Bread Deliciously Painted by the Master of Surrealism!
By Paul Chimera
“That’s by Salvador Dali?!”
Such an expression of incredulity is not common among those who mistakenly believe Dali painted just melting clocks and giraffes on fire, then contemplate a painting like his 1945 “Basket of Bread” (Teatru-Museu Dali, Figueres, Spain).
I consider two main points especially important in appreciating this small but powerfully enchanting picture. One, of course, is the subject itself. Bread is a staple of most meals, and is religiously symbolic of the very body of Christ. It’s no coincidence that the outside walls of Dali’s monument to his legendary career – his museum in his birthplace of Figueres – is festooned with bread loaves.
Detail from exterior museum wall
In the book, Dali by Robert Descharnes and Giles Neret, the authors wrote, “Dali gave an explanation for this striking presence in a catalogue for Bignou’s Gallery in New York. Commenting on his 1945 Basket of Bread…he declares that his aim was to recover the lost technique of the old masters and establish the motionlessness of pre-explosive objects. Bread was one of his oldest obsessional fetishes in his works, and he had remained true to it; he had painted Basket of Bread a full nineteen years earlier, and, if the two paintings were compared (said Dali), they would reveal the entire history of painting, from the linear charm of primitivism to three-dimensional hyper-aestheticism.”
Dali himself explained that bread “is one of the oldest themes of fetishism and obsession in my work; the first, in fact, and the one to which I have been most faithful.”
What Dali was also being faithful to here – and this is the second of the two key observations I’ll make about “Basket of Bread” – was his unwavering respect and admiration for the great traditions of classical painting. Dali scrupulously studied the Renaissance masters and emulated their technique and dedication to the craft of painting as much as he could.
He certainly achieved technical mastery worthy of a Zurbaran or Ingres or Velasquez or Raphael in this remarkably precise little canvas, capturing every nook and cranny of the loaf as well as the meticulously rendered basket. I also think, incidentally, that Dali chose one of the most stunning frames I’ve seen to showcase this masterpiece.
It would be fitting in a study of this Dali painting to draw some comparisons to his earlier basket of bread of 1926 – an undeniable tour d’ force for the then 22-year-old artist. The earlier picture was entered into an art competition at the Carnegie Institute of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.A. – the first work by Dali ever publicly shown in the United States.
That work, a prized jewel in the great permanent collection of the Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida, demonstrated an early mastery of technique, as well as what would be Dali’s long-standing affinity for the subject at hand. In later years, many of his bread-related images took on undeniable erotic connotations, such as, for just one example, “Average French Bread with Two Eggs on the Plate without the Plate, on Horseback, Attempting to Sodomize a Crumb of Portugese Bread” (1932).
Dali’s titles were nearly as fascinating as his paintings!