Early Dali Watercolor of Daily Scenes Includes a (Soft?) Clock
By Paul Chimera
Salvador Dali Historian
We recently considered in this space from the Salvador Dali Society, Inc., Dali’s 1929 oil painting, “First Days of Spring.” Today’s work – also known as “The First Days of Spring,” was created around 1922-’23, is wash on paper – and may be one of the most delightful works ever created by the scion of Surrealism.
As a Dali historian and writer, I admit that I tend to focus perhaps too disproportionately on later works by the artist. And, unlike so many art critics and scholars, I consider Dali’s post-surrealist works of the mid-1940s and beyond to be every bit as important and intriguing as his surrealist heyday of the 1930s.
But Dali’s pre-surrealist works, such as the present work when Dali was about 18 years old, are also enormously important – and “The First Days of Spring” wash painting is a true gem.
The privately owned work presents charming cameos depicting the young artist’s thoughts and observations, while, taken as a whole, exudes a Klee- or Chagall-like kaleidoscope of colors and forms and disparate imagery that seems to anticipate the surrealism by which Dali would eventually be seduced.
Ironically, a clock can be seen a little below middle right, and while it does not appear to be “soft,” it also doesn’t look scrupulously rigid. Could this have been – consciously or unconsciously – the very first indication that timepieces and Salvador Dali would be inextricably linked?
What a dazzling and delightful admixture of images in this watercolor! We see leaves and birds, a rooster and an airplane, children dancing and playing – including two images of a girl skipping rope. That image was to appear later in Dali’s surrealist paintings, often presented as a double-image not only of the girl skipping rope, but, at the same time, a bell in a bell tower.
Take note of the woman sewing at the bottom of the picture. Was this an early nod by the teen artist to his beloved Vermeer, the Dutch painter whom Dali passionately admired and paid homage to in a host of paintings? Dali did a “paranoiac-critical” version of Vermeer’s “The Lacemaker,” and later fulfilled a remarkable commission in copying almost exactly the same Vermeer masterpiece.
And notice the adult and child strolling and holding hands. This motif was to appear later in many Dali works, generally understood to have been Salvador as a young boy walking and holding hands with his father. Children playing with hoops in the present work also found echo in later Dali canvases, while the girl leaning on a balcony railing in the middle suggests the front view of the various rear views Dali later produced of his sister, Ana Maria, gazing out of a window onto the Mediterranean Sea that was part of the glorious views with which Dali was blessed at his villa in Port Lligat, Spain.