Respect, Humor, Masterful Painting Inform Dali’s ‘Ghost of Vermeer…’


By Paul Chimera

Dali Writer & Historian


Some of Salvador Dali’s biggest achievements can be found in his smallest paintings. “The Ghost of Vermeer of Delft, Which Can be Used as a Table” is a perfect example. This is one of those jewel-like miniatures that tend to almost stun with their technical virtuosity.


Like any Dali painting, print, drawing, watercolor or sculpture, “Ghost of Vermeer” (1934) must be seen in the flesh to gain a true appreciation of the painstaking craftsmanship Dali invested in this canvas — one of the most important works in the Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida. It virtually glows from within, which makes sense, considering it is an homage to master painter Johannes Vermeer, notable for the luminosity of his manicured pictures. This little Dali gem is barely more than 7 inches x 5 inches.

The costumed Vermeerian figure is fashioned after Vermeer’s iconic masterpiece, “The Art of Painting.” Of course, Dali’s brand of surrealism took over in a most provocative way — this ghostly version of the 17th century Flemish master features an impossibly elongated leg that does double-duty as a table, complete with wine bottle and glass. A Dali crutch props up his right hand.

Detail from Vermeer's "The Art of Painting"

Detail from Vermeer’s “The Art of Painting”

Dali placed the kneeling figure in a lane at Port Lligat, Spain — an exact spot that actually exists in the region, and which Dali Museum benefactor A. Reynolds Morse photographed (with Dali himself kneeling there!) for reference purposes, showing how a surprisingly significant percentage of the images in Dali works arose from actual places and events.

So what do you suppose was going through Dali’s mind to make him pay tribute to Vermeer in this manner?

I always approach such a query this way: Dali almost always endeavored to be different. And he had a career-long passion for visual puns,  hidden images, double images, and paradox. Dali thus turned his version of Vermeer’s apparition into a still life. The disconnected foot is further surrealist license! Dali wanted to nod to his second favorite artist (Velasquez was number one), but also express his passion for surrealism and good humor.

Indeed, we can’t dismiss an important factor that I believe many people too often overlook: Salvador Dali possessed a wonderful sense of humor. They very title of this painting is amusing. Whether he did a portrait of Mae West, which could be used as an apartment…or a ghostly view of Vermeer, whose appendage doubles as furniture, Dali infused much of his work with humor. It’s definitely something to smile about.

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