Salvador Dali Paints a Charming, Largely Unknown Work
By Paul Chimera
Salvador Dali Historian
Dali was a master at so many things – not the least of which was his genius at surprising us, at keeping us just a little off-balance.
In 1968, for example – when Dali was mining the psychedelic ethos with extraordinary paintings like “Tuna Fishing” and “The Mountains of Cape Creus on the March (LSD Trip)” — along comes the charming, almost completely unknown canvas, “Fisherman of Port Lligat, Mending His Net” (private collection).
The approximately 12 inch by 17 inch canvas emerges from Dali’s easel amidst a creative period when such considerable works as “Cosmic Athlete” and “Hallucinogenic Toreador” were either completed or in a nascent stage of development.
There’s virtually nothing surrealistic, certainly nothing psychedelic, about this surprising little picture, with perhaps the exception of the skeletal remains of a sailing boat grounded on terra firma, in front of which a dreamer strolls, toting a butterfly net.
The faint image of a town appears in the distant right, and a typical rocky outcropping at left fairly well mirrors what Dali saw every day when he was at his villa at Port Lligat, Spain, gaining continuous inspiration from a landscape he believed to be the most beautiful in the world.
Of course, our eye is most significantly drawn to the fisherman himself – a delightful portrait of the bespectacled, cap-wearing fellow whose nub of a cigarette between his lips shares a white highlight with that on his glasses lens and his left forehead.
The fisherman’s feet project out toward the viewer, adding depth to the composition, which features a sandy colored sky that blends seamlessly with the beach on which the main character repairs his fishing net. No conjecture here about foot fetishes. But the prominence of the man’s feet may remind aficionados of several other Dali paintings in which the human foot is prominent, including “Santiago El Grande,” “The Ascension of Christ,” the stereoscopic work, “Gala’s Foot,” and Dali’s own self-portrait in part of his ceiling panels at the Teatro-Museo Dali in Figueres, Spain.
How fascinating – at least to me – that Salvador Dali, in 1968 – dazzled and inspired by op and pop art and other influences – would return to an unpretentious work like this, directly linked to the mundane day-to-day life that quietly unfolded in the tiny hamlet where Dali and Gala lived all their lives. It’s hard not to be reminded of works created far earlier in Dali’s career, perhaps most notably “The Weaning of Furniture Nutrition” of 1934 (Salvador Dali Museum, St. Petersburg, Florida).
The portrait of the fisherman is a surprise in itself. It seems clearly to capture the specifically distinctive look of whomever the sitter was here. And just who was he? No doubt another Dalinian mystery destined never to be solved.