Dali Works Fanning the Flames of Spring Auction Fever!

Will little "Gradiva" bring a big price?

By Paul Chimera

Salvador Dali Historian


Put aside spring fever for now – let’s talk auction fever! I always get a bit of a rush (you, too?) when interesting Salvador Dali works are about to go on the auction block. It again puts Dali on the world stage. And it’s simply intriguing to see what a given work sells for…who buys it…how close the hammer price is to the pre-auction estimate…and whether the winning bid is more than anyone imagined it would be.


Of course, sometimes works are bought-in, meaning they don’t reach their reserve – the minimum price under which a seller will not sell. You just never know.


The current fever is fueled by two very small Dali paintings I recently blogged about – but, I think, most especially by the little gem, “Gradiva.” It’s a sensual, colorful and beautiful miniature that represents everything Dali is famous for: exceptional ideas, brilliant technical skill, and a dazzling color palette.


Will little "Gradiva" bring a big price?

Will little “Gradiva” bring a big price?


It also has something of an air of mystery about it, given that it hasn’t been seen in public for a very, very long time, cloistered as it was in the private collection of a South American countess since the early 1930s.


It all brings to mind the matter of how Salvador Dali works have fared at auction. I remember, way back in 1974, when Dali’s “Resurrection of the Flesh” sold for $245,000 – a record at the time for a surrealist painting at auction. But such “paltry” prices have long since been left in the bidding dust.


Dali’s “Nude on the Plain of Rosas” fetched $4 million at auction. This was one of the works that hung in the apartment of Helena Rubinstein in New York City, and as most know, Dali painted the cosmetics queen’s portrait as well.




The magnificent canvas, “My Wife, Naked, Looking at her own Body, Which is Transformed into Steps, Three Vertebrae of a Column, Sky and Architecture” garnered an auction price of $4.76 million. That wonderful title alone was worth it!




“Night Specter on the Beach” sold for $5.68 million – the same evening that Leonardo painting went for the insane price of $100 million.




Dali’s “Study for Honey is Sweeter than Blood” brought $6.8 million. All respectable prices for the Catalan painter’s wares.




Then, in the last few years, the stakes grew higher. The Gala-Salvador Dali Foundation in Figueres, Spain was the successful bidder in 2011 for “Enigmatic Elements in a Landscape,” paying $11 million for the beautifully crafted canvas. I think someone from the Foundation described it as “perfectly painted”; it’s easy to see why.


1934_051 Enigmatic Elements


A few years back, the hauntingly trenchant “Springtime Necrophilia” sold for a whopping $16.3 million – the most recent big-ticket sale of a Dali at auction. The work is quintessential Dalinian surrealism.




But well before that, in 2001, an oil on cardboard – yes, cardboard, not panel, not canvas – continues to hold the all-time auction record (thus far) for a Salvador Dali painting (and any surrealist painting) sold at auction. It’s also a quite small work at that. But astute bidders recognized the importance of the picture.


Priciest Dali yet at auction.

Priciest Dali yet at auction.


It combines portraiture and a mélange of surrealist, Freudian symbols in an extraordinary fashion, capturing a most unusual likeness of one of the most important figures in the life of Dali: Paul Eluard, the man to whom Gala was married before she left him for Dali.




“Portrait of Paul Eluard” thus still holds the all-time record for a Salvador Dali sold at auction: a tidy $22.4 million.


This Wednesday, Feb. 28, “Gradiva” will be an interesting test of how a tiny Dali may bring a big price. Whether it could top the Eluard portrait is probably doubtful. Yet we’ve certainly come to expect the unexpected when it comes to Salvador Dali.


The same size Dali, “Maison Pour Erotomane” also goes on the block that evening – the other little wonder from that private South American collection virtually no one ever knew about. Until now.


5a902d5c21b57_image sothebys-modern-surrealist-auction-02-gty-jc-180222_12x5_992

The world will be watching.

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