Masterpiece Proves Dali was a Hyper-Realist Before Hyper-Realism was Cool!
By Paul Chimera
Dali Historian & Writer
It’s easy to see why many people consider “Nature Morte Vivante” (“Still Life, Fast Moving”) their favorite Salvador Dali painting. It’s a spellbinding canvas, largely because Dali painted it with a technique rivaling Vermeer or Velasquez.
I saw this stunning 1956 work for the first time in the home of Reynolds and Eleanor Morse, the late Cleveland, Ohio couple who were the benefactors of the Dali Museum in Florida. It looked amazing, hanging on their living room wall. Every object depicted looked so realistic, you felt you could remove them from the canvas and hold them in your hand!
Those of us who study and write about the Master persistently try to get inside his head, yearning to figure out what might have been going on in the mysterious mind of Salvador Dali. Virtually impossible. Especially when Dali insisted even he didn’t understand the images in his paintings!
But we cannot believe Dali completely. Despite claiming he was just as confounded as we were by his work, he sometimes provided insights that allowed us to go beyond personal interpretations.
Enter the “Dali difference,” which I’ve been blogging about in recent posts. It wasn’t enough to paint a still life; Dali’s still life would be “animated!” Apples and cherries and spilled liquid zip through space, lending a lively and dynamic energy to this astonishing picture.
Doing the opposite of convention was a hallmark of Dali’s art and life. Author Paul Wharton wrote that Dali’s reputation “was so aggressively established through self-promotion that it forms a barrier to the calm assessment of his art.” That was penned many decades ago, and it was undeniably true.
But now we can largely overlook Dali’s provocative behavior and calmly assess his prodigious career in surrealism and beyond. In doing so, we recognize in “Nature Morte Vivante,” as in so many of Dali’s prints, paintings, drawing, sculpture and other work, that he zigged while others zagged.
The Dali difference was his stock in trade – including painting a still life that isn’t still; everything is suspended in space, creating a palpable tension.
Was this simply a choice to be different? Or was more going on here? What was Dali’s inventive mind locked onto in 1956, when he painted “Nature Morte Vivante”? Russia would launch Sputnik a year later: did Dali’s work – with its objects hurtling through space – anticipate that event? Discoveries in nuclear physics continued to make headlines. Dali’s Nuclear-Mysticism – an artistic melding of science, religion, and mysticism – was in over-drive.
So here we have a remarkable synthesis of current scientific influences with Dali’s allegiance to mathematical principles in painting, plus his lifelong reverence for classical traditions in art.
The masterpiece expresses a still life through the lens of nuclear physics, which revealed that, at the atomic level, matter is discontinuous; nothing touches. “Everything is rumping and jumping about!” Dali colorfully observed.
At the same time, Dali pays homage in a restatement of a 1617 still life by Floris Van Schooten, showing us that a modern painter can take an unconventional approach to a traditional subject; infuse it with new revelations in cutting-edge science; link it to a work by a 17th century painter; and — through his formidable painting talent – anticipate the vogue for hyper-realism years before that movement began!
That, folks, is genius.