‘Espana’ (Spain) Considered one of Dali’s Best
By Paul Chimera
Dali Writer & Historian
“Spain” (1938) is universally regarded as one of the finest and most important paintings in all of Salvador Dali’s surrealism.
When we try our best to get inside Dali’s head – a generally impossible task, of course – we can readily see that, in “Spain,” the artist was clearly making a statement about the Spanish Civil War, which gripped his beloved country and was a nightmarishly brutal, bloody, deadly three-year conflict.
In this earth-colored picture, Dali achieved one of his finest double-images. A mélange of soldiers in battle, some on horseback, others on foot, simultaneously form the face of a woman (the mother country, Spain) leaning on a cabinet and looking down forlornly at the curious single-drawer piece of dismal furniture.
Out of that drawer hangs a red cloth, which might represent the red of the blood shed mercilessly during this dreadful time in Spain’s history.
A lion reposes nearby, perhaps to suggest the ferocity of the war. Or maybe it’s a nod to the frequently seen beast in Dali’s earlier surrealist paintings, in which a lion was a Freudian symbol of paternal control and intimidation.
Some scholars have drawn a comparison between Salvador Dali’s “Spain” (frequently written in the Spanish form, “Espana”) and Leonardo DaVinci’s painting, “Adoration of the Magi.” In the latter work, the central foreground picture is the Virgin Mary, and in the background are seen, among other details, warriors battling on horseback.
It is written that, when Picasso visited Dali’s studio in Paris at this time, he asked specifically to see “Spain.” Picasso apparently had the same reverence for the work that scholars and lovers of Dali art have today.
Dali did an extraordinarily skillful job of positioning a clutch of warriors and their horses in such a way that their positioning quite brilliantly morphs into the hidden/double-image of Mother Spain, whose fragile, transparent body exudes a ghost-like aura consistent with the melancholic message Dali was trying to convey.
Not taking sides in the Spanish Civil War, Dali exiled himself to other parts of Europe, and the United States, during this time.
Once again, at the risk of repeating myself, I underscore how Salvador Dali was certainly not just the guy who painted melting watches! “Spain” is a brilliant example of Dali’s maturity, insight, and sensitivity as a then 34-year-old painter. The work brings together magnificently Dali’s unparalleled ability to see things differently – especially his genius at double-imagery – with his great technical precision, without which this kind of hidden imagery could not be so effectively achieved.