Posted by: PaulChimera
Dali Atomicus (1948, copyright Fundacio Gala-Salvador Dali, Figueres, Spain) is surely one of the most reproduced photographs of all time, as well as one of the most widely known images attributed to the creativity of Salvador Dali – this time in concert with his photographer friend, Philippe Halsman, who died 10 years before Dali.
The long and fruitful collaboration between the two men was legendary. The culmination of their teamwork was surely the delightful and daffy book, Dali’s Mustache, whose first edition is a collector’s item today.
Of all the photographic images to emerge from the nexus of Dali’s and Halsman’s innovative minds, Dali Atomicus is arguably the most universally known. It gives photographic expression to Dali’s fascination with intra-atomic physics, where it was discovered that matter is discontinuous, and that the microscopic world of the atom – with its protons, neutrons and electrons – is one where nothing touches anything else. This phenomenon is expressed in Dali Atomicus, but it was no easy task.
Dali and Halsman worked tenaciously, take after take after take, until they got it all just right: furniture suspended by wires (later airbrushed out of the finished image); flying cats; water tossed from a bucket; suspended paintings; and, of course, a leaping Salvador Dali – a leering look on his excitable Catalan face!
It’s reported that one of Dali’s first ideas in pulling this spectacular effect off was to put dynamite into live ducks! That, of course, didn’t fly (pun intended), and even some American observers were concerned about the tossed cats, though Dali said the felines were treated so gently and respectfully that the observers from an animal protection society conceded that the cats “enjoyed” flying!
Dali Atomicus is just one more example of how Dali could be given any objective in any medium and he handled it with aplomb. It is, yet again, another reason why Dali is considered one of history’s most inventive and colorful geniuses.
Posted by: PaulChimera
By 1950, Salvador Dali was at a kind of point of departure, moving from Surrealism to Nuclear-Mysticism. But even in his atomic period, Dali never lost touch with his surrealist roots. And all of his art is ultimately personal in nature, at least to some degree. The present remarkable work is a good example – a peculiar and rather unforgettable oil painting that marries Dali the surrealist with Dali the artist moved by the phenomenon of “levitation” inherent in nuclear physics.
This was a time, after all, when he ushered in his Nuclear-Mystical Period, which provided a new lens through which Dali viewed the world around him. His mind and brush were profoundly informed by discoveries in atomic physics and the nature of intra-atomic space, where nothing touches anything else. Where things are “rumping and jumping” about, as Dali colorfully put it about protons and electrons and neutrons. And where it makes perfect sense, in a painting like Myself at the Age of Six when I Thought I was a Girl Lifting with Extreme Precaution the Skin of the Sea to Observe a Dog Sleeping in the Shade of the Water that one should be able to lift the skin of the sea to observe a dog lying beneath it!
The dog – borrowed from Ayne Bru’s 16th century painting, Martyrdom of St. Cucufa, and rediscovered in Dali’s 1950 work – is placidly well-anchored to the surface beneath the raised water, while young Dali – looking immodestly female – finds himself levitating, too, just as he might have found himself in a bizarre dream. And no doubt that was precisely how Dali came to paint such a subject; he’s likely to have dreamt it. The same dog also appeared in his 1954 canvas, Dali Nude….
By the same token, one has to wonder if the young Salvador at this age (i.e., age 6) didn’t in fact harbor some private doubts or confusion over just how comfortable he was in his own skin and with his sexual identity. Especially given that he was born in the shadow of the first Salvador Dali, who died at age 22 months and after whose death Dali the artist was born almost nine months later to the day.
But other interpretations and hypotheses aside, this painting is a wonderful example of Surrealism – Dali’s surrealism – where the impossible becomes possible, the odd becomes commonplace, the dream world finds pictorial expression in shockingly realistic ways.
