‘Toreador’ Puts ‘All of Dali’ into One Painting!
By Paul Chimera
Dali Society Historian/Writer
The year 1970 was another prolific and productive year for then 66-year old Dali. But it shall forever be remembered for his completion of a single painting — what some consider the greatest of all of his paintings: “The Hallucinogenic Toreador.”
As a Dali expert, I’ve devoured hundreds of Dali works — probably to an obsessive level. I’ve always found his surrealism far more interesting and inventive than that of his contemporaries. Whether it’s Dali prints, oil paintings, sculpture — even a Dali catalog or book he illustrated — these creations have, for me, soared above the rest.
And many believe “The Hallucinogenic Toreador” (Salvador Dali Museum, St. Petersburg, Florida) represents the pinnacle of Dali’s undeniable genius. For this blogger/historian personally? “Toreador” might be the one Dali canvas I’d choose to own, if I could (OK, it’s too big for my house, but stay with me here), though it would do bloody battle with his magnificent “Santiago El Grande” of 1957. (Please don’t ask me to choose!)
Dali works begin with an original idea, of course, but you may be surprised where they sometimes come from. In the case of “The Hallucinogenic Toreador,” it actually all began when Dali gazed upon a simple box of Venus brand drawing pencils! In a little-known yet rather historic moment, Dali discerned in the abdominal and breast area of the Venus de Milo image on the box’s front cover, the suggestion of a nose and mouth.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Before long, the news would be out: Salvador Dali was developing what historians might now consider his magnum opus of masterpieces. The mouth and nose he saw on that box of pencils set in motion a year-long labor of love. With a series of Venus de Milo’s as the central image, Dali turned the iconic Greek statue into a huge face of a toreador or matador, including his white shirt, collar button, green necktie, and, of course, the red cape (which also serves as one of the Venus’s dress) draped over his left shoulder.
A partially hidden, fallen bull also appears below, along with other hidden images formed from ingeniously devised highlights and shadows.
But let’s imagine what was going through our boy’s mind at the time. Moving up in years, might Dali have figured that this immense, wall-sized picture might serve as his final masterpiece? Consider, after all, that it pays homage to his beloved Spain, for whose spirit and passion the bullfight is something of a metaphor. And look at the little boy in a sailor suit in the lower right — that’s young Salvador. It’s quoted directly from one of his best miniature paintings, “The Specter of Sex Appeal” (1932, Teatru-Museu Dali, Figueres, Spain).
And in the upper left, a solemn portrait of his wife Gala (she detested bullfighting), while his fellow Spanish cubist painter, Juan Gris, is paid homage to in the cubist Venus image on a chair in the lower left.
And there’s more: the remarkable double-image from his 1940 masterpiece, “Slave Market with Disappearing Bust of Voltaire” (Dali Museum, Florida) appears toward the bottom of the red cape/dress.
Little wonder, then, that Spanish author Luis Romero wrote a book about this one incomparable Dali work, translated as “All Dali in One Painting.” With its surrealism, its pop, op and psychadelic art references, it’s tight craftsmanship, its inclusion of Dali and Gala, and its overarching “Spanishness,” this great painting would have ensured Salvador Dali a place in the pantheon of great artists, even if he’d painted nothing else.
Did Dali know this all along? Was he giving us his final masterpiece, determined to make it his best? So many things to ponder when we consider Dali…praise Dali…buy Dali…dream Dali!