Posted by: PaulChimera
When I was publicity director of the original Salvador Dali Museum in Cleveland (Beachwood), Ohio, collection owner A. Reynolds Morse told me his favorite Dali painting was Javanese Mannequin (1934). It surprised me then, and it continues to today. What was it about this bizarre little work – which doesn’t appear to have all that much going on in it – that made such a powerful impact on Morse? Especially given so many other magnificent works in his collection, which is now the permanent fare of the Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida?
I’d never pressed him on this point, though now I wish I would have. Perhaps the answer is buried deep inside the archives of the Dali Museum, maybe in Morse’s personal journal. I don’t know.
The odd picture does reveal a few fascinating points of interest, to be sure. This skeletal, partly human form consists of what looks like the shell of a wooden fishing boat, and Dali saw many of those scattered about his home in Port Lligat, Spain, along the Mediterranean Sea.
The kneeling figure and the elongated buttocks area recall paintings such as The Ghost of Vermeer of Delft, Which Can Be Used as a Table, as well as The Enigma of William Tell. And birds flying low to the ground, focused on some kind of droppings (perhaps from bits of flesh or bone from this grotesquely ulcerated form?) recall those seen in Cardinal! Cardinal!
Most interesting to my eye is the use of light and shadow, of sunlight and dark. Distinct, intense light illuminates the left knee and calf area of this strange human-like form, though we don’t have any clue of the light’s source, nor whether this is an indoor or outside scene. And, finally, I know of no explanation of why this work is titled the Javanese Mannequin. Perhaps Dali wasn’t sure either! Or perhaps it remains for us to one day discover precisely why! How many mysteries did Dali create for us to eventually unravel? What a continuing challenge for Dali scholars!
All adding to the mystery that was the inimitable Salvador Dali himself.
Posted by: PaulChimera
Someone recently drew my attention to a news article about Salvador Dali, in which the misinformed writer made the erroneous (and ridiculous) statement that Dali put himself – that is, his image – into every one of his paintings.
It’s an assertion as silly as it is false (I wonder if the reporter was confusing Dali with Norman Rockwell?). Of course, Rockwell didn’t include his self-portrait in all of his works, though he was in quite a few of them. And in fairness, Dali is in a lot of his own, too. But certainly not all of them, nor even an especially large percentage of them.
And most definitely not in Gala, nude from behind, which is all about the woman who was the single most important person in Dali’s life, ever since they met when Dali was 25 years old. Here the Catalan master painted, in 1960, a stunningly articulate vision of his wife and muse, demonstrating remarkable technical skill in the way he captures the subtle nuances of skin tone, muscle and overall anatomy – no easy task, not even for an experienced painter. Dali does it with a level of precision and verisimilitude that has made more than a few competitors jealous and has contributed mightily to his genius.
The quiet calm and simplicity of this work is, in itself, remarkable. Especially when we’re so accustomed to seeing Dali’s compositions far more “busy,” for lack of a better word. Instead, he portrays Gala in an adoring manner, posed placidly, tastefully, classically. This looks like a Renaissance painting, and you can practically hear the gasps from the uninitiated when they discover that the “madman of Surrealism” – the guy with the wild mustache and the crazy melting clocks – was the painter behind this jewel of a canvas.
It is, indeed, a canvas that found an echo fifteen years earlier, when Dali painted his wife in virtually the same pose – but with far more going on in the painting – in his 1945 My Wife, Nude, Contemplating her Own Flesh Becoming Stairs, Vertebra of a Column, Sky and Architecture (see my previous blog post). Dali adored painting Gala, and she seemed happy to sit for him, sometimes reading to him when it didn’t compromise her need to stay perfectly still for the Master.
Dali’s near-obsession with Gala’s back found many outlets, including what is unquestionably his most impressive stereoscopic work – one where Gala from behind is his model, but which also includes her front view reflected in a mirror. That dandy gem of a painting will be discussed in an upcoming edition of Interpretations of Dali.