It’s valid indeed to compare Myself at the Age of Six…with Dali’s 1963 painting, Hercules Lifts the Skin of the Sea and Stops Venus for an Instant from Waking Love. (Both works copyright Fundacio Gala-Salvador Dali, Figueres, Spain.)
Posted by: PaulChimera
It was late in my long journey of Dalinian discovery that I learned of Giraffe on Fire, this fantastic 1937 gouache on paper, which a few years back was estimated by Christie’s to fetch between $150,000 and $200,000 – and then cashed out at a sizzling $1,870,000!
Dali did several paintings that featured the blatant improbability of a burning giraffe, and most were done in the shadows of impending war. Indeed, Dali is said to have believed that what he called “the masculine cosmic apocalyptic monster” – the burning giraffe – was a premonition of war. Here the dark clouds of war, and the burning fires of conflict, seem evident in this stunning, haunting and extraordinarily forceful gouache, which sold at some nine times over its auction estimate, marking something of a turning point in Dali’s prices at auction.
Dwarfed by and looking up at the barbecued beast is a woman whose head has been supplanted by a riot of roses – a frequently seen motif in Dali’s surrealist pictures, including Springtime Necrophilia. Dali would often replace human heads with other objects, and his symbolism in a premonitory war picture here might suggest how the inhumanity of war is a shame cast upon the face of society reduced to savagery.
But there’s another undeniable interpretation of Dali’s flaming animal – in this case we also see what looks like a cow or bull on fire at left – and that may be the abject disparity or paradox of such a compelling image. We simply don’t think of living creatures “on fire,” the way we would consider a house, building or forest in flames. So when we see a giraffe, of all things, with its neck ablaze, we sit up and take notice, wide-eyed and perplexed – precisely what Dali was aiming for.
Burning Giraffe (copyright Fundacio Gala-Salvador Dali) is the quintessential surrealist work by Dali, forcing us to ask what is going on, and why? And forcing us, moreover, to believe it – for Dali’s draftsmanship had an uncanny way of somehow making the unreal seem vividly real. If Dali’s nightmares became our nightmares, even for a moment, he’d succeeded in being an artist who could truly move his admirers.
When Dali inaugurated his Teatru-Museu Dali in Spain in 1974, part of the festivities included his posing with an actual stuffed giraffe, around which Dali and others held burning candles to symbolize the flames, as the Master shouted “foc!” – fire! – in Spanish!
Posted by: PaulChimera
I saw Paranoiac Astral Image (1934; copyright Fundacio Gala-Salvador Dali, Figueres, Spain) in a Dali exhibition in Hartford, Connecticut, and while it paled in comparison to other works in the show (Dali’s Optical Illusions) from the point of view of sheer size, it made a gigantic impression on me – and continues to do so.
This is Salvador Dali at his surrealist and mystical best, when incomprehensible juxtapositions of unrelated objects make perfect sense in a dream world Dali cultivated to perfection. The work, which is in Hartford’s Wadsworth Atheneum, also taps into theosophy – philosophical or religious thought based on a mystical insight into the divine nature. “Astral” refers to a substance pervading all space and forming the substance of a second body (astral image) belonging to each individual. It accompanies the individual through life, is able to leave the human body at will, and survives the individual after death.
A young Dali in his iconic sailor suit makes an appearance in Paranoiac Astral Image, seated in a fishing boat like the kind still commonly seen along the Bay of Port Lligat. Gala is seated opposite him, dressed in a sun bonnet. Both seem perfectly comfortable, oblivious to the complete absence of sea, lake, or ocean one would find in a “normal” reality. A kind of phantom nurse figure hurries along nearby, as if in another world.
In the foreground, a broken amphora lends a classical connection, while a kind of “average bureaucrat” strolls insouciantly at left, dressed like Dali’s notary father might have been, complete here with straw hat and a strange appendage trailing off his head.
