Salvador Dali, one of the greatest Spanish painters of all time, and one of the most important figures in the history of Modernism. Both Dali's extraordinary talent and odd personality helped him to rise above the rest of the Surrealists of the 20th century. His artwork and influences can be seen almost everywhere around the world. His explicit and controversial Surrealist paintings are some of the most famous, and infamous, paintings of the 1900's, and his rebellious and independent attitude towards art and politics set him aside from other painters, leaving a mark on Surrealist painting forever. Dali expressed surrealism in everything he said and did. He was not just unconventional and dramatic; he was fantastic, shocking, and outrageous. Salvador Dali remains one of the great artistic innovators of all time. Like Picasso, Matisse, Miro and Chagall, his place at the pinnacle of modern art history is assured.
Salvador Dali (1941 - 1989)
> analysis of art, paintings, and works...
- The Poetry of America (1943)
- Galarina (1945)
- One Second Before Awakening from a Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee Around a Pomegranate (1944)
- Tristan and Isolde (1944)
- My Wife, Naked, Looking at her Own Body (1945)
- The Temptation of Saint Anthony (1946)
- Dematerialization Near the Nose of Nero (1947)
- Portrait of Picasso (1947)
- The Madonna of Port Lligat (1950)
- Christ of Saint John of the Cross (1951)
- Raphaelesque Head Exploding (1951)
- Asummpta Corpuscularia Lapislazulina (1952)
- Crucifixion (Corpus Hypercubus) (1954)
- Rhinocerotic Disintegration of Illissus of Phidias (1954)
- The Last Supper (1955)
- Nature Morte Vivante (Living Still Life) (1956)
- The Discovery of America by Christopher Columbus (1959)
- Meditative Rose (1958)
- The Ascension of Christ (1958)
- Portrait of My Dead Brother (1963)
- The Hallucinogenic Toreador (1970)
- Dali from the Back Painting Gala from the Back Eternalized by Six Virtual Corneas Provisionally Reflected in Six Real Mirrors (1973)
The Poetry of America (1943)
This large picture was painted in a bedroom of the Del Monte Lodge in Monterey, California. Here the Dalinian doctrine has been successfully applied to transcribe the obsessive images, fruit of the years of exile Dali and Gala spent in America during World War II. American dynamism is represented by the two principal figures, football players, and by the little character posed on the appendage in the back of the one on the left; he is balancing a ball on his finger and symbolizes the physical vitality of Negroes. In this work Dali has expressed his premonition of the difficulties which would arise between the black and white citizens after the war by painting a soft map of Africa hanging from the clock in the back. As far as he is concerned, the Coca-Cola bottle is also premonitory. He pointed out to me (Robert Descharnes) recently that he had painted the bottle with photographic meticulousness nearly twenty years before Andy Warhol and the American Pop artists started to do the same thing. They were surprised to see this canvas by the Catalonian painter dated 1943 when they thought themselves to be the first ones to show an interest in this sort of anonymous and banal object.
Speaking of the vitality of the American people, Dali gave the following explanation in a taped interview in the summer of 1966: "What the American people like best is: first, blood - you have seen all the great American movies, especially the historical ones; there are always scenes where the hero is beaten in the most sadistic way in the world and where one witnesses veritable orgies of blood! Second, Americans like soft watches. Why? Because they are always looking at their watches. They are always in a hurry, terribly pressed for time, and their watches are horribly rigid, hard, and mechanical. Therefore, the day when Dali painted for the first time a soft watch, this was a great success! Because for once this awful object, which marked minute by minute the ineluctable sequence of their lives and reminded them of their urgent business, all of a sudden had become as soft as Camembert cheese when it is at its best, when it starts to run. Next, the greatest passion of the American people is when they see little children killed. Why? Because, according to the greatest psychologists in the United States, the massacre of the innocents is the favorite theme, the one which is found in the innermost depths of their subconscious minds, since they are constantly annoyed by children, so that their libido projects itself filling the cosmic surfaces of their dreams. If Americans adore bloody orgies and the slaughter of the innocents and soft watches which run like real French Camembert when it is just right, it is because what they love most in the world are 'dot,' or bits of data, those information bits that symbolize the discontinuity of matter. It is for that reason that all today's Pop art is made up of information 'dots.'"