Posted by: PaulChimera
I’m not sure there’s a better example of Dali marrying the old and the new, the classic and the surrealist, the tranquil and the bizarre, than this 1945 painting with the very long title: My Wife Nude Contemplating Her Own Flesh Becoming Stairs, Three Vertebra of a Column, Sky and Architecture. The masterful work sold at auction several years back now for, as I recall, about $4 million.
Dali had a thing for backs – his wife Gala’s back, to be sure, but backs in general. Many of his portraits of Gala and, earlier, of his sister Ana Maria, show the sitters from behind. Indeed, in a clear stroke of Dalinian Continuity – where certain imagery in Dali’s paintings gets repeated from one year or even from one decade to another – virtually the same view of Gala seen in the present work was to appear 15 years later in Gala Nude, Seen from behind.
In the 1945 picture, Gala sits aristocratically, nearly naked, save for a beautifully handled white cloth and the same pearl-studded barrette in her hair as in the 1960 work. Gala contemplates the same image of her back-to-the-viewer pose, only now it’s formed by architectural columns and other details surrounding a tiny figure of a man. Her left shoulder and arm become what looks like they could be both a tower and a rocket ship. A detail in her hair serves as both a balcony railing of an edifice and the aforementioned pear-studded barrette.
The undeniably classic look to the work – it almost looks like it could have been painted during the Renaissance! – is accentuated by the classical figure on the stone wall, while authors Elizabeth Keevil and Kevin Eyres have noted that the dandelion is “a symbol of transience that is reinforced by the struggle of its roots to find a home in the rock.”Was Dali trying to convey how beauty itself is transient? How the lovely Gala of 1945 (she would have been about 51 then) would perhaps see her looks fade with time?
This remarkable painting was reproduced on the dust jacket of the first hardcover edition of Dali’s important book, Fifty Secrets of Magic Craftsmanship, and is a fitting work for that purpose, given the sheer perfection with which the Catalan Master painted it.
Posted by: PaulChimera
This is one of those mind-blowing strokes of artistic genius for which Dali was famous – a nexus of Surrealism, Classicism, Nuclear-Mysticism, and incredible Realism.
Subtitled Diurnal Dream of Gala, we find Gala reposing at right, deep in slumber, while the doors of her dream world are flung wide open onto a richly imaginative space, replete with a mélange of symbols, elements and activity. A blind Homer, hewn from rock, is seen at left, from whose mouth the angel of speech is being born, as Dali himself once explained it.
The detail in this section of the canvas is impressive, from cracks in the floor to scattered pebbles and miscellaneous accoutrements floating in space – surely inspired by the nature of intra-atomic physics, by which Dali was so captivated. Several deep-distance details in the upper left quadrant replicate the same elements – a snake, an archer’s bow, etc. – that Dali included in one of his two issues of The Dali News.
Gala’s reclining form quite clearly invites comparison, meanwhile, to One Second Before Awakening from a Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee Around a Pomegranate, painted roughly a year before Apotheosis of Homer.
This beautiful oil hangs in the modern museum of art in Munich. In the Nov. 20 – Dec. 29, 1945 catalog of Dali’s exhibition, Recent Paintings by Salvador Dali (at the Bignou Gallery, New York), Dali wrote: “Started in 1944, this picture was painted during a period of 4 months, working one hour a day. It was finished in 1945. It is the triumph of everything that cannot be told other than by an ultra-concrete image.
“At the left-hand side, the angel of speech is being born from the mouth of the blind Homer. At the right-hand side, Aristophanes is congealed in eternal laughter. In the center, Venus emerges from a sea-going chariot. The locale of the dream is the Mediterranean Sea, at Cadaques, on a limpid winter’s day.”
Also show here is my friend, Charles Wright, posing next to the original painting.
Posted by: PaulChimera
Ah, Dali – playing with us again! And that’s OK. Because it is something of an enigma to see such a classical-looking, utterly calm, decidedly non-surrealistic oil on panel emerge from Dali’s studio. This delectable picture – which looks good enough to eat! – could just as easily have been painted by Zurburan, LaTour, Caravaggio, Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Velasquez….the list goes on.
