Dali Borrowed Others’ Imagery to Pay Immortal Respect to Them


By Paul Chimera

Salvador Dali Historian/Writer


Denigrators of Dali and his art like to suggest that Dali “stole” ideas and even entire imagery from other artists. Not all the time, of course, but frequently. And they would be right, and they would be wrong. “Stole”? No. But influenced by? Acknowledged the work of others? Nodded to artists he admired and respected? Absolutely and unabashedly!


Salvador Dali had unapologetic veneration for the Old Masters. He was especially fond of Velazquez, Raphael, Vermeer, and Leonardo, though there were many others as well to whom he paid tribute in his 20th century references to some of the greats before him. They had a profound influence on his thinking and on his diverse oeuvre. In fact, a book is currently in work that is tracing the parallels between Salvador Dali’s work and the Old Masters (more on that when information becomes available).


Dali’s penchant for allowing the ideas of contemporaries and precursors to help guide his own outstanding works of art developed early on. We see, for example, that his Still Life of 1924 seems influenced by a work done in 1919 by Giorgio Morandi. And that Dali’s Venus and Sailor of 1925 shows a clear parallel with Picasso’s Two Women Running on a Beach of 1922.


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Likewise, during the same basic period, Dali’s Figures Lying on the Sand of 1926 also reveals the influence of Picasso.




Dali’s remarkable Basket of Bread – the first of two major bread basket paintings he executed (1926) — may owe its inspiration to The Annunciation of 1638, painted by one of Dali’s favorite artists, Zurbaran. It was Zurbaran who absolutely influenced Dali’s Skull of Zurbaran, one of this historian’s personal favorites, located in the Hirschhorn Museum in Washington, D.C.


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In that quite fertile surrealism period of the 1930s, Salvador Dali gained inspiration and specific compositional elements from Arnold Bocklin’s haunting and iconic canvas, Isle of the Dead of 1880. It became a point of departure for many of the Surrealist’s works, such as The Birth of Liquid Fears of 1932. And even one whose title mentions Bocklin by name: The True Painting of the Isle of the Dead by Arnold Bocklin at the Hour of the Angelus, also of ‘32.


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Speaking of The Angelus, Jean-Francois Millet had an incalculable influence on Salvador Dali, responsible for what can only be called an obsession Dali developed over Millet’s  painting, The Angelus. Those two iconic male and female figures, bowed in prayer while standing in a field, appeared in various incarnations in dozens and dozens of Dali paintings, drawings, watercolors, prints, sculptural works, and even commercial items.



Hieronymus Bosch is credited with influencing Dali, though perhaps less so than some may think. Still, comparisons have been made between, for instance, the scorpion-like figure disgorging an undefined animal in a detail of Bosch’s Temptation of Saint Anthony (1501), and Dali’s popular 1944 picture, One Second Before Awakening from a Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee Around a Pomegranate.


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And the Renaissance master Raphael was quoted nearly verbatim, when his Sistine Madonna imagery was transferred to Dali’s great canvas, The Virgin of Guadalupe – the Madonna’s face now becoming that of Dali’s wife, muse, and leading model, Gala.


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There are countless examples where Dali paid homage to other artists he admired, respected, and emulated. It’s a testament to how he acknowledged the debt he owed to these masterful painters of the past. Without them, Dali probably wouldn’t have been the modern master he was.



[Images used under Fair Use provisions for journalistic purposes only]

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