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.