Dali’s ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll’ Literally Rises from the Ashes!
By Paul Chimera
Salvador Dali Historian
Tragedy and triumph descended upon perhaps the greatest series of oil paintings ever created by Salvador Dali: his “Seven Lively Arts” series commissioned by American impresario Billy Rose.
Rose bought the Ziefeld Theatre in New York and hired Dali to illustrate the theatre’s opening production. The Seven Lively Arts included opera, ballet, cinema, theatre, radio, art of the concert, and Boogie Woogie.
It has always been fascinating to me to see photos of Dali huddled in a studio loft in the famed theatre, hard at work in creating what turned out to be spellbinding images that surrealistically captured the exuberance, energy and passion of the lively arts.
Imagine what it was like to enter the lobby of the Ziegfeld Theatre and feast your eyes on these stunningly bizarre oil paintings, each one more intriguing than the next. The Dali paintings helped create a huge draw for Rose’s new showcase.
Then tragedy struck.
On April 2, 1956, a fire broke out at Rose’s home in Mount Kisco, New York. I don’t believe I’ve ever read any details of it. All I know is that the priceless Salvador Dali originals were destroyed. Lost to history forever.
That is, until Salvador Dali set about doing the nearly impossible: he recreated them, he agreed to paint them again!
Of course, no artist could duplicate exactly something of such a unique nature. But much of the original imagery and ideas reappeared in the new set of canvases. Some opine that the replacement series of Dali paintings were better than the first. Personally, I thought the original set was more imaginative and richer in detail. It is, of course, a matter of opinion.
Because the Boogie Woogie as a dance craze had gone out of vogue, Dali’s redux was titled “Rock ‘n’ Roll – La Danse,” and was simpler than the first version, yet some say even wilder and more interesting. The dancing couple become contortionists of sorts, driven “mad” by the pulsating beat. So wild did Dali view this new generation’s dance-floor gyrations that he has the man virtually choking his partner, while his body is twisted impossibly in a manner that not only seems to split his gut wide open, but that generates four arms!
The man’s elongated leg (not to mention the grossly exaggerated lengths and features on other appendages of both parties) recalls that seen in Dali’s “Ghost of Vermeer of Delft” (Salvador Dali Museum, St. Petersburg, Florida) among others of his surrealist paintings.
No other elements are necessary in this painting – no mountains or rocks of Dali’s native Spanish countryside – because he clearly wanted the focus to be solely on this wildly contorted couple in the throes of passionate – if not nearly orgasmic – good time rock ‘n’ roll!
I expect to spotlight others of this remarkable “Seven Lively Arts” series of Salvador Dali paintings in future blog posts. (“Rock ‘n’ Roll – La Danse”, 33 in. x 46 in., is owned by the Morohashi Museum of Art, Fukushima, Japan.)