Dali’s ‘Christ’ Appears in St. Pete; Octopi Help Create Great Art


By Paul Chimera

Salvador Dali Historian



Asia seems to be buying up a lot of things these days – including “Maison pour Erotomane” and “Gradiva,” the two small early 1930s Salvador Dali paintings that fetched nearly $5 million and $4 million, respectively, at a recent Sotheby’s auction in London. Dali Museum curator Joan Kropf tells me both winning bids were from Asian collectors who bid anonymously over the phone. Whether these little gems will be seen in future exhibitions or museum loans is anybody’s guess, but it would sure be nice.


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Speaking of “Gradiva,” I wonder how many Dali aficionados realize that virtually an exact appearance of the sinewy, sexy lady in that work can be found — in duplicate — as a wonderful detail in Dali’s first double-image painting: “The Invisible Man” of 1929.


9 The Invisible Man, 1929




The big star of the Dali/Duchamp exhibition now ongoing at the Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida is, of course, Dali’s iconic “Christ of St. John of the Cross.” The masterpiece was last seen in the United States in 2010-2011, when “Dali: The Late Work” wowed crowds at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Georgia.



"Christ of St. John of the Cross", Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Copyright CSG CIC Glasgow Museum Collection Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Copyright CSG CIC Glasgow Museums Collection

“Christ of St. John of the Cross”, Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Copyright CSG CIC Glasgow Museums Collection


Also on special loan to the Florida Dali Museum is “Madonna of the Ear” (a.k.a., “The Sistine Madonna”). I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that, while many museum-goers will be interested in the conceptual art of Duchamp, and many other Dali pieces, Dali’s “Christ” will be the main draw. It hadn’t been seen in this country since the 1960s, until its appearance in the aforementioned Atlanta exhibition. And now it’s at 1 Dali Boulevard through May 27.


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(Right: “Apparition of Face and Fruit Dish on a Beach,” 1938 oil on canvas, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Harford, CT. The Ella Gallup Sumner and Mary Catlin Sumner Collection Fund. Photo: copyright Wadsworth Atheneum Photography: Allen Phillips/Wadsworth Atheneum/ copyright 2018, Salvador Dali, Fundacio Gala Salvador Dali, Artists Rights Society)



“Two Pieces of Bread Expressing the Sentiment of Love”


“Madonna of the Ear,” owned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, was last loaned (so far as I know) for the Centennial exhibition of Dali’s birth at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 2005. I saw it in Philly and was nearly as impressed as when I saw “Christ of St. John of the Cross” at the High Museum show.


Two other Dali’s never shown at the museum are also in the exhibition, which opened Feb. 10: “Apparition of Face and Fruit Dish on a Beach” and “Two Pieces of Bread Expressing the Sentiment of Love.”




Dali loved to be different; no news flash there. He adopted an unconventional approach most especially when it came to printmaking, and to certain other works on paper, often employing unusual methods of image-creation.



One of those non-conformist methods was the use of an actual octopus to create the special look the animal’s suction-dotted tentacles produce. A popular limited-edition print example is “Triumph of the Sea” (below left).  And this ink and pencil work, “An Octopus and Three Men.”

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And there are other Dali works in which he used an octopus to achieve a Medusa-like look or just a kind of tantalizing tumultuous tableau. He even used the tentacle of an octopus as an esoteric detail in the extreme upper right corner of his large painting, “The Ecumenical Council” (it may take a magnifying glass if you’re looking at a reproduction). If you’re examining the original in the Florida Dali Museum, I’m pretty sure they won’t let you use a step ladder. But look closely – you should be able to see it with a very sharp eye.




This newly rediscovered work from 1932 has recently emerged, according to press reports. Astute Dali aficionados will see how its basic imagery echoes the foreground detail in “Morphological Echo” of 1934-1936.


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