Posted by: PaulChimera
One of the triumphant masterpieces in Salvador Dali’s remarkable career is Santiago El Grande (1957) – a painting that, for me, is so powerful, I find it hard to know just what to write about it, or where to begin.
I first saw this immense, nearly 15-foot-tall canvas in the Dali: The Late Work exhibition last summer in Atlanta’s High Museum of Art. It was so overwhelming that I literally fell to my knees before it – and nearly passed out! There’s a majesty and grandeur about the work that literally grabs hold of you and can reduce grown men and women to tears. To say the work is awe-inspiring is a gross understatement.
“Santiago El Grande” is Spanish for St. James the Great, and here Dali pays spectacular tribute to the Apostle St. James, the patron saint of Spain. He’s shown astride a monumental rearing steed that rises victorious from the sea, dappled in scallop shells, as his – and the entire painting’s – upward motion signifies Christ’s, and ultimately man’s, ascension toward Heaven. The crucified Christ figure is one of the most glorious ever captured on canvas, complete with radiant bands of eternal light emanating from his perfect form – here replacing the sword often seen in statues of the same heroic theme.
St. James himself has been heralded as one of the finest human portraits ever painted by Salvador Dali, while his prominent foot – looking more three-dimensional the longer you contemplate it – is symbolic of the arduous pilgrimages Christ and his disciples made.
Among other marvelous details in this iconic religious masterwork is yet another portrait of Gala, seen in the lower right corner, her face partially shrouded by her monk-like apparel. And in the hind quarters of the stunningly lifelike horse, we see an atomic cloud burst, reflecting Dali’s interest in then-new discoveries in nuclear physics and his deepening belief that science and Christianity had more in common than had previously been thought. At the center of the atomic cloud mass is a sweetly painted jasmine flower – a symbol of purity and harmony, and a favorite of Dali, which he’d sometimes place behind his ears or upon the tips of his legendary mustache!
Hidden images were Dali’s stock in trade, and Santiago El Grande was not spared this trademark effect. Focus first on the angel seen in the sky, just beyond the horse’s gaze. Now direct your attention to the highlight on the horse’s neck: it’s the exact same angel! Oh, Salvador, how you keep us in awe!
Posted by: PaulChimera
Portrait of My Dead Brother (1963, Salvador Dali Museum, St. Petersburg, FL.) synthesizes so many interests and preoccupations of Dali: pop art, op art, surrealism, optical illusion, his fascination with Millet’s Angelus painting – and the nagging “memory” of a brother he never knew.
Dali’s parents named their first son Salvador. But tragedy struck when the child succumbed to meningitis just two months before his second birthday. Almost nine months to the day later, the future artist-genius was born, but Dali felt all his life that, to some extent, he was only living in the shadow of the adored first child. After all, he, too, was named….Salvador!
What a psychological burden for a young child to shoulder!
In Portrait of My Dead Brother, Dali emulates the dot pattern seen in half-tone newspaper photographs to construct, using differing shades of cherries, an image of a much older boy, who most writers note looks nothing like the first Salvador. But I disagree. I’ve compared the painting with the few photos that exist of the first-born Salvador, and to my eye there is in fact a clear resemblance, despite the painted image being of a much older boy.
The boy’s hair morphs into a crow, a symbol of death, while a group of conquistadors at right may represent Dali’s desire to vanquish the haunting memory of his brother. Indeed, Dali spoke of how he had to work very hard to establish his own highly unique identity in order to cast off inevitable and persistent comparisons with the deceased sibling.
Dali’s use of dots was a pop art technique of the time, popularized by such artists as Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, and which Dali himself used effectively in his Fantastic Voyage painting to promote the motion picture of the same name, where Dali’s dots formed the face of Raquel Welsh.
At lower left is a variation of the famous painting, The Angelus, by Francois Millet, which had long obsessed Dali, in part because he believed that originally Millet had painted the couple bowing over the coffin of their dead child rather than the finished version showing them praying over a basket of potato crop.