So what we have is Salvador Dali saying “Stop everything! I want to step out of my surrealism mode, and my Nuclear-Mysticism mode, and remind the world that I could just as well have been famous for being a leading exponent of Realism, instead of Surrealism!”
Basket of Bread is quite simply one of the most precise, painstakingly-painted and beautiful canvases in Dali’s entire oeuvre. I’m reminded of how he used to mention that, oh, by the way, he was a “painter, too,” suggesting that most of his fame centered on his public persona, exhibitionism, and flamboyance, but that, incidentally, he also dabbled in easel painting.
Dabbled indeed. Basket of Bread is as good as anything by the Renaissance masters. Perhaps Salvador Dali was born a few hundred years too late.
In the Master’s own words: “I painted this picture during two consecutive months, four hours each day. It was during this period that the most staggering and sensational episodes of contemporary history took place. This painting was finished one day before the end of the war.
“Bread has always been one of the oldest fetishistic and obsessive subjects in my work, the one to which I have remained the most faithful. I painted this same subject nineteen years ago. In making an accurate comparison of the two pictures, one can study the entire history of painting, from the linear charm of primitivism to the stereoscopical hyper-aestheticism.
“This typically realistic picture is the one which has satisfied my imagination the most….”
Posted by: PaulChimera
One of the goals of the Surrealist painters was to shock, and certainly the title of this important surrealist work by Salvador Dali is still a bit shocking, even in a time when it seems nothing is capable of making us blush anymore.
The Great Masturbator is a kind of psychic snapshot of where the 25-year-old Dali was at the time he painted this large work, which today hangs in the Reina-Sofia Museum in Madrid, Spain. The central image is the widely-seen rock at Cullero, on Cape Creus in Spain, which Dali likened to a head with its nose pressed to the ground. It has become a bizarre (and not especially flattering) kind of self-portrait of the artist, most universally recognized in his iconic masterpiece, The Persistence of Memory (1931, Museum of Modern Art, New York).
In the present 1929 canvas, the large yellow rock-turned-head morphs, at right, into an art nouveau decoration, and in the upper right to a seductive woman whose breast nudges a phallic lily, and whose mouth is suggestively close to the private parts of a man – his left thigh revealing a trickle of blood that could suggest castration or menstruation.
Affixed to the underbelly of the beast, as it were, is a large grasshopper, crawling with ants, a symbol of decay and death – while the insect itself was literally a source of abject fear for Dali, who apparently couldn’t stomach the creature’s tendency to suddenly jump and cling to a person’s head, face, wherever (an aversion I share as well!). A precarious structure of rocks and shells balances atop the rock-head, while a lion with a crazed look and revealing an engorged tongue or perhaps raw sausage – plainly phallic – adds to the angst and eroticism of the picture’s overall tone. We know from Freud’s work that a lion’s head symbolizes sexual savagery and libidinousness; Dali often also included it as a metaphor for parental (fatherly) authority.
In The Great Masturbator, then, Dali lays bare some of his inner thoughts: his fears, personal anxieties, persistent obsessions. The great masturbator rock-head was to appear again and again in future paintings by the Surrealist master, becoming one of the most obsessive and ubiquitous of the various images unique to Dali’s style and paranoiac-critical interpretations of his one-of-a-kind world.
The one constant – whether it was masturabators or Madonnas – was the precision of technique that characterized all of Dali’s work at the easel.
Posted by: PaulChimera
Enigmatic Elements in the Landscape is one of those perfect surrealist gems by the Master of Surrealism. Officials at the Teatru-Museu Dali in Figueres, Spain, which recently won the splendid little oil (for about $11 million – its most expensive acquisition to date), said the picture is “nearly perfect” in the way Dali painted it with such superb draftsmanship.
(The photo here was published in Artdaily.org, and shows the painting being videotaped in Spain.)
Beyond its technical virtuosity, there’s something about the canvas that’s supremely surrealistic and quintessentially Dalinian. It melds a number of key interests and obsessions of the then 30-year-old Catalan painter, and gives credence to those who contend Dali’s best work was that of the decade from 1929 to 1940.
