Magical Costa Brava Put a Spell on Salvador Dali!
By Paul Chimera
Salvador Dali Historian
Sometimes I think Salvador Dali must have grown out of a rock formation in his native Spain!
That’s how hugely important the unique topology of his native countryside was in shaping his thoughts, ideas, and images. I’m talking specifically the Costa Brava and, more specifically, points such as Cadaques, Cape Creus, the Bay of Rosas, and, of course, Port Lligat.
In addition, specific points of interest in the region – certain buildings, for instance – also poured themselves into the well of inspiration into which Dali dipped his sable-haired brushes.
It is always fascinating to see actual photos of the craggy rock formations and various outcroppings of the landscape Dali saw and pondered daily, for it drives home the point that the artist drew heavily on real-life images and not entirely on his fecund imagination. This applies as well to certain landmarks that left an indelible impression on him and appeared in his oil paintings, watercolors, drawings, etchings, engravings, lithographs, and sculpture.
Today I want to look at two specific Salvador Dali works and how the distinctive, rocky terrain in one, and a landmark building in the other, pertain to corresponding photographs of the actual things Dali saw, admired, and painted. Again, while he mined his uncanny subconscious and his active dream world with unparalleled dexterity, Dali also faithfully depicted things he saw daily in the land he worshipped and from which he drew endless inspiration.
Take a look at Dali’s beautiful 1950 painting, “Landscape of Port Lligat” (Salvador Dali Museum, St. Petersburg, Florida). While the angel on the terrace may have sprung from Dali’s imaginative wheelhouse, the rocky mountainous landscape along the horizon is completely consistent with what this part of the Costa Brava looks like in reality. (See photo)
Dali adored this region – he called Port Lligat the most beautiful place in the world – and, of course, he painted it time and time and time again in his various works, whether they were unabashedly surrealist or as tame as a Dutch still life.
Now focus your attention on a very early canvas, painted in 1924, called “Port Alguer, Cadaques.” The building with the circular window – the Eglisia de Santa Maria church – is seen today in these recent photographs, again demonstrating how Dali drew upon real-world experiences, geographical points of interest, and other images in creating his often stunning works, such as these enchanting paintings shown here today. Another early Dali canvas in which the same landmark appears is “”View of Cadaques from Playa Poal,” 1920.
Dali was a surrealist master, of course. But he was also a master landscape painter. And a master of realism who indeed mined his fertile imagination and leveraged the findings of Surrealism’s patron saint, Sigmund Freud, but who also simply painted what he saw every day, in and around the region he called home all his life: Spain’s magical Costa Brava.
Oh, getting back to the beginning of this post – where it seems Dali might have grown out of his own landscapes – I think he virtually does, given his background self-portrait in “Portrait of John Theodoracopoulos” of 1970!