Inspired by Vermeer, Dali Pays Special Homage to the Dutch Painter
By Paul Chimera
Salvador Dali Historian
(Today’s blog post is my 100th exclusively for The Salvador Dali Society, Inc.!)
Salvador Dali never lost sight of the important painters who shined long before him and greatly influenced his art – and he wanted us to remember them, too. One excellent example of this is represented in Dali’s oil on canvas, “Apparition of the Town of Delft,” completed in 1936.
This wonderful little Dali oil on panel, about a foot high and wide, offers in some respects the quintessential surrealist style of the artist, combining Freudian symbolism, unexpected juxtapositions of objects, and a nod to a precursor Dali admired – all executed with the tight, precise technique that typified virtually all of Dali’s paintings, as well as his drawings, watercolors and other works.
In the left distance we see Dali’s quoting of the lovely cityscape by painter Johannes Vermeer, titled “View of Delft” (c. 1661). The Dutch Vermeer applied an extraordinary technique of exacting precision and stunning use of light, and is considered one of history’s most meticulous painters. Salvador Dali placed only the Spanish master Velasquez above his veneration of Vermeer, and Dali paid homage to Vermeer in a good number of important paintings.
Here we see an almost exact transcription of Vermeer’s work, save for the river running through the town, which Dali supplants with a wide barren open space, in whose foreground sits a cabinet with a cloth dangling from a drawer.
This reminds us – as do the bizarre, evanescent figures seated at a table – that this is Surrealism, where unlikely and unexplained elements often appear simultaneously – just like in our dreams. The cabinet motif was seen often in Dali’s surrealist canvases, most especially during the fecund decade of the 1930s. Interpretation of Freudian symbolism tells us that the cabinet alludes to Sigmund Freud’s belief that our repressed thoughts are often locked away in our subconscious, inaccessible by the conscious mind.
Of course, it doesn’t get much more surrealist than a kind of fossilized automobile – its back side door constructed like a brick wall – sprouting from a dead tree emerging from rocky terrain. Dali never drove, and detested most mechanical everyday objects (we can include timepieces here!), so he relegates the common car to a discarded piece of junk.
The contrast in “Apparition of the Town of Delft” is part of what makes it so unusual: this decrepit vehicle rendered utterly useless on the right, while at left we’re given a spectacular glimpse of the beautiful town immortalized in Vermeer’s glistening masterpiece.
When people ask me what it is about Salvador Dali that puts me in such awe of the artist, my answer is always three-fold: he was a great non-conformist, which I relate to; his technical skill was breathtaking; and his ideas always resulted in a completely unique twist on things. A very different way of seeing.
Once again, Dali comes through in the privately owned “Apparition of the Town of Delft” – putting a car in the most unlikely of places while paying homage to one of history’s greatest painters.