Dali in 3-D!
By Paul Chimera
Salvador Dali Historian
We generally don’t think of Salvador Dali as a sculptor or a creator of assemblages. Instead, Dali was a painter. A print maker. A watercolorist. A writer and performance artist. But sculpture or other three-dimensional objet d’ art aren’t readily identified with the art of Dali.
Contrasting with such generalities, however, is a very specific work that went on to become one of the most recognizable creations by Salvador Dali: his “Retrospective Bust of a Woman” of 1933.
Ironically, while the work is not a painting, it is arguably one of the works most emblematic of Dalinian surrealism. It seems to me to be neither ugly nor attractive – but it’s definitely surreal!
The porcelain bust with its bare chest is bright-eyed and fine-featured. But then there’s those pesky, ubiquitous Dali ants swarming about her cheek, forehead, lips and chin. They’re a symbol of decay. The baguette’s decay was apparently effectively retarded by generous layers of lacquer, and its symmetrical arc more or less finds an echo in the corn cobs dangling around the lady’s neck. An encircling zoetrope – an early cinematic toy – serves as a kind of choker. (Re-creations of this work were rendered in later years, primarily due to the ultimately unavoidable decomposition of the baguette.)
This seems to be a woman objectified. And edible!
Probably the most significant aspect of “Retrospective Bust of a Woman,” found atop the bread loaf, is the bronze reproduction of the painting, “The Angelus,” by French painter Jean-Francois Millet. Dali had a cornucopia of obsessions that he expressed in his work. Probably none was as omnipresent as his relentless preoccupation with this 1859 painting by Millet, located in the Musee d’ Orsay in Paris.
Dali saw the female figure in the Millet painting as sort of channeling the predatory nature of the female praying mantis, which devours her mate after copulation. What’s more, Dali always saw the couple leaning over the basket in prayer as actually mourning their deceased child, and an X-ray of the work by the Louvre – undertaken after Dali voiced this suspicion – reportedly showed that Millet had originally painted a box-like form looking very much like a small coffin, which he later painted over in the form of a basket.
The number of Dali prints, paintings and drawings that feature this “Angelus” reference is almost incalculable. Even as late as 1978, the indomitable presence of the “Angelus” woman appeared in Salvador Dali’s pointillist canvas, “Dawn, Noon, Sunset and Twilight.” The ink well symbolizes males and female, with the pen and well representing both sexes, respectively.
Dali described surrealist sculpture as “created wholly for the purpose of materializing in a fetishistic way, with maximum tangible reality, ideas and fantasies of a delirious character.”
I think “Retrospective Bust of a Woman” occupies an important page in the catalog of Salvador Dali’s vast body of work, along with several other 3-D works, which I expect to discuss in future blog posts here, exclusively for The Salvador Dali Society, Inc. at dali.com.