Ironically, despite its title and the macabre memory it may evoke, Portrait of My Dead Brother is one of the bright, eye-catching crowd-pleasers at the Dali Museum in Florida, its permanent home.
Posted by: PaulChimera
Some of Dali’s biggest victories were achieved in tiny spaces. There’s no better example of this than his 7-in. x 5-1/2 in. “Spectre of Sex Appeal” of 1934, one of the great little gems in the Teatru-Museu Dali in Figureas, Spain.
Painting was the perfect pressure release valve for Dali’s sexual neuroses, angst and ambivalence. He put on canvas direct and indirect expressions of the often confusing sexual thoughts and self-doubts with which he was preoccupied.
In a bayside cove in Port Lligat, Spain, Dali paints himself here in the familiar childhood sailor suit he was often seen in. The bone and hoop he holds – toys that helped young Salvador pass the time – could easily suggest Freudian symbols of male and female sexual anatomy. The sheer size of the disquieting female figure (often referred to as simply a “torso”) towers over the young, impressionable, sexually vulnerable Dali like a monster.
This strange figure, with sacks for breasts and lower abdominal area, is uniformly described by Dali scholars as headless. But your Interpretations of Dali blogger isn’t entirely sure about that.
If you follow the lines where the front and back of the figure’s neck would extend back, you may discern what appears, convincingly to me, to be a face – complete with pronounced nose, left eye, and distinct hairline.
Intended? Or just the undisputed master of the double/hidden image, challenging us to see beyond the obvious?
I saw “The Spectre of Sex Appeal” in several Dali exhibitions over the years, and it absolutely lives up to its reputation as one of the most precisely painted, jewel-like works ever created by Salvador Dali, who was 30 when he completed this unforgettable canvas.
And once again, as I’ve pointed out in many previous blog posts, Dali achieves his plan of “Dalinian Continuity.” The same self-portrait in sailor suit can be found, also in the lower right corner, in the massive Hallucinogenic Toreador of 1970, which is in the Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida.
Posted by: PaulChimera
These and plenty other adjectives describe one of the most provocative and unusual paintings not only to have come from Salvador Dali’s easel – but easily one of the strangest paintings ever to hang in any art museum (this one in the Modern Museum in Stockholm, Sweden).
We are of course first struck by the unabashedly phallic and impossibly exaggerated elongation of the figure’s right buttock, propped up by one of those commonly seen Dali crutches. That figure, in fact, is Lenin, and his menacing image is symbolic here of Dali’s estrangement from his own father. The elder Dali disapproved of Dali’s romantic entanglement with Gala – especially their living together unmarried for a time.
Indeed, some of the other surrealist artists of the day, supporting Marxist ideas, were incensed at Dali’s sardonic portrayal of Lenin and even, it’s reported, attempted (unsuccessfully) to destroy the large picture.
Dali’s colorful and creative mind worked in remarkable ways, and in Enigma of William Tell he used the classic legend of William Tell as a metaphor for Dali’s father’s predatory stance against Salvador. Instead of the apple upon the boy’s head, we see the Lenin/father figure holding the young Dali child, on whose head is a piece of raw meat – the cannibalistic implications not lost on us!
Meanwhile, we discover a tiny image of baby Gala in the little basket or cradle dangerously poised near the man’s huge, potentially crushing left foot. The figure kneels before what could be viewed as a crypt, upon which – in a rare instance – Dali has painted the actual title of this work, and on which also appears a signature soft watch.
It’s hard to say which is crazier and more amusing – the elongated hind quarters supported by a crutch, or the brim of the hat similarly stretched like toffee! To deny that Dali had a boundless sense of humor is to misunderstand the man, who was profound and complex, but who clearly stated that he sought not only to be a “marvelous painter, but also one cloon (clown)!”
Posted by: PaulChimera
First, this large canvas is painted with such scrupulous precision that it, indeed, looks like a masterwork that could have come from the studio of Michelangelo, Leonardo, or Raphael! Every minute detail is painted with exquisite realism, lending an overall photographic feel to the composition in general and the Virgin in particular, whose face is unmistakably that of Dali’s wife, Gala.
