Dali, a Dog, and ‘Dalinian Continuity’!
By Paul Chimera
Salvador Dali Historian
It’s possible that, were it not for Salvador Dali’s eccentricities and obsessions, he might not have preserved history quite as well.
What am I talking about?
Simply this: Dali’s locking onto certain details in works by masters who came before him – a focus that was often obsessive, such as his nearly pathological obsession with the painting, “The Angelus” by Millet – ensured that these artists’ works would be partially revived in more modern times.
One reference – as esoteric as it is charming – is that of the dog that lay so oblivious to the disquieting activity happening around it in Ayne Bru’s classic 16th century painting, “The Martyrdom of Saint Cucufa.”
The languishing canine first showed up in 1950, when Dali painted a most unusual canvas titled, “Dali at the Age of Six When he Believed He was a Girl Lifting the Skin of the Water to See the Dog Sleeping in the Shade of the Sea” (private collection). As the title clearly tells us, the sleepy dog seems as relaxed as can be, tucked preposterously under the elevated edge of the water. His black markings have become brown in Dali’s version.
Then, four years later, a bizarre painting of unabashed narcissism emerged from Dali’s easel, bearing the extraordinary titled, “Dali Nude, in Contemplation Before the Five Regular Bodies Metamorphized into Corpuscles, in which Suddenly Appear the Leda of Leonardo Chomosomatized by the Visage of Gala.” And here again the dog borrowed from Bru’s work is under water, portrayed in the exact same manner as Dali’s 1950 painting (except the brown “spots” are black again), while both are virtually an identical copy of the dog in the “Martyrdom” work.
When we think of Surrealism – especially Salvador Dali’s surrealism – I think we generally expect the imagery captured on canvas to be either Freudian-inspired, dream-derived, or representative of things from the artist’s personal surroundings and experiences. And that, in fact, is frequently the case.
But Dali made it a point to quote imagery from classical paintings that moved him, that remained indelible in his mind, that, in his view, deserved to be revitalized and remembered.
What’s more, the beauty of Surrealism as an artistic movement was that it allowed artists to express themselves freely, without any restraints. Things didn’t necessarily have to make sense; indeed, how could they, when the whole point was to mine one’s subconscious world – a place that defied rational explanation.
Thus, it was perfectly valid that the seeming incongruity of a dog, plucked from a several-hundred-year-old painting should find itself reappearing in a then-modern surrealist painting by Salvador Dali.
And once again, it provides us with another example of Dalinian Continuity, where Dali devised an intentional and ingenious linking of many of his paintings by repeating certain images – sometimes separated by years, sometimes by decades. In the case of the two Dali works here, the historical link to a painter who preceded Dali by several centuries is found in a cute little dog who surely never knew it would remain so popular!