Dali’s Portrait of Poet Remains his Highest Auction Price
By Paul Chimera
Salvador Dali Historian
In the Dali world, we’re still waiting for “the big one.” No, not a California earthquake (God willing, that will never happen), but a blockbuster auction sale of a Dali painting. A sale that eclipses even heavy-hitters like Picasso and Warhol and Van Gogh.
The kind that catapults the name Salvador Dali into international headlines for all the right reasons. The kind that will have people everywhere talking about it the next morning around the office water cooler.
We can speculate about why Salvador Dali’s prices at auction haven’t risen (yet) to the level of some of his contemporaries, such as Warhol, Miro, and Magritte. And, perhaps in general, surrealist art is still somewhat arcane – and less desirable – because its appeal is, well, different.
Surrealism wasn’t exactly a sweet and tidy little place. It wasn’t a simple screen print of Elizabeth Taylor. Or a starry night landscape. Or a soup can label. It was, instead, about the relatively bizarre, and sometimes downright disturbing. So it’s not for everyone. And, in fact, it’s for a smaller segment of the marketplace than, say, a traditional landscape or a colorful abstract-expressionist picture.
But Surrealism has, in fact, gained in popularity in recent years, and auction prices of works by Surrealism’s big names – Magritte, Miro and, of course, Salvador Dali – bear that out.
While Dali hasn’t yet hit the ultra-high price levels of some others, his works have nonetheless fared very respectably at the major auction houses – and the news keeps getting better.
The all-time highest auction price to date for a Dali work (and we’re of course talking oils versus drawings, watercolors, prints, or sculpture) was the impressive $22.4 million fetched in February of 2011 for Portrait of Paul Eluard (1929, private collection). Not bad for an oil on cardboard – not canvas – measuring only some 10 x 13 inches!
The work is super significant in Dali’s oeuvre, for two key reasons. One is that it depicts the French poet Paul Eluard, who was Gala Dali’s first husband. She would of course leave him for her legendary love affair and eventual marriage to Salvador. So the subject of this portrait painting is obviously crucial.
The other thing to appreciate about the portrait is that it brings together in one tightly executed painting so many of the quintessential surrealist elements of Dali’s unique brand of art: a lion’s head, the dreaded grasshopper, the Great Masturbator head, the double image of the grasshopper’s eye also serving as that of a fish’s eye, and assorted other details that capture the personal and obsessive nature of Dali’s surrealism.
Not to mention that it was painted exquisitely by the then-25-year-old Dali.
Meanwhile, other great Dali paintings and their auction prices include Springtime Necrophilia ($16.3 million), Enigmatic Elements in a Landscape ($11 million), Study for Honey is Sweeter than Blood ($6.8 million), Night Specter on the Beach ($5.68 million), and My Wife Nude Contemplating Her own Flesh Becoming Stairs, Three Vertebra of a Column, Sky and Architecture… ($4.76 million).
It all adds up to nearly $67,000,000.00 Not bad, Mr. Dali, not bad.
[All images gratefully used under Fair Use provisions for journalistic purposes only]