Dali’s ‘Enchanted Beach’ Shows Off his Unique Double-Imagery
By Paul Chimera
Salvador Dali Historian
During my tenure as publicity director of the original Salvador Dali Museum of Beachwood, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland – the museum subsequently relocated to St. Pete, Florida in 1982 – I found that museum visitors had a special affinity for “Enchanted Beach with Three Fluid Graces.”
The 1938 oil on canvas remains a crowd pleaser, and it’s easy to see why. First, that wonderful Dali technique: soft, precise, sensual, fluid – especially in a work of this subject matter.
One thing about virtually every Salvador Dali painting that cannot be denied is that its technical virtuosity alone is enough to impress people. This is not to knock abstract art, or more coarsely painted pictures. But I believe people hunger for the kind of special skill demonstrated in the paintings of Dali. There’s something undeniably fascinating in seeing images painted so precisely that even the unreal somehow appears real.
“Enchanted Beach with Three Fluid Graces,” in the Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida, also appeals to us because it’s yet another great example of something Salvador Dali was the undisputed twentieth century master at: double-imagery. The figure at left is formed by one of the dark rocks in the background; the middle figure from a horse and rider and other figures; and the third grace’s head and face are suggested by the distant rocky arch and landscape.
Mythology has presented the three graces – generally representing charm, beauty, and creativity – as a subject many artists have enjoyed exploring over the years. One of the most popular was that by Raphael, whom Dali greatly admired and listed among his three favorite artists: Raphael, Velasquez, and Vermeer.
From a broader perspective, I think we can also view “Enchanted Beach with Three Fluid Graces” as being something of a transitional painting for Dali. What I mean is that it was painted in 1938, just a few years before the artist turned away from pure surrealism to embrace an interest in more classical themes and his imminent Nuclear-Mystical period inspired by the atomic bomb and a new ethos it left in its wake.
Soon Dali would be leaving behind his signature soft watches and other surrealist props as he viewed the world through the lens of someone now aware of how discoveries in nuclear physics were changing everything. His fluid pictures such as the present one would be supplanted by dematerialization of his images, echoing the phenomenon of intra-atomic space. “Everything is rumping and jumping about,” as Dali put it in describing some of his Nuclear-Mystical compositions.
Alas, “Enchanted Beach with Three Fluid Graces” sort of brings us back to the basics of Dali’s inspiration: his native Spanish countryside, where open plains, beaches, and extraordinary rock formations fueled his imaginary impulses like nothing else. And yet it also becomes something of a transitional work, hinting at a more classical look Dali’s art would soon take on.