‘The Chair’ an Example of Dali’s Unprecedented Stereoscopic Work

Achieving the holy grail of 3-D painting

By Paul Chimera

Salvador Dali Historian


Double-Dali! Dali in 3-D! Double the pleasure!


In the 1970s, just when we might have thought Salvador Dali paintings couldn’t blow our minds any further – BAAM! – the Surrealist master and Catalan genius breaks exciting new ground by applying classic stereoscopy to modern sensibilities.


I was extremely excited and impressed when I became aware of Dali’s pushing the creative envelope in the ‘70s in exploring stereoscopic or stereo-optical painting. I had always been intrigued by this phenomenon of optics – how each eye focuses on an object in its own way, and how our brain – discerning nearly identical (but not quite exactly identical) objects simultaneously – produces the effect of great depth or three-dimensionality.


Achieving the holy grail of 3-D painting

Achieving the holy grail of 3-D painting


Needless to say, Dali was fascinated by optics and optical illusion throughout his entire prodigious career. He also had a career-long admiration for great painters before him. One of them was artist Gerard Dou, in whose work Dali actually saw what looked like an attempt by the Dutch artist to create stereoscopic canvases.


Dali may have even tipped his hand some at the 1971 opening of the original Salvador Dali Museum of Beachwood, Ohio. He was photographed on that occasion holding the sign he created for the museum, which appeared to read simply DALI. On closer examination, however, the same letters – cleverly formed – could also be read as GALA and DOU. Three names in one – presaging his three-dimensional work soon to come.


Three names in one: Dali, Gala, Dou

Three names in one: Dali, Gala, Dou


While most of Dali’s stereoscopic pictures of the 1970s were relatively small in size, he continued the large scale of his most important masterwork of this period – “The Hallucinogenic Toreador” – with his 1975 stereoscopic work, “The Chair,”13 feet tall.


Relatively late in Dali’s career, the 71-year-old artist executed what I find one of the most detailed works in his vast catalog. If you can enjoy a close-up look at Gala’s hair, it’s simply stunning in its virtuosity. Of all the depictions of Gala’s tresses, I find this one in “The Chair” to be the most adroitly painted. And Dali’s hand echoes that painstaking effort, right down to the liver spots.


As our eye moves up from the action of the paint brush applying a detail to Gala, dressed in a school frock, we find pedestals (bathroom sinks?) that help to give the picture the illusion of depth, until we consider the chair itself, positioned against a vast sky and above a mountainous outcropping plucked from the terrain of the Costa Brava, Dali and Gala’s home all their life.


The chair was a favorite object of Dali, appearing in a host of different Dali paintings, Dali prints, drawings and other works. It was found in works as diverse as his surrealist canvas, “Woman with Head of Roses” and a magazine ad for Bryan Hosiery.


The 3-D effect in all this is achieved by viewing the two nearly identical canvases through a special lens. In addition to the illusion of depth – like that produced by the old stereoscopes that were popular in the 1950s – “colors appear that are not achievable on the palette,” according to an explanation given to me at the time by Dali patron A. Reynolds Morse.


Of course, the take-away from all this is that “The Chair” – like other stereoscopic works by Dali – allowed him to actually achieve three-dimensionality from a flat surface – a holy grail of illusion Dali was searching for all his life.






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