Dali’s ‘My Wife Nude…’ Ingeniously Links Classic and Modern
By Paul Chimera
Dali Writer & Historian
Some Salvador Dali paintings just seem to embody everything about the man’s genius: his inimitable ideas, his Renaissance-like technical skill, his vision and innovation, and his unique success in seamlessly melding classicism and modernism.
Such is the case in the stunning “My Wife Nude Contemplating Her own Flesh Becoming Stairs, Three Vertebrae of a Column, Sky and Architecture” of 1945.
Just how completely Dali “worshipped” his wife Gala may be up for discussion, but what’s beyond dispute is that this Russian lady, 10 years Dali’s senior, was his leading model and an enormous inspiration in his art. Countless Dali paintings, prints, drawings and other works feature Gala in one pose or another.
In the case of “My Wife Nude…” Dali seems to have channeled Arcimboldo, the 16th century painter who was famous for creating human forms out of an amalgam of fruit and vegetables and such. Here Dali gives us an echo of Gala’s beautifully painted naked back – her flesh, as the title notes – now transformed into a tall columned architectural structure.
Astute Dali aficionados may notice how this treatment recalls Dali’s spectacular 1945 portrait of Isabel Styler-Tas.
“My Wife Nude…” almost looks like it might have been painted by a Renaissance master. With all due respect, the work exudes a kind of old-fashioned vibe – certainly a classicism and a traditional look that we weren’t accustomed to seeing emerge from the easels of modern-day painters of the mid-1940s. Yet Dali was a master at melding the old and the new. Is it coincidence that, while the classic look of this work is further evinced by the bust of a Greco-Roman man on the wall next to Gala, he has also made the left column of the architectural space in the form of an apparent bomb? It was, after all, 1945, and the smoke of World War II was still rising.
Speaking of war, what about the dandelion at left? Artistic symbolism tells us that a dandelion is a symbol of transience, of change, and surely the world would soon be changed forever, having endured a major war. Gala, of course, changes before our eyes in this picture – her smooth, soft, uber-realistic body reimagined in the mechanical emptiness of the architectural space, in which a tiny figure (Dali?) is dwarfed.
From time to time I talk here about the concept of “Dalinian Continuity,” a purposeful effort on Dali’s part to link his paintings of one time period to those of another. There’s no question this occurred with “My Wife Nude…” when we consider his beautiful 1960 canvas, “Gala Nude Seen From Behind.”
“My Wife Nude Contemplating Her Own Flesh Becoming Stairs, Three Vertebrae of a Column, Sky and Architecture” sold at auction some years back for, if memory serves, close to $4,000,000.00. Since then, Dali’s prices at auction have generally skyrocketed, and I’d suspect that, were “My Wife Nude” put on the auction block today, it could easily fetch four or five times that amount. Just my personal speculation, but I’m pretty sure I’m right.