Dali Cleverly Mixes Media in Portrait of King Juan Carlos


By Paul Chimera

Salvador Dali Historian


Salvador Dali was a great synthesizer.


He truly loved to mix his media, trying out new things. Experimenting. Exploring new ways to express his inexhaustible creativity. Discovering new ways to see, new ways to shake things up.


One genre that Dali mined with a wide range of styles, and a unique passion, was portraiture. Most of his portrait paintings depicted their subject realistically – some so stunning they almost defy us to distinguish them from photographs. Many featured wonderfully surrealistic background dreamscapes. Some were outlandish or humorous. A few were surprisingly tranquil, devoid of the usual Daliesque shenanigans.


Several Salvador Dali portraits pressed the charm of collage into service. “Portrait of Mae West, Which Can Be Used as an Apartment” is an example. His sardonic portrait of Shirley Temple another. And so was his delightful double-image “Portrait of Katharine Cornell,” which features a cut-out butterfly glued to the canvas (and which I’m fortunate enough to have nearby at my hometown’s State University of New York at Buffalo).


But the only portrait work by Salvador Dali I’m aware of that incorporates a photographic image as a representation of the subject itself is “The Prince of Sleep,” a.k.a., Portrait of King Juan Carlos (I have no idea why Dali titled it “The Prince of Sleep” and encourage readers to contact me if they know), which Dali began in 1973 and didn’t finish until six years later.


His subject was Prince Juan Carlos when Dali began the work, but became king – succeeding Generalissimo Francisco Franco – by the time he completed the unusual and striking piece.


Dressed in his military uniform, the handsome Juan Carlos is set against a serene seascape in which a lone seagull soars. A kingly crown appears in the white border above.


Of course, Dali cranks up the excitement with the door-window cut into Carlos’s figure, over his heart. This is a fine example of tromp l’ oil (fool the eye), as Dali painted a finely grained wooden door that truly jumps off the canvas like a hologram image, giving the illusion of three-dimensionality, while it casts a shadow on the right border.


Inside the opened, sun-lit space is an amber-colored lane leading towards a landscape dotted with small green bushes. Suspended in the sky is a gold panel, held aloft thanks to the efforts of two birds. Author Kristen Bradbury wrote that the panel – positioned over the king’s heart – “(effects) a pun on the phrase, ‘heart of gold.’”


Some may take issue with Salvador Dali painting a member of the Spanish Royal Family, for political reasons. But like his favorite artist, Diego de la Silva Velasquez, Dali fancied himself as something of a court painter, and certainly a lover of monarchy. He was a staunch supporter of the Spanish Royal Family. And, in this unconventional portrait, Dali once again demonstrated that – to borrow from an aforementioned detail – everything he touched turned to gold!


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