Leading the viewer through a wide lane of Port Lligat – very similar to that seen in Dali’s The Ghost of Vermeer of Delft, Which Can Be Used as a Table (Dali Museum, Florida) – Dali gives us a rear view of Jan Vermeer himself, working at his easel. Vermeer, of course, was one of Dali’s favorite painters, second, perhaps, only to Velasquez. Comparisons can certainly be made between Dali’s portrayal of Vermeer in the present work and Vermeer’s own iconic masterpiece, The Artist in His Studio.
Set before the Vermeer figure, at a distance, is an enigmatic tower; cypress trees – common fixtures in Dali’s Spanish countryside and in countless of his paintings; and a mysterious shrouded figure, adding to the enigma that Dali wanted to convey in this work.
Also seen upon the landscape are a young Dali in a sailor suit, holding a hoop and bone; a nurse seated with her back to us; and the yin and yang “hugging beans” often found as a persistent element in Dali’s works.
One of Dali’s favorite colors, absinthe green, dominates the sky, while a beautiful glance of white sunlight dances across the middle distance.
This is one of those paintings many of us flip by when we’re leafing through coffee table books on Salvador Dali’s art, often never taking the time to consider what a jewel of a painting it is. Obviously the Fundacio Gala-Salvador Dali in Spain recognized its beauty and importance when it became the victorious bidder at auction – adding one of Dali’s best surrealist masterpieces to its impressive, ever-expanding collection.
Posted by: PaulChimera
It’s that stunning, that iconic, that heart-stopping!
But what can be written about this larger than life religious masterpiece that hasn’t already been said? Grown men literally have wept, upon seeing it for the first time, after developing an intimate knowledge of it through reproductions in books and on living room walls – then finally seeing it in person and nearly fainting from the grandeur that overwhelms the viewer.
Many people are still shocked to learn that so magnificent and classic-looking a painting – every bit as well-painted and powerful as an Old Master canvas – was done by Salvador Dali. “I thought he just painted melting clocks!,” many think.
I saw Dali’s Christ for the first time in person last summer, at the great Dali: The Late Work exhibition at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.A. It was spellbinding. Very large. Superbly painted. Monumental. Transcendent.
For me, however, it simply had to be eclipsed by the painting I’ve been obsessed with virtually all my adult life. And there it was, just feet away from Christ of St. John of the Cross: Dali’s enormous masterwork, Santiago El Grande (discussed in an earlier post here at Interpretations of Dali). In addition, I was disappointed that Dali’s Christ was behind glass. Glass, for me, seriously detracts from the vividness, richness, and “honesty” of an original oil painting of this stature.
Nevertheless, Dali’s Christ was a sight to behold. And it was wonderful to observe gasping fans, transfixed by the opportunity to view a work that hasn’t been seen in the United States in more than half a century.
What many people don’t realize is that Dali was chiefly inspired to portray Jesus in this unconventional manner after admiring a small sketch of the crucified Jesus, made by the Spanish mystic, St. John of the Cross – a precious little document that has long been preserved in the Monastery of the Incarnation in Avila, Spain.
Years back, I did a telephone interview with Russell Saunders, the Hollywood stuntman who posed for Dali – his athletic yet not “too athletic” body just right, in Dali’s judgment, to capture the beauty and perfection of Jesus. I can’t recall much of the interview, but remember Mr. Saunders feeling privileged indeed to have been chosen by Dali, whom, he said, kept him amused with various comments he made while working painstakingly at the easel.
As most everyone knows, the painting was cut with a jagged piece of stone by a deranged museum visitor, sometime not long after it was first hung in the Glasgow museum. Some people claimed the picture was sacrilegious. City fathers originally balked at acquiring it, because, they complained, the price tag seemed outrageous and irresponsible at the time.
Today, Dali’s Christ of St. John of the Cross has been voted Scotland’s favorite painting, and a year or so ago its monetary value was set at, as I recall, some $80 million. I’d put it higher than that. Of course, its aesthetic value is immeasurable. Not to mention its value in making Glasgow a tourist attraction for art lovers the world over.