This Beach at Rosas scene looks like it was clipped right out of a dream reel, where our nocturnal reveries conjure up strange spaces populated in often bizarre, nonsensical ways. Dali’s use of open space, and the precise positioning of the four main elements in the composition, give Paranoiac Astral Image a unique, airy, curiously structured quality, and help make it one of Dali’s best surrealist images. While we often focus on some of Dali’s very large canvases, this tiny work – about the same size as his insanely popular Persistence of Memory – proves that Dali’s genius triumphed, no matter what size the work may have been.
Posted by: PaulChimera
Dali’s great Battle of Tetuan (1962, David Nahmad Collection, Milan; copyright Fundacio Gala-Salvador Dali, Figueres, Spain), is one of his most ambitious, complex, massive, and in some ways confounding oils. Part of his inspiration came from Mariano Fortuny’s large painting of the same theme, which Dali long admired.
The battle was fought near Tetuan, Morocco, between the Spanish army of Africa and the Moroccan army in 1860.
In Dali’s wildly unconventional depiction of this piece of history, the advancing foreground warriors include a portrait of Gala on horseback as well as the artist’s own self-portrait. And this is a rare painting in that it actually includes two portraits of gala, the other appearing at top center. I’ve actually heard it said that Dali included himself in every painting he did! That, of course, is preposterous. But he did appear in some, even if it might seem a tad odd, and The Battle of Tetuan is one of those occasions. When it came to Gala, however, he frequently included her in his works, as she was his leading model and the most important thing in his life – personally and artistically.
Intermingled with the foreground battlers is a numerical pattern, where numbers 3, 5, 7, 8, etc., can be discerned by a keen eye – probably representing Dali’s numerology interest. He has also shown this part of the painting overlaid with the double-helix molecular model of DNA – a nod to his consuming interest in atomic physics, genetics, and other concerns of modern science.
In the right middle distance, the suggestion of additional warriors was inspired by a phenomenon by which Dali was fascinated at this early 1960s period: the rivers of white (negative space) surrounding the printed text of newspapers. A small newspaper clipping is in fact juxtaposed with The Battle of Tetuan as a detail shown in Robert Descharnes’ book, The World of Salvador Dali. (The Salvador Dali Society, www.dali.com, offers an original drawing by Dali, titled Bust of Socrates, which was created using this negative space in newspaper text technique).
The bizarre flying horse at upper left is perfectly logical in a historical treatment with a surrealistic twist, as is the grossly elongated human leg in front of the full-body portrait of Gala, recalling Dali’s tiny oil, The Ghost of Vermeer of Delft, Which Can be Used as a Table and perhaps The Specter of Sex Appeal, as well.
I saw The Battle of Tetuan briefly in the early 1990s at Christie’s in New York City, where it sold that evening for about $2 million. Its immense size lends an awe-inspiring, powerful and thunderous mood to this remarkable Salvador Dali masterwork. As I looked up at it, it seemed to go on forever – an enormous canvas overflowing with a palpable energy. Such was the power of Dali’s painting.
Posted by: PaulChimera
Dali’s draftsmanship, brilliance as a colorist, and penchant for the double-image are all choreographed wonderfully in Dance of the Flower Maidens, a stunning picture originally created as a porcelain dinner plate design for Louis E. Helman, president of the Castleton China Company of New York City.
As Salvador Dali was so adept at doing, he draws us into the heart of this work by using a pronounced perspective from below, which seems enhanced in its depth by the classic architectural columns that help draw our eye deep into the center of the work.
The maidens’ heads of roses was a popular motif Dali used in a variety of his important surrealist works, such as the great 1935 oil, Woman with the Head of Roses and, a year later, Necrophiliac Springtime. The concept was carried out with real models at the time, and remains popular to this day; several rose-headed women were seen at the opening of the great Dali: The Late Work exhibition in 2010 at Atlanta’s High Museum of Art.
Double-imagery – a phenomenon Salvador Dali loved and used often – takes flight here, as the birds in the middle fly in a pattern that forms a human face. Dali used the same birds-becoming-face effect in designing an impressive Peace medallion.