Speaking of Raphael, the faces of the virgin and Christ child here are quoted almost verbatim from Raphael’s Sistine Madonna (1514), a large canvas that’s one of the Italian Master’s best-known paintings.
According to tradition, Mexican peasant Juan Diego saw a vision of a young woman on Dec. 9, 1531. While he was on a hill in the desert near Mexico City, the woman told him to build a church on the exact spot where they were standing. When he told the local bishop, Diego was asked for proof, so he went back and saw the vision again. He told the woman of the bishop’s request for proof, and the lady told him, “Bring the roses behind you.” When he turned around, he saw roses growing, which he cut and placed in his poncho. He returned to the bishop, noting he brought proof. Upon opening his poncho, instead of roses there was a picture of the young lady in the vision.
Thus, sumptuously-painted roses encircle the Virgin in Dali’s masterpiece, while behind her head are the rivulets of a sunflower’s seeds, while a closer look reveals precious red and green gems that are part of a cross-topped jeweled crown atop her head.
This blog has referred before to the concept of “Dalinian Continuity,” where Dali intentionally linked many of his paintings through the reappearance of certain images. The Virgin of Guadalupe is an excellent example. Note the jasmine flower at center bottom, placed in a vase, behind which we see a swirling atomic cloud. That same image – the jasmine (a symbol of purity) against an atomic cloudburst – is seen in the same lower position in Dali’s huge Santiago El Grande of 1957.
Now notice the two bowed figures in Guadalupe. They’ve been plucked directly from the Apostles around the table in Dali’s iconic Sacrament of the Last Supper of 1955.
Not only did Dali paint these great pictures as individual masterpieces, but he planned things out so that many of them would become integral parts of a larger, overarching expression of his artistic perspective of the world he lived and worked in, real or imagined.
Posted by: PaulChimera
Dali was once asked why he’d painted a portrait of his wife Gala with lamb chops resting on her shoulders. His glib yet surprisingly practical answer: “I love my wife and I love chops; why not paint them together!”
Years, later, in Portrait of Gala with Rhinocerotic Symptoms (1954, Teatru-Museu Dali, Figueres, Spain), it was nuclear physics for which Dali had a keen appetite. And he was still very much in love with his wife. So, again, why not put them together? Why not, indeed.
Beneath a rigorously realistic portrait of Gala that looks almost like an actual color photograph, her neck and shoulders are a swirl of rhinocerotic elements meant to convey the swift-moving particles found in intra-atomic physics. Even part of the background landscape takes on rhino horn-like attributes, while the red and gold banner of sorts seems to suggest religious vestments – not at all inconsistent with the way Dali worshipped his great muse and model.
When the atomic age was irreversibly ushered in with the dropping of the atomic bomb over Japan in WWII, Dali developed an immediately consuming interest in nuclear science as well as religion – and how the two had more in common than anyone had previously thought. Dali’s related interest in mathematics led to his preoccupation with logarithmic spirals found in natural form – the most prominent being that of the curve of a rhino horn.
Dali depicted Gala similarly – a highly realistic facial portrait, while her neck and chest region were converted to atomic particle-like rhinoceros horns – in his huge religious masterpiece, Assumpta Corpusuclaria Lapislazulina (painted two years before the present work), which was a major hit last summer at the Dali: The Late Work exhibition at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Georgia.
Portrait of Gala with Rhinocerotic Symptoms is displayed on an easel, directly below Dali’s beautiful painting, Galatea of the Spheres of ’52, in the Teatru-Museu Dali in Spain.
Posted by: PaulChimera
“My Mother” (“Ma Mere”), alternately known as “The Enigma of Desire,” is a strange, haunting, honest – and somewhat sad painting – by Dali, because it expressed the anguish he felt at losing his mother to cancer of the uterus when young Salvador was just sixteen. He adored her, and then fate abruptly took her away forever. Any wonder Dali had some issues swirling around in that ultra-creative head of his!
