Jasmine a Symbol of Purity, Beauty in Works by Salvador Dali
By Paul Chimera
Salvador Dali Historian
Sometimes tiny, seemingly insignificant details grow to become fascinating points of interest along the journey to discover more and more about Salvador Dali and his incomparable creations.
With thoughts increasingly tipping toward spring, I want to focus today on the simple but elegant white flower, the jasmine. This wonderful little flower is associated with all things good: love and romance; beauty and sensuality; and, in religious ceremonies, a sense of purity.
Salvador Dali almost worshipped the jasmine – in fairly subtle ways in some of his paintings and prints, and far more flamboyantly, often placing the heavenly fragrant flower behind his ears. Or, when posing for photographers, affixing one to either end of his iconic moustache!
But the jasmine served as a delightful detail in a number of very important paintings by Dali, one called “Shower of Jasmine,” which is going on exhibition in a rare appearance of the canvas later this month in Dubai. In this picture, of course, the jasmine isn’t merely a detail; the flower is the sole subject of this unusual, little-known and lovely Dali, painted in 1954.
Three jasmines appear in “Galatee,” an extraordinary painting from 1954, also rarely seen and most recently (to my knowledge) on exhibit when “Dali: The Late Work” was mounted at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.A., in 2010 – 2011. That’s where I first saw it, and it’s a beauty.
A jasmine is found on the tip of the horn in Dali’s 1977 “The Happy Unicorn,” and its pristine beauty creates something of a counterfoil to the sardonic tone of Dali’s “Portrait of Picasso.”
A lone jasmine appears on the base in Dali’s first Nuclear-Mystical masterwork, the large “Madonna of Port Lligat” of 1950, symbolizing purity in this monumental religious painting that also appeared in the aforementioned High Museum show.
But the most exceptional appearance of the jasmine flower – a small element that helps link these two works together through the concept of Dalinian Continuity – can be found in “The Virgin of Guadalupe” and “Santiago El Grande.”
It will surely be easier to spot the jasmine in “Virgin of Guadalupe” (1959) as it appears long-stemmed in a clear glass vase at the bottom of the composition. It and the roses encircling the Virgin Mary (whose face is that of Gala Dali and whose pose is quoted from a Raphael) help make this painting one of Salvador Dali’s most stunning.
Finding the jasmine in “Santiago El Grande,” however, may be a bit more challenging. Just as the jasmine in “Virgin of Guadalupe” is set against a swirling atomic cloud, so too does an atomic cloud become the backdrop against which a jasmine can be detected in the middle of the cloud – found at the bottom of “Santiago,” in a nearly identical manner to the way Dali depicted it in “Virgin of Guadalupe” two years later. Look closely.
My bucket list was shortened by one item when I attended the “Dali: The Late Work” exhibition some seven years ago now, and saw in person for the first time “Santiago El Grande.” No words can adequately describe the 1957 work’s beauty – right down to that nearly hidden little jasmine flower.
(Images used for fair-use journalistic purposes, with acknowledgement to the Fundacio Gala-Salvador Dali, the estate of Philippe Halsman, and others.)