The Inside Scoop on Dali’s Outdoor Painting!


By Paul Chimera

Salvador Dali Historian


The French term “plein air” means open air, and refers to the process of creating a work of art outdoors. Salvador Dali loved the outdoors – most especially at his villa in Port Lligat, Spain, but even during the cold season, when he and Gala spent several decades making New York City their winter home.


It was not uncommon to see Dali and Gala taking horse-drawn sleigh rides in the Big Apple!


Working outdoors for Dali was not his usual modus operandi, but he did indeed enjoy the plein air approach to his craft. Here are a few snaps of the maestro at work in the great outdoors:


It’s unclear just what he was painting here – looks like a series of large rhino horns – but judging from the barretina on his head and that long-sleeve, rather warm-looking top he’s wearing – it must have been chilly that day.




Likewise, the long-sleeve shirt in this photo suggests another cool day that found Mr. Dali diligently at work on the cover of the extraordinary book, The Apocalypse of St. John, against a tranquil view of the beautiful bay.




Here are two early 1930s views of the artist working under clear skies – one in another long-sleeve shirt, the other having jettisoned a shirt altogether.


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This photo, showing Dali posing as he balances a walking stick between his foot and chin, was taken at the island of La Farnera, near Port Lligat, and shows Dali creating a loosely sketched religious work in oils, while Gala reads – perhaps aloud to her husband – as a boat approaches in the distance.


Dali spent a great deal of time under the hot Mediterranean sun and later in life had skin conditions addressed by his dermatologist, Dr. Edmund Klein.


Here the master paints on an object on his Port Lligat villa terrace, while his close companion, Amanda Lear, looks on admiringly. Dali’s right leg is pressed against an apparent table-top that features a detail of his iconic gold “candy box” book cover design for the 1968 book, Dali De Draeger, written by Max Gerard.




The book set records in terms of the number of copies sold, and I believe Dali won a book cover design award, to boot.


When it came to making prints, Salvador Dali not surprisingly took a very different approach. He was a calculating contrarian, and here he proceeded to use an actual octopus, whose tentacles dipped in ink created spectacular designs on the matrix from which lithographs were pulled.





No doubt the most widely known outdoor art-creating experience on Dali’s resume was his visit to the Vincennes Zoo, in Paris, France. It was there he seated himself on a wheelbarrow (referencing Millet’s Angelus painting), and used a live rhinoceros – more precisely, its horn – as the basis for his paranoiac-critical interpretation of Vemeer’s The Lacemaker.


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It was, of course, another example of Dali’s genius as a performance artist and a man who knew how to make headlines.


Finally, here we see the aging Master, not far from the end of his life, valiantly hanging on to what he did best, indoors or out.


Painting nearly to the end.

Painting nearly to the end.


(Images used under Fair Use provisions for journalistic purposes only)








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