Sheer Beauty Underpins Dali’s ‘Galatea of the Spheres’
By Paul Chimera
Salvador Dali Historian
“Galatea of the Spheres” (1952) brings together in a single oil on canvas a number of influences that informed Salvador Dali’s work and set the direction of his art when he was in his late 40s.
For this blogger, first and foremost, we get to see Dali, the painter of beauty – an informal title he proclaimed in protest to the destructiveness he lamented was evident in the current work of his Spanish countryman at the time, Pablo Picasso.
Simply put, “Galatea of the Spheres” is a lovely painting – hauntingly mysterious, lovingly delicate, masterfully painted.
The subject, of course, is once again Gala, Dali’s wife, muse, and leading model. Dali left no doubt as to his extreme reverence for the woman – but it seems little if anything was ever documented about what Gala herself thought of this veneration and immortalization of her by her celebrated husband.
In any case, as I said up top, Dali synthesized a number of influences to create this work, and one source he often mined was Roman and Greek mythology. In the present Dali painting the artist chose Galatea, the mythological sea nymph, and interpreted the scene through the lens of yet another important influence on him: mathematics and science. The spheres vanish at the middle distance, creating a dramatic and impressive perspective – a three-dimensional illusion that always fascinated Dali.
The spheres are not static, however; they’re “rumping and jumping about,” as Dali was known to have colorfully described the movement of atoms, after he was deeply moved by then-new discoveries in atomic physics. The atom-like spheres swirl about to form the hair, shoulders and other features of Madame Gala Dali.
Salvador Dali was to visit the theme of Gala as the sea nymph, Galatea, a few years later in his “Galatea,” a distinctively different painting from “Galatea of the Spheres,” yet with noticeable similarities, as you can see in the images provided.
I had the pleasure of seeing “Galatea” at the remarkable “Dali: The Late Work” exhibition in 2010 at the High Museum of Art, curated by Elliott King, Ph.D. I was surprised and delighted to see how the detailed little rhino horn particles making up Gala’s face had an impasto about them that made them look like bits of colorful candy – good enough to eat!
Meanwhile, in returning to “Galatea of the Spheres,” we’re reminded of how important Dali considered the illusion of powerful perspectives like the one created here. Dali was of course all about illusion, and I’ve said more than a few times that painting isn’t far from magic: what we think we see, and what is actually there, are two different things. Dali always made the unreal real!
Salvador Dali was able to create virtually any impression, any illusion he chose, primarily for two key reasons: he had an inventive imagination second to none, and he had the technical virtuosity of a Renaissance master.
Those qualities are plainly evident in “Galatea of the Spheres,” one of the most beautiful paintings ever created by Salvador Dali.