If Salvador Dali never painted a single soft watch, his Christ of St. John of the Cross would have assured him a comfortable and distinguished seat at the table of great masters of modern art.
Posted by: PaulChimera
Somehow the big Salvador Dali painting, Landscape with Girl Skipping Rope (1936) has tended to fly under the radar in Dali’s oeuvre. When we discuss his large masterworks, I have no idea why this canvas never seems to make the list.
Unless it’s because the work, like Dali’s Dream of Venus (see earlier blog post), is a triptych, though I don’t know why that should make any difference.
Landscape with Girl Skipping Rope, while beautiful and adroitly painted, as always, is also puzzling to me. Why would Dali paint such a massive, three-section canvas that’s almost entirely a large, open, empty space?
What we do know is that Salvador Dali was fascinated by the double-image of a girl skipping rope and how her form echoes the shape of a bell in a tower, which we see at the top of the tower in the painting’s middle distance. A nearly identical structure appears in Dali’s Poetry of America of 1943. And the rope-skipping girl is a motif found in many other Dali works – paintings as well as such prints as Transcendent Passage. Surely it all harks back to images from his childhood, many of which he tenaciously hung onto throughout his adult life.
One theory I have about the open, empty space in this picture is that it might have been inspired by the iconic and haunting Christina’s World by American painter Andrew Wyeth. Another, perhaps more likely, is that Dali’s dreams frequently featured these kinds of endless areas of empty, often eerie spaces in which small, seemingly helpless or at least vulnerable figures found themselves.
A few years ago, the wall-size work – which is in the Museum Boymans van-Beuingen in Rotterdam and formerly owned by Dali patron and friend Edward F.W. James – underwent restoration and conservation efforts, as you can see in the accompanying photograph. For me, it’s kind of intriguing to see the big canvas in a kind of laboratory environment, the beneficiary of meticulous care that will help ensure the surrealist work lasts forever.
Posted by: PaulChimera
Salvador Dali’s Sacrament of the Last Supper is possibly more popular than the iconic fresco of the same theme painted by Leonardo DaVinci. In fact, Dali loved the fact that sales records indicated, even during his own time, that reproductions of his Last Supper outsold virtually every other modern painting.
I’ve seen this painting about half a dozen times at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. Each time I do, I’m moved by a sense of the miraculous. Not only in terms of the spirituality and mystery intrinsic to this work, but in terms of Dali’s brilliance as a painter. Dali himself was not modest about the job he’d done, stating he felt it was one hundred times better “than all of Picasso’s works put together!”
Ironically, the man who commissioned Dali’s religious masterpiece, Chester Dale, also made a public statement comparing the two Spanish contemporaries: “I consider Picasso a very great painter,” Dale said. “I have fifteen of his canvases in my collection. But never will he paint a picture to equal Dali’s Cena (Last Supper) for the very simply reason that he is not capable of doing so.”
Believing that the number “12” was “paranoiacly sublime,” Dali painted the backdrop as a dodecahedron – a 12-sided figure. The number 12 figures in as Christ’s 12 apostles, the 12 signs of the zodiac, the 12 months of the year, etc. Dali believed that the Communion must be symmetrical, thus giving rise to the strict symmetry of the work, with each apostle on the left a virtual mirror image of his counterpart on the right.
The overall feeling of spirituality and mysticism is achieved through the transparency of the Christ figure, appearing as if he could be rising from the sea, and of the dodecahedron. Dali’s blond, beardless and otherwise unconventional depiction of Jesus set skeptical fingers wagging when the large painting was unveiled on Easter, 1955. Some presumed – in shock, but erroneously – that Gala posed for Christ! In fact, a male model sat for the artist.
The large male torso at the top of this canvas may be interpreted at least three ways: as the Holy Spirit; the ascension of Christ; or perhaps God the Father, watching over all, his face not to be seen.
If ever the word “perfect” were to be assigned to just one of Dali’s masterworks, The Sacrament of the Last Supper may be the one.