Dali’s Portrait of His Sister One of the Artist’s Most Tranquil Works
By Paul Chimera
Salvador Dali Historian
Salvador Dali, at the milestone age of 21, painted “Girl Standing at a Window” – a work destined to be one of his most popular pictures, reproduced countless times in books, catalogs, and articles about the celebrated master of Surrealism.
The irony here may be that the subject of this canvas – Dali’s only sibling, his younger sister Ana Maria – would come to be a controversial figure in Dali’s endlessly eventful life.
On the surface – and what probably matters more to most connoisseurs of Salvador Dali’s intriguing oeuvre – is a beautiful scene, beautifully painted. We see Ana Maria Dali leisurely poised at a window, looking out at the bay of Cadaques in Spain. It was at this Spanish seaside town where the Dali family spent summers, and where Dali collected many memories that would later be depicted on canvas.
Cadaques figured prominently in countless Dali paintings, Dali prints, drawings and watercolors. The Spanish terrain with which Dali grew up was a major influence and inspiration in his work. The depiction of the bay and background landscape is extremely placid and orderly – not an especially common portrayal of things in a Dali painting, albeit this work came a few years before Dali’s visions would be decidedly more provocative and bizarre.
Yet provocation lay just under the patina of “Girl Standing at a Window.”
Dali and Ana Maria’s relationship seems always to have been a little unusual. She was his only female model before Gala came on the scene; some wondered just how close brother and sister were at the time. Indeed, the untimely death of Dali’s mother when he was just 16 years old thrust Ana Maria into a more maternal and domestic role, which doubtlessly changed Salvador’s view of the brother/sister dynamic.
The pivotal event between them, however, came when Ana Maria penned an autobiography in 1953, “Salvador Dali: View by His Sister.” It was unflattering to the artist, and this sense of disloyalty created an irreparable falling out between brother and sister. Allegedly as a kind of pictorial revenge, Dali – the very next year – finished his remarkable and super-naughty “Young Virgin Autosodomized by Her Own Chastity.” It shows a curly haired naked woman leaning out a window, gazing at the same Cadaques seascape – her backside provocatively composed of phallic rhinoceros horns.
It would have been fascinating to learn what Ana Maria thought of the erotic redux!
That said, “Figure Standing at a Window” – with its predominantly light blues and lavenders – exudes an overall peaceful, gentle presence and demonstrates early on that Salvador Dali possessed formidable technical skills as an easel painter destined for immortality.