The primary imagery finds a large palette-like structure with numerous recessed areas, each repeatedly featuring the words “Ma Mere” – French for “my mother.” This is a 25-year-old Dali literally crying out for the woman he missed so dearly. The large shape is supported at lower left by the well-known head of Dali himself, eyes closed, nose pressed to the ground, echoing the large rock formation at Cape Creus that inspired this peculiar configuration in the first place. It’s seen in numerous Dali paintings, including his most famous: “The Persistence of Memory” of 1931.
At left middle distance, a boy hugs his father – an unmistakable reference to Dali’s own relationship with his dad, which later became irretrievably strained – and this uneasy meeting between the two also reveals a woman’s face, a dagger, a fish’s head and a grasshopper – the latter element something of which Dali was literally frightened all his life.
In short, there are glimpses in “My Mother” of the angst, confusion, personal fears and sexual inadequacy that ran through Dali’s young world at the time with the fury of a tsunami, ironically giving him a kind of energy and motivation to avenge his mother’s untimely death by becoming what he had promised her he would be: a great world-famous artist.
In later falling in love with and eventually marrying Gala, was Dali subconsciously reconnecting with a much-needed mother figure? I don’t recall ever hearing such a theory, but, considering that Gala was 10 years Dali’s senior, it seems plausible. I wonder what Freud would have said.
Posted by: PaulChimera
When Salvador Dali was 48, he painted “Nuclear Cross.” I finally got to see it in 1990 in a major retrospective of the artist, hung at the Montreal Museum of Fine Art in Canada. About 30 inches by 22 inches and privately-owned, “Nuclear Cross” can be summed up in a single word: perfection!
Painted in 1952 during Dali’s Nuclear-Mystical period – where he was profoundly influenced by atomic science and Christianity – Dali has supplanted the traditional image of Jesus with a masterfully detailed round piece of bread, its Eucharistic symbolism obvious. The white and dark texture seems to find an echo in the photorealist, partly threadbare Holy cloth on the table below. Take a good, close look at that cloth – especially where it looks worn, with strands of fiber trailing off of it. This is as good as it gets, friends. Make no mistake: Dali could paint like a Renaissance Master.
Author Norbert Wolf noted: “The number of gold cubes that form the shape of the cross is based on a treatise by the Spanish architect and builder of the Escorial, Juan de Herrera, in which he combines the magic numbers nine, five and three. Each of the arms of the cross consists of five horizontal rows containing nine cubes, the upper vertical beam contains eight rows of five cubes, and the lower beam has twelve rows of five cubes.”
Two years later, in his 1954 “Corpus Hypercubus” (a.k.a., “Crucifixion”), Dali again based the cubic construction of the later work on the same Juan de Herrera treatise. And the multiple cubes construction might also remind you of Dali’s “Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory” of 1952-’54.
Bread has been a popular element in many of Dali’s paintings – not just during his period of Nuclear-Mysticism, but earlier on, in the heyday of his surrealism of the 1930s. It was, of course, a frequent item on the Dali dinner table, and occupies deeply spiritual, symbolic importance in Christianity. Including, of course, the Last Supper – another Dali masterpiece (“The Sacrament of the Last Supper”) we’ll be looking at in a future blog post.
When we think of Salvador Dali, images of melting watches, creeping ants and flitting flies tend to leap to the top of our mind. But you can count on the antithesis of such imagery, too. “Nuclear Cross” is one of the best examples of that.
Posted by: PaulChimera
Sometimes certain Dali works just grab you, even though you can’t really put your finger on what it is about them that makes them so appealing. Do I get a profoundly personal or secretive message from “Sun Table”? No. Is there any particular symbolism that strikes a special chord in my psyche? Not really.
