Posted by: PaulChimera
Salvador Dali and Gala lived in their villa in Port Lligat, Spain – a tiny seaside village near Cadaques on the Costa Brava – most of their adult life. The artist resolutely declared it “the most beautiful spot on earth,” and it may be hard to dispute that point.
In Landscape of Port Lligat (1950), Dali captured the serene beauty of this picturesque region in a canvas that’s nearly photographic in its realism. Except, of course, for the angel on the foreground terrace or jetty, lending a mystical, heavenly spirit to a place Dali found heavenly indeed.
Author Eric Shanes, who’s written two books on Salvador Dali, made an interesting assertion in his most recent book, when he proposed that Dali may have been the 20th century’s best landscape painter. Was it Dali’s tremendous technical skill that inspired such an observation, or the beauty of the subject of Dali’s landscapes – which was virtually always Port Lligat? Surely the answer is both, since the beauty of this tiny northeast corner of Spain is as undeniable as Dali’s breathtaking draftsmanship.
Countless paintings by the Catalan Master depict the mountains and shoreline of Port Lligat and the surrounding terrain, including his 1952 picture, The Angel of Port Lligat, which again shows a very similar view to the present painting, but this time featuring a boat moored in the foreground, next to which sits an angel who is unmistakably the image of Dali’s wife, Gala.
When people wonder what it was that most influenced Salvador Dali’s art, the answer is almost always two-fold: the irrepressible force of Gala as wife and muse, and the unique and beautiful – sometimes haunting – details of the landscape he saw and worshiped virtually every day of his life. Wrote Dali in his book, The Unspeakable Confessions of Salvador Dali: “I am home only here; elsewhere I am camping out.”
Posted by: PaulChimera
If Salvador Dali hadn’t gone on to become history’s greatest Surrealist painter, he undoubtedly would be known as one of its most important Realists. Realism was always of utmost interest and importance to Dali, whose technique kept realistic painting alive when so many contemporary modern artists threw it overboard in favor of abstraction and minimalism.
Indeed, Dali could never have achieved his desire for “concrete irrationality” had he not painted in an ultra-realistic style, therefore bringing often startling believability to otherwise fantastic images.
What’s so intriguing about Feather Equilibrium (a.k.a., Intra-Atomic Equilibrium of a Swan’s Feather) of 1947 is how Dali chose to meld a classical, Renaissance-like look with his consuming interest in particle physics. In this case, conveying the delicate balance and “open spaces” of the inner life of an atom through the placement of various objects floating in space.
Decades before Hyperrealism was in vogue, Dali – frequently well ahead of his time – gives us a photographic view of a watermelon, a hand reaching toward a pen and ink well, potatoes (one partly peeled), a swan’s head, claw and feather; a white cloth and an empty shell. The construction lines remain in the stone-like backdrop, recalling the sketching of Leonardo or Michelangelo, perhaps.
It is the spatial positioning and careful separation of the elements that is as important here as the elements themselves. It recalls similar “atomic” paintings Dali produced at this time, including, for example, Dematerialization Near the Nose of Nero (see this blog for an earlier interpretation of that canvas). That painting, and Feather Equilibrium, were both first shown in Dali’s exhibition at the (long defunct) Bignou Gallery in New York City in the winter of 1948.
As an atomic still life, Feather Equilibrium might also remind us of his animated still life – his remarkable Nature Morte Vivante of 1957, one of the great masterworks in the collection of the Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida. No soft watches or burning giraffes in either of these paintings – just a Hyperrealist/Atomic/Nuclear-Mystical/Surrealist Dali at his absolute finest!
To see Feather Equilibrium in person, visit the Teatru-Museu Dali in Figueres, Spain – now the second most visited museum in that country, after The Prado in Madrid.
Posted by: PaulChimera
So, while others might be interested in certain things, Dali often obsessed about things. And his preoccupations frequently led to the recurrence of particular themes, images, nightmares and other ongoing references in his artwork.
One of the leading obsessions that takes form in various ways, under different guises and poses in his work, is Dali’s unrelenting interest in the ubiquitous painting, The Angelus, by Jean Francois Millet. It spoke to him in a rather dubious way, for he saw the peasant couple standing in a field, in prayer and mourning the death of their son, as a predatory and aggressive scene. He likened the woman’s look to that of a praying mantis (which devours its mate after copulation). And the deceased son resonates with Dali for good reason: his parents experienced the same thing, when the first Salvador Dali, at age 22 months, expired just slightly over nine months before the birth of the artist.
Enter obsession no. 2: the unique landscape of the Costa Brava in Spain, Dali’s homeland all his life. It left an indelible geographical imprint on almost every Dali painting that includes landscape details. Dali considered it the most beautiful place in the world, referring more precisely to the small Bay of Port Lligat, along which the Dali villa remains today as a very popular tourist attraction and part of the so-called “Dali Triangle” (the villa, his museum in Figueres, and the Castle at Pubol).
In Archeological Reminiscence of Millet’s “Angelus” (1933-’35), the then 31-year-old Catalan master blends his Angelus obsession with his interest in geology and the distinctive rock formations that so inspired his painting throughout his entire career. Now the man and woman from The Angelus are seen as huge, towering figures made of stone, looking part building-like and part human.
They lord over two sets of figures, ultra-diminutive in appearance due to the scale of the Angelus figures – and both groups suggest Dali reminiscing, since one coupling shows what we generally interpret as Dali walking with his father, while the other shows a child with his wet nurse. Cypress trees were a common fixture around Dali’s home, and they also symbolize a sense of foreboding, decay or death, ever since Dali latched onto yet another obsession: his fascination with Arnold Bocklin’s painting, The Isle of the Dead, which includes a kind of dark forest of cypresses.
The role of the surrealist painters was largely to paint their dreams and nightmares, and to give tangible expression to their subconscious world. In Dali’s case, it was also to express on canvas the many obsessions that preoccupied this most complex, inventive and ingenious painter.