Landscape of Dali’s Homeland Mirrored in Dali’s Paintings
By Paul Chimera
Salvador Dali Historian
Yes, Salvador Dali was a Surrealist. Of course. The most famous one of all. But he was also a realist. A great one. And I mean realist in two different ways: his realistic painting technique, and as a source of inspiration. Let me explain.
Much – perhaps most – of Salvador Dali’s ideas sprang from his imagination. His subconscious. His active dream world. How else can one explain the inscrutable images that appeared in his vast catalog of surrealist paintings, prints, drawings and watercolors?
And no matter where Dali’s ideas came from – no matter how bizarre and unconventional, or simple and familiar – they were always depicted in a precise, meticulous manner. Dali simply didn’t know how to paint any other way but to channel the Renaissance masters when it came to the technical side of his craft. “Hand-painted color photography” was how he described his technique, and it was as realistic as the best of them.
But the realism I speak of also pertains to what Dali actually saw. Not in dreams. Not in the kaleidoscope of his fertile imagination. But rather in his everyday life, his everyday travels. Let me illustrate this with two examples.
Take a look at the wonderful early painting, “Port Alguer, Cadaques,” in the collection of the Teatro-Museo Dali in Figueres, Spain. Painted when Dali was 20 years old, the lovely canvas features the Church of Santa Maria that is a distinctive landmark in this beautiful region. Lest there be any doubt that this is what Dali actually saw – not merely imagined – take a look at the striking accompanying photograph, taken by my Facebook friend and fellow Dali aficionado, Clo Clo, who’s based in France. Beautifully captured by both Dali in 1924, and in this great photo by Clo Clo, which she took earlier this year.
Now let’s look at what I think is an even more interesting example of how the realism of Dali’s world informed the images on his canvases. Here we have the precious little oil, “The Weaning of Furniture Nutrition,” one of the true miniaturist gems in the collection of the Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida. The fishing boats and terraced cliffs are captured with scrupulous realism: hand-painted color photography, indeed.
Now take a look at another of the talented Clo Clo’s photographs. See any similarity? Of course. Because Dali was absolutely influenced by the real and not just the subconscious world. This can be extended to things like the often fanciful clouds in the skies in Dali’s landscape paintings. Or even in his portraits, such as the one of Mrs. Jack Warner.
We can be easily led to believe these are simply products of Dali’s imagination – until we see photographs, or experience it for ourselves in person, that prove such “imaginary” views of nature actually exist.
It’s little wonder Dali insisted that Port Lligat, Spain, was the most beautiful spot in the world. He believed it with all of his heart; he demonstrated it in so much of his art.