Yet there’s something about it…
First, it’s one of the best examples of what Surrealism was really all about: depicting dreams on canvas. Think about what most of your dreams are like. What do you usually conclude? That most are disjointed, with a strange, often unsettling, seemingly unrelated collision of scenes and visual elements that somehow, for some reason, occupy the same screen on which the film reel of your mind projects its story. And the subconscious can be a disquieting and confusing place, as well as sexy and fun. Like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get!
Thus, Dali puts a camel in the same environment in which he shows typical landscape details from his native Spanish countryside, including a couple of boats like the ones he and Gala would take leisurely rides in around the Bay of Port Lligat and Cape Creus.
The boy at right is generally thought to be Dali (I’m unconvinced it’s necessarily him), and is shown in dark silhouette that adds another layer of mystery to the dream-like aura of the work. Of course, dreams are generally not murky depictions of what our mind is conjuring up. On the contrary, they’re usually very realistic – which is the perfect opportunity for Dali’s great draftsmanship and photographic painting technique to shine.
So we get a table from the café Le Casino in Cadaques, sporting glasses and spoons, and a Spanish coin, positioned on a tile floor like the one that was reportedly being installed in Dali’s villa at the time he was painting this picture. And all of it, in its precision, looks like a color photograph.
Finally, there’s a discarded Camel cigarette pack near the boy’s feet, a bizarre echo, if you will, of the actual animal at left. Dali expert and author Robert Descharnes noted, in a discussion of “Sun Table”: “In order to stress the out-of-context and obsessive character of a camel with all the magical aspects associated with the animal, Dali wrote later in his book Dix recettes d’immortalite (“Ten Recipes for Immortality”) that ‘seen through an electronic microscope it is possible to demonstrate that a camel is much less precise than a cloud.’”
All seems to contribute to the dream-like atmosphere, mood, madness and magic of this terrific little Dali, painted at the height of his Surrealist period. “Sun Table” — whose title may be a play on sun “dial” — graced the cover of the March 2005 issue of Art in America magazine, in tribute to the centennial of Dali’s birth.
Posted by: PaulChimera
Salvador Dali’s “The Ecumenical Council” of 1960 (The Salvador Dali Museum, St. Petersburg, Florida, USA), was Dali’s tribute to the coronation of Pope John XXIII (it’s depicted several times in background details), and to the conference of bishops of the entire Christian Church, who convened to discuss matters of church doctrine and practice; i.e., the Ecumenical Council.
But Dali’s wall-size masterpiece gets a whole lot more interesting!
He gives us a powerful, partial image of a faceless God in the niche in St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome, squarely in the top center of the large canvas. Just below and to the left is the Father’s Son, Jesus, holding a cross. And at right is the third part of the Holy Trinity – the Holy Ghost or Spirit – over which a dove hovers.
But guess what? Two other great figures join that trinity – figures named Gala and Salvador Dali! Gala is magnificently depicted in the pose of Moses as sculpted by Michelangelo; indeed, her garments are handled with the painterly perfection worthy of the Italian Renaissance master. To her right is part of the rocky coastline of Cape Creus in Spain, linking the work to the irrepressible Spanish landscape that, second only to Gala, was Dali’s greatest inspiration.
And now we come to one of the most popular details of “The Ecumenical Council” – probably the single greatest self-portrait ever painted by Salvador Dali. And, dare I say, one of the greatest self-portraits ever painted…period! I remember a lecture by the late Eleanor R. Morse, co-benefactor of the St. Pete Dali Museum, in which she said that, while Dali at the time (early 1970s) was experimenting with the three-dimensionality of holograms, “I think he had already achieved a 3-D effect in the way his right hand seems to be coming right out, off the canvas” in this stunning self-portrait intentionally recalling the way Velasquez included his own portrait in his famous work, “Las Meninas.”
A final, slightly esoteric but I think really cool little detail. You’ll have to look very, very closely to spot it: in the upper right corner is the impression actually made by a real octopus tentacle pressed onto the canvas! Is it any wonder why, when we mention the greatest artists of all time, the name Dali is way, way up top? Of course, for this blogger, Dali occupies the apex. With all due respect to Michelangelo.