Dali Hits Death-Like Note in ‘Necrophiliac Fountain Flowing from a Grand Piano’
By Paul Chimera
Salvador Dali Historian
Salvador Dali looked at just about everything in his world – real or imagined – far differently than mere mortals! That might sound a touch dramatic, but it’s really not far from the truth. The fact is that Dali seemed destined from the very beginning to be, well, different. Different in how he conducted himself. Different in what he thought and how he viewed the world. Different in how he chose to convey his thoughts through his art.
“Necrophiliac Fountain Flowing from a Grand Piano” of 1933 is another of those quintessential Dali surrealist masterpieces. At first blush, it’s all about the bizarre and unforeseen juxtapositions we’ve come to expect from surrealism in general and Salvador Dali in particular.
It challenges our sense of what’s real and not, aided and abetted by Dali’s legendary photographic-like technique. He somehow seemed to give the impression that the unreal was real. There’s also an undeniable comical or amusing aura to works such as this privately owned canvas, when we see “crazy” occurrences like a cypress tree growing out of a piano and water flowing out of the instrument into a piano-shaped pool.
But it’s an awareness of some of the things that helped inform Dali’s early years that allows us to take a deeper, more meaningful drink here. Most important is the grand piano itself, which dominated a good number of Dali’s surrealist pictures of the 1930s. The appearance of the instrument owes to the influence of the Pichot family – friends of Dali’s parents and themselves musicians and artists.
It’s popularly known that the Pichots would often hold impromptu concerts among the rocks and distinctive terrain of Port Lligat and Cadaques, Spain. Young Dali would attend these open-air performances, and of course a grand piano was the centerpiece of the action.
But the lever that changed everything was Dali himself and his unique, perhaps neurotic mind, focused as it was so obsessively, and all his life, on serious issues, such as sex and, in the present case, the inevitability and specter of his own mortality.
So Dali, in his inimitable way, managed to put a twist on the pleasantness of the Pichot family’s al fresco concerts by making the grand piano look something like a stone sarcophagus. And while cypress trees were a common fixture of the Spanish landscape, they have long been symbolically associated with graveyards. A mysterious shrouded figure stands enigmatically behind the tree. A bat hovers in the dead ground space on which the piano lid-shaped pool appears, adding to the atmosphere of necrophilia that only a 29-year-old Dali would envision in musical scenes of his youth that others found redolent with jubilation.
Dali’s obsessive, neurotic attitude toward grand pianos was seen in a host of other works from this period, and biographers have pointed out how, on the family piano in Salvador’s home in Figueras, his father would keep an intimidating book on the ravages of venereal diseases opened to the most horrifying photographs. They clearly had a dubious and lasting impact on the future artist!