for the symbolism of precious stones and metals. “The Eye of Time” is perhaps the most well-known image from the collection, melding both the human eye and the concept of time – a motif in so many of Dali’s surrealist creations.
In a book on his jewels, Dali wrote of the Royal Heart: “The pulsating rubies represent the Queen, whose heart beats constantly for her people. The heart of virgin gold symbolizes the people, sheltering and protecting their ruler.” (This moving object d’ art was created in honor of the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.)
And of The Eye of Time, the Master declared: “Man cannot escape or change his time. The eye sees the present and the future.”
Posted by: PaulChimera
DOUBLE-DIGIT DALI! That’s the smashing news today, as Dali works have been shattering previous records for the artist’s prices at auction. As of Thursday, Feb. 10, the new, highest auction price for a Dali painting came in at nearly $22 million, when “Portrait of Paul Eluard” soared over pre-auction estimates of between $7 million and $9 million. In fact, it’s my understanding that Dali now holds the record for the highest auction price – ever – for a Surrealist painting!
See my earlier blog about this fine painting, which is both a good likeness of poet Eluard – to whom Gala was married before she fell instantly in love with Dali – and swarming with Freudian symbolism and images from Dali’s personal mythology.
It’s clear that Salvador Dali has broken through to exciting new heights in the art market. Many of us feel it’s about time. I’ve certainly noticed that ever since the centenary of the painter’s birth (i.e., since 2004) – kicked off by that wonderful retrospective held at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in ’05 – interest in Dali, and prices paid for his ingenious work – have steadily climbed upward.
Yesterday’s record-setting auction price adds a dramatic and important new chapter to this continuing story of Dali’s broadening appeal and the respect he’s now being accorded. What does all this mean for collectors of Dali art? Well, I can say this much – a rising tide lifts all boats. And, as sure as Dali’s mustache was recently voted the most famous mustache in history, the Dali tide is rising – big time!
What’s more, this many well affect Dali print prices, as they move up to fill the gap for those collectors priced ouf of the paintings market. More and more, collectors are hungering for Dali’s great technique and endlessly interesting imagery!
Speaking of “endlessly interesting,” get ready for an astonishing detail in this picture that even many of the most astute Dali followers weren’t aware of until recently.
First, it’s significant to note that TIME magazine’s veteran art writer, Robert Hughes, declared some years ago that Salvador Dali’s “Soft Construction with Boiled Beans; Premonition of Civil War” is, in his view, the single most important war picture of the 20th century. That’s a powerful statement indeed.
In fact, Hughes noted in the same TIME article that not even Picasso’s iconic “Guernica” – similarly focused on the horrors of the Spanish Civil War, like Dali’s canvas – could compete with the impact of Dali’s unforgettable masterpiece.
This great work, owned by the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.A., is extraordinary on so many levels – not to mention that it’s the picture that served as a springboard to my own consuming passion for Dali’s work. It was shown as a slide in an art appreciation course I took in college, and it spoke to me. I loved the fluidity of forms; the sharp, sure draftsmanship; the blending of beautiful blue and green hues; and the bizarre, compelling image of a man tearing himself apart – a metaphor for the impending civil war in Spain.
I subsequently bolted for the library, determined to learn all I could about the man who painted this stunningly unconventional work. My quest has endured for decades, my interest has never waned.
Remarkably, Dali completed “Soft Construction” some six months before the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, thus making his subtitle (“Premonition of Civil War”) eerily prophetic. The giant figure literally coming unhinged is a dramatic statement on the horror and carnage of war.
This trenchant image – which must be seen in person to be truly appreciated, especially with respect to the heavy impasto (thickly-layered paint) in the upper left, and the startling brilliance of the color palette – may remind some of Goya’s “The Colossus.” Dali frequently nodded to other artists he admired, including a series of 80 original etchings, “Les Caprices de Goya,” inspired by Goya images.
The beans strewn about the desolate landscape may represent the rations soldiers had to contend with on the battlefield, while the hand mightily squeezing a female breast could symbolize how no one is spared – women and children, included – from the brutality and melancholy of civil war.
And now for a brilliant detail that this blogger learned of only a few years ago, despite my having worshipped this Dalinian tour d’ force since 1967. The space (sky) in the middle of the canvas, framed by the breast-leg combination, and the other body parts below, is virtually the exact same shape as the map of Spain! What greater statement could Salvador Dali have made to remind us, first and foremost, that he was a fiercely proud Spaniard! A man who famously declared, “The two luckiest things that can happen to a human being have happened to me: one, to be born Spanish, and, second, to be named Salvador Dali!”