Watercolor over pencil, Dance of the Flower Maidens demonstrates Dali’s legendary technique; even in the normally difficult to control medium of watercolor, the artist struts impressive technical brilliance. I don’t think it can be emphasized enough: Dali’s surrealism could never have gained the success it did, had it not been for his outstanding painting skills. He was clearly one of the most accomplished “technicians” in the history of fine art. (Copyright Fundacio Gala-Salvador Dali, Figueres, Spain.)
Posted by: PaulChimera
Dali’s astonishing intellect set in motion a number of forces that came together in this dynamic and powerful work: the mathematics of the hypercube; the metaphysics of the fourth dimension (time); the Treatise on Cubic Form by Juan de Herrera, architect of the Escorial in Madrid; Dali’s surrealistic nod to Picasso’s cubism; and of course the Crucifixion of Christ.
The sheer beauty of Dali’s breathtaking technique is equaled in impact by the towering sense of awe that strikes us, as we see Mary Magdalene, in the person of Gala Dali, dwarfed by the immense appearance of Jesus, who floats before the hypercubic cross, into the fourth dimension.
As in Dali’s other major Crucifixion painting – Christ of St. John of the Cross – he doesn’t show us Jesus’ face, nor any pain or humiliation of the crucified Savior. Indeed, both of Dali’s major Christ figures are strong…muscular…alive!
Reportedly, when financier/art collector Chester Dale bought and subsequently donated Corpus Hypercubus to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, it was maligned and a source of jealousy. Today, of course, it is one of the most popular works in that museum, and widely held as one of Salvador Dali’s most impressive masterpieces.
I’ve personally always found it more awe-inspiring and interesting than Christ of St. John of the Cross, though both paintings are nothing short of magnificent.
Posted by: PaulChimera
Some of Salvador Dali’s best works were his sometimes outrageous, always interesting portraits – and one of the best, in my view, is Equestrian Portrait of Carmen Bordiu-Franco of 1974 (private collection; copyright Fundacio Gala-Salvador Dali).
The sitter was Franco’s granddaughter, and many U.S. and European newspapers and magazines carried pictures and stories of her and Dali during the unfolding of his widely-publicized commission – no doubt a sweetheart of a deal, though Dali’s bank account was already pretty robust!
A video clip that appears in at least one documentary on the Master shows him walking into the Prado Museum in Madrid, where a crowd had been assembled – “thinking they were in for an hour of brushwork from the Master,” as one narrator put it. Instead, Dali put a tiny dab of white paint in the corner of the sitter’s eye – “leaving a highly aristocratic audience not quite knowing where they’d landed themselves,” the narrator continued.
As always, Dali produced a faithful likeness of his subject, showing her atop a horse that isn’t really there, but is instead the contour of a kind of cut-out image – a window, if you will, onto two very Spanish elements: the Escorial palace in Spain, and figures from Dali’s favorite artist, the Spanish Master Velasquez’s painting, Surrender at Breda.
In fact, Miss Franco is not really there either, aside from her head, arm and leg; her body is a swirl of clouds – lending, as does the horse, a dream-like, ethereal quality to this truly dashing picture. It’s a large and stunning canvas, to be sure, and one of many fine portraits Dali painted. Works that will reportedly appear in a year or two in a forthcoming book on Salvador Dali’s portraiture, under development by Canadian writer Julia Pine, in cooperation, as I understand it, with England’s Dawn Ades.
Posted by: PaulChimera
Salvador Dali’s wit and redoubtable technical fluency shine like the sun filtering through the lamp shade in his gouache-watercolor over chromolithograph, The Sheep, of 1942 (Salvador Dali Museum, Florida; copyright Fundacio Gala-Salvador Dali, Spain).
