‘Noel’ One of Dali’s Delightful Expressions of ‘Merry Christmas!’
By Paul Chimera
Salvador Dali was a man of great contrasts. “Noel” of 1946 is sure to surprise those who equate Dali solely with the bizarre and the madcap. Here is what simply has to be considered one of Dali’s loveliest paintings, whose obvious seasonality is appropriate to spotlight this week.
There’s more to “Noel” than meets the eye, although the obvious is delightful. The gently falling snow, and the snow that’s settled upon the archways and trees, seems almost Norman Rockwell-like in its purity and simplicity. There’s a real charm about it, don’t you think?
But Salvador Dali seldom resisted an opportunity to be different, and we find several unique details in “Noel” I’d like to briefly draw your attention to. Let’s start with the jewels. They hang from the stone archways like ornaments on a Christmas tree. Some appear on the attached columns, both of which offer up the same nose and lips found in Dali’s “Aphrodite” painting and which became popularized in a series of Dali-designed bottles of the same theme for Parfum Salvador Dali.
A wonderful detail is the marvelous shadow of a kneeling, praying angel in the lower left. I think it adds a very special touch to this work because of its clever subtlety and ethereal quality.
But there’s a far bigger surprise of sorts in this dazzling Christmas painting. The two symmetrical archways, when optically fused together, form the face of the Madonna. This fact wasn’t immediately apparent to readers of Vogue magazine, when “Noel” graced its cover in the 1940s. Vogue editors pointed it out to readers in a terse explanation of the issue’s cover – an issue that has become a leading collectible among Dali ephemera enthusiasts.
So what did Christmas mean to Dali? We know he shared with readers of a popular magazine years back some of his favorite holiday gift ideas – including a neon sign of – what else – the name “Dali” in dramatic and glowing script!
Various photos exist of Dali dressed as Santa, including when he held a book signing at Rizzoli Book Store in Manhattan on the occasion of the release of his autobiographical book, “Diary of a Genius.” And despite his attention-seeking declarations that he didn’t care much for children (“embryons,” as he referred to them), there’s a well-known photo of Dali handing out oranges to children at Christmas time.
And Dali was photographed, with Gala, riding through Central Park in New York in a horse-drawn sleigh, braving the nippy winter elements for a brisk ride – and another photo op!
“Noel” is one of those Salvador Dali works that most people – even most Dali enthusiasts – may not be familiar with, but which everyone falls instantly in love with. Little wonder why: it’s truly one of the most charming works by the kingpin of Surrealism.