Dali’s ‘Columbus’ Reveals Unexpected New World Discovery!
By Paul Chimera
Salvador Dali Historian
It’s been said that Salvador Dali was ahead of his time. He proved that statement in dramatic fashion when he painted possibly the most complex and striking masterwork in his vast catalog of paintings: the immense oil on canvas, “The Discovery of America by Christopher Columbus” (sometimes referred to as “The Dream of Columbus”), 1959, which hangs in the permanent collection of The Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida.
I had the privilege and pleasure of essentially living with this great masterpiece virtually every day when I was director of publicity for the original Salvador Dali Museum in Beachwood, Ohio, an eastern suburb of Cleveland, in the early 1970s. It shared what was called the Salon of the Masterworks with “The Ecumenical Council” of 1960 and the colorful “Hallucinogenic Toreador” of 1970.
The museum collection’s owner, A. Reynolds Morse – who with wife Eleanor were benefactors of the Dali Museum that relocated from Ohio in 1982 to open permanently in St. Pete – recalled seeing this 14-foot-high canvas on Dali’s easel in Port Lligat while it was still in work – a commission from Huntington Hartford. Morse, a highly opinionated man, told Dali that the strange, drably monochromatic band that runs horizontally across the bottom of the work seemed quite out of place, unappealing, and a mistake.
Dali had other thoughts.
He assured Morse that, in time, he would come to understand what the divine Dali had in mind with this admittedly strange departure from the content and palette of the vast majority of the huge picture, which took nearly two years to complete.
Some ten years later, Reynolds and Eleanor looked at each other in self-discovery. It was the 20th of July, 1969, and – as Neil Armstrong uttered those iconic words about it being a giant leap for mankind – the Cleveland collectors realized that the sea urchin with orbit-like bands encircling it was Dali’s prediction that an American would be the first to claim footfall on the moon!
Talk about an “Aa-ha” moment!
And sure enough, it was all there: the sea urchin looking like the moon; the long, deep shadows; the desolate lunar-like surface; the orbiting bands; and an American stepping onto the new world!
Or, put another way: Dali ahead of his time. It was genius.
As if all that wasn’t enough, Dali also paid homage in “Discovery of America by Christopher Columbus” to the 500th anniversary of the death of the great Spanish artist, Velazquez – Dali’s all-time favorite painter, quoting certain details from the large Velazquez work, “Surrender at Breda.”