This kind of masterful reworking of a painting by another artist (Albrecht Schenck; see his painting, below) could not have been effectively pulled off by someone without the precision eye and brush of Dali. His imagination was as boundless as it was tinged in humor, and here we cannot help but be pleasantly amused by a snowy scene showing a flock of sheep, a shepherd and a duck in flight – now transformed into the interior of a salon, complete with table, lamp, phone, library and seductively reclining woman! And, of course, the sheep themselves morphing into furniture – their legs becoming ornate couch and chair legs! A lone book is set upon one of them, further giving it a coffee table-like appearance.
Notice how the crouching shepherd in the middle distance has an ash tray on his head! And the light of the sun in Schenck’s original oil illuminates through the shade of the lamp, which features an iconic Dalinian eye. A couple of cherubic figures cavort in a large, decoratively framed painting hanging on the wall at left.
Dali’s inventiveness invaded every conceivable form of creative expression. It was well known by those who had the good fortune of being in Dali’s company (including me, when I visited him in the lounge of the St. Regis Hotel in New York City in 1973 and 1974) that he would often taken virtually anything handed to him or that he spotted nearby and magically transform it into something artistic. It was almost as if Dali couldn’t stop this creative engine within him, constantly spinning at off-the-chart RPM’s.
In the same year, ’42, Dali also executed a collage over chromolithograph, over-painted with gouache, titled Design for the Interior Decoration of Stable-Library. It had similar features to The Sheep and was certainly no less inventive and eye-opening. Dali’s genius was beyond doubt, and it’s reassuring to this blogger that most of the world is now coming to this realization – a realization long-time Dali aficionados like me began enjoying decades ago. (At left is Schenck’s original painting, which Dali transformed into “The Sheep.”)
Posted by: PaulChimera
I’ve been putting off and putting off a blog post about Dali’s The Persistence of Memory, because the work is so famous, so iconic, so synonymous with Salvador Dali, that the question becomes: What can I say about it that hasn’t already been said?
Indeed, just today I learned that reportedly Dali’s most universally recognized Persistence of Memory of 1931 – painted when Dali was only 27 years old – is second only to The Mona Lisa as the most downloaded painting on the Internet!
How remarkable that a canvas the size of the average laptop computer screen is so huge in the world’s psyche. And to think that, when Dali was painting it one night in Paris, while Gala was away at the movies, he painted only the background and wasn’t clear what he would put in the landscape – until he spotted a piece of Camembert melting in the warm Paris air. He pondered notions of the hard and the soft, and suddenly the ideas of limp watches entered his mind.
Of course, scholars, writers, historians and aficionados have all had their turn at adding plausible input to how Dali’s famed, flaccid watches should be interpreted. Dali himself has commented in various ways – contending that he was inspired by Einstein’s theory of relativity, as well as his observation that Americans, most especially, seem so driven by watches and time and schedules and being on-time for meetings.
Then there was Dali’s belief, too, that time seemed to stand still in Port Lligat, his home for virtually all his adult life, tucked among the rocks of Cape Creus at the most extreme northeast corner of Spain. Dali thus negated time altogether, by reducing the rigidity and inflexibility of its persistent ticking, ticking, ticking to floppy timepieces running like the aforementioned melted Camembert cheese.
One thing that astonishes many who see it for the first time (it’s in the Museum of Modern Art in New York; copyright Fundacio Gala-Salvador Dali, Figueres, Spain) is its small size. Though countless college kids have posters of Persistence on their dorm room doors and walls – often giving the impression the painting is quite large – it is indeed very small. And it’s surely the single most popular work in the MoMA.
So what more can be said about Dali’s Persistence of Memory? Except that it alone probably would have made the name Salvador Dali immortal, even if he’d never achieved anything else in his long and prodigious career. “Once someone sees it,” said Gala, when Dali asked her opinion of the work when she returned from the movies that night, “they will never forget it.” Indeed, that night in Paris, Gala spoke an immortal truth.