Dali’s ‘Royal Tiger’ a Departure Yet Still ‘Dalinian’!


By Paul Chimera

Salvador Dali Historian


There are a number of paintings by Salvador Dali that are something of a departure from what we’ve come to expect from the master of Surrealism. I think today’s look at the multi-faceted genius of Dali presents a great example of this: “Fifty Abstract Paintings which as Seen from Two Yards Change into Three Lenins Masquerading as Chinese and as Seen from Six Yards Appear as the Head of a Royal Bengal Tiger” of 1963.


Isn’t it kind of cool how some paintings just make you feel a certain way? There’s something about this work – sometimes shortened to the far more easily uttered title, “Royal Tiger” – that brings me visual pleasure even without knowing – or caring – what the images are, what they relate to, or what they might symbolize.


What I’m saying is that the work, for me, is simply aesthetically pleasing. Almost – dare I say it? – decorative. Don’t laugh, but I could see it as playful, bright wallpaper for certain fun rooms!


It is so Dali…and so not Dali.

But here’s what I find fascinating about the work: Dali, who pretty much deplored abstract art, cleverly thumbs his nose at that genre by actually painting all these seemingly abstract pictures – but with a big “but.” Dali ingeniously takes the sum of the whole’s parts to reveal the harlequin-like image of a Bengal tiger. The ferocious but beautiful animal is comprised of images of Vladimir Lenin, cloaked in a Chinese look, and a series of mainly yellow and nearly-black blocks that perhaps recall for some Dali aficionados works like “Corpus Hypercubus” and “Skull of Zurbaran.” (And, for lovers of mathematical challenges, Rubik’s Cube?)


Several painted tears in the large 79 inch by 90 inch canvas esoterically recall the same tromp l’ oil technique Dali employed in his “The Servant of the Disciples at Emmaus” of 1960.


“Fifty Abstract Paintings…”, in the collection of the Teatro-Museo Dali in Figueras, Spain, may also have a bit of political bite to it, insists Dali specialist, art history professor and author/curator Elliott King, Ph.D. “Pulling its subject from the day’s headlines, as was Dali’s fashion,” King wrote, “50 Abstract Paintings …playfully engages its audience with optical trickery whilst concurrently suggesting the seriously tenuous relations among the Soviet Union, the People’s Republic of China and the United States, all at the brink of nuclear war.”


I might add that the powerful tiger played a key role in another very popular Dali painting: “One Second Before Awakening from a Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee Around a Pomegranate.” One of the two tigers in that picture was quoted directly from a P.T. Barnum circus poster.


The tiger in the present masterpiece emerges ethereally, mysteriously, surrealistically, and optically from Dali’s ingenious demonstration of how abstraction can leap to something far more thrilling!

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