Tiny Dali brings Nearly $5 million at Much-Anticipated Auction
By Paul Chimera
Salvador Dali Historian
Two little Salvador Dali gems – miniaturist oil paintings essentially out of circulation for some 80 years – sold for multiple-millions of dollars last evening at Sotheby’s auction house in London.
“Gradiva,” seen here, an oil on copper (8-1/8 in. x 6-1/8 in.), fetched a grand total of $3,745,144.
“Maison pour Erotomane,” seen here, oil on panel (5-1/2 in. x 7-1/8 in.), garnered $4,923,481. Very small. But both brought big prices.
Can I get a “Wow!” A tiny oil on panel brings nearly $5 million. Not bad, Mr. Dali, not bad.
Now here’s the surprise, for some: While “Gradiva” seemed to have attracted the most attention, the most buzz – at least from my vantage point since it was first announced that these works were coming to auction – it was “Maison pour Erotomane” that pulled in a much higher dollar amount.
Why? Here’s my take, which I’m confident has validity.
“Gradiva” is superb. It’s lovely. It’s sexy. It’s sinewy. It’s colorful. It’s wonderfully painted. It’s…..a little boring.
OK, boring probably isn’t the right word. Staid – relatively so – might be better. It’s a woman. She’s stunning and exquisitely painted. But where’s the wild, unbridled, unabashed surrealism collectors love from Dali? It’s not to be found, really, in “Gradiva.” It’s just not crazy enough.
“Maison pour Erotomane” is. It’s crazy enough. And then some. It features that fluidity, that bizarre tableau, that head-scratching “Holy sh*t?!” vibe that people love about Salvador Dali.
And it has perspective and depth. Enigmatic figures. Dream-like contortions and juxtapositions and morphology. It’s far more quintessential Dali the surrealist.
“Gradiva,” meanwhile, is Daliesque, to be sure, but that’s where the surrealism sort of ends.
This is not to disparage “Gradiva” at all. I’m merely pointing out what I see are their key differences, and what, in my opinion, made “Maison” a more desirable win for bidders at a surrealist art auction.
I learned first-hand, from personal experience, how by and large people buying Dali’s prefer his wild and crazy surrealism to the tamer morsels of the artistic smorgasbord he served up. The very short-form story is this:
Years back I owned a Dali diptych, in India ink & wash. It was important from a scholarly or connoisseurship point of view. It was in fact the original drawings for a first French edition of an important Dali book. But it wasn’t typical of Dali. For reasons specific to the unique design of the book cover, the works didn’t ooze Dalinian. They were devoid of the surrealist look people know and love.
As a result, no matter how long and hard I tried to convince would-be buyers of the importance and value of the works, they remained very difficult to sell. Mainly because they didn’t feature the elements emblematic of Dali the crazy kingpin of Surrealism.
And that’s how I view what happened with “Gradiva” versus “Maison pour Erotomane,” not that they were in direct competition. And, indeed, both fared exceptionally well – especially for Dali paintings of such meager dimensions.
Of course, it begs the question: then why did I perceive that “Gradiva” generated the most pre-auction buzz? Paradoxically, it just might have been the sheer weirdness of the “Maison” work! And, for me, it seems, well, a bit too random for me. The various images just don’t seem to work together as harmoniously as they do in other unabashedly surrealist Dali works.
By contrast, “Gradiva” is just plain sexy and extraordinarily colorful. So I and some of my colleagues presumed “Gradiva” would be the one to watch. Turns out both little Dali’s deserve to take a bow.
So who are the new owners? No clue. I understand both winning bids were placed anonymously via telephone. In the coming days, perhaps the owners will be revealed, especially if one, or both, are public museums. We’ll keep an eye on this.
Auction fever always gets me excited. The anticipation was fun, the results most excellent. I can’t wait for other unknown, rediscovered Dali works to come to light. And they will.