Gala has often been depicted in Dali's works. One might even say that she is the only woman whose face and silhouette appear there incessantly; the painter says, "She is the rarest being to see, the superstar who cannot in any case be compared with La Callas or Greta Garbo, because one may see them often, whereas Gala is an invisible being, the anti-exhibitionist par excellence. At Salvador Dali's home, there are two prime ministers; one is my wife, Gala, and the other is Salvador Dali. Salvador Dali and Gala are the two unique beings capable of mathematically moderating and exalting my divine madness."
This portrait belongs to the artist's classical period. It was painted in America a little before the end of the Second World War. "Started in 1944," Dali writes in the commentary of the catalogue for his exhibition in the Bignou Gallery in 1945, "it took me six months of working three hours a day to finish this portrait. I named this painting Galarina because Gala is for me what La Fornarina was to Raphael. And, without premeditation, here is the bread again. A rigorous and perspicacious analysis brings to light the resemblance of Gala's crossed arms with the sides of the basket of bread, her breast seeming to be the extremity of the crust. I had already painted Gala with two cutlets on her shoulder to transcribe the expression of my desire to devour her. It was at the time of the raw flesh of my imagination. Today, now that Gala has risen in the heraldic hierarchy of my nobility, she has become my basket of bread."
This picture was painted in the United States in 1944-45, three years after Dali had married Gala in a civil ceremony. It was being done at the moment when the artist was claiming to have discovered for the first time in his life the real way to paint; in other words, with over- and underpainting. For him, this is infinitely more subtle in its tonalities than the pictures painted before. He links it already to the period of Leda Atomica, when he was doing all the technical research work related to matter. This research absorbed him so much that he ended by not paying attention to conversations and even to remarks that Gala made to him. In recalling this episode he tells the following anecdote: "It was exactly during this period that I used to wake up at night to place a drop of varnish, more or less, on a painting. It was complete lunacy. Then Gala - we were in the midst of the war at the very time when the Americans were leaving for the Pacific - said to me, 'Really, what would you do if one day the same thing happened to you as to these boys who must leave for the war in airplanes every day to go and fight? It seems to me that beside this your technical problems are not so insoluble! It is much less dramatics And I replied, 'If they should do such a thing to me, if they insisted on leaving, on parachuting' - because at the time there was some possibility that foreigners would be enlisted - 'well, in that case, I would not let YOU leave.' I had completely forgotten that it was a question of my going and was convinced that if anyone had to go to war, it would be Gala!"
The bracelet she is wearing on her wrist was a Faberge creation of Mogul inspiration that Dali liked immensely. He used it placed around his wife's ankle in the painting Original Sin, which may be seen today in the Boymans-van Beuningen Museum in Rotterdam. The serpent,. along with all of Gala's jewelry, was stolen a few years later from the bedroom of the hotel in which the couple was staying in California.
One Second Before Awakening from a Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee Around a Pomegranate (1944)
Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee was painted while Dali and Gala were living in America. The full title explains the subject and content of the painting, which was taken from a dream that Gala reported to Dali. He announced that this painting was the first illustration of Freud's discovery, that external stimuli could be the cause of a dream.
The catalyst for the dream, which is the pomegranate, hangs in the air with the bee flying toward it. Behind the pomegranate Gala's dream unfolds over a sea of brilliant blue. A naked Gala lies asleep as she hovers over a stone; an allusion to the common floating feeling that can occur in dreams.
To the left of Gala is a huge pomegranate that spills seeds on to the sea below. Out of the pomegranate an angry, pink fish is emerging with a wide open mouth. A snarling tiger leaps out of the fish. From this tiger another emerges, its tail in the mouth of the previous one. The tigers are rushing toward Gala, their claws at the ready, but it is the bayonet, mirroring the sting of the bee, that will wake her.
Tristan and Isolde (1944)
The figures of Tristan and Isolde depicted on this canvas were painted by Dali in 1944 as a backdrop for the ballet Bacchanale, performed to Wagner's music and presented for the first time in 1944 on the stage of the International Theater in New York. The tale of this ballet, for which Dali wrote the libretto, began before the war. At that time that title was Mad Tristan. It was to be performed in Paris with the choreography by Leonide Massine, the scenery by Prince Charvachidze, and costumes on which Coco Chanel wished to use real ermine and genuine precious stones. The war prevented the production in Paris, and later the Marquis Georges de Cuevas decided to stage the spectacle in New York. "As with everything else," Dali writes in The Secret Life, "my Mad Tristan, which was to have been my most successful theatrical venture, could not be given; so it became Venusberg and finally Bacchanale, which is the definitive version." The ballet is favorable ground for Dali to put his paranoiac-critical method into practice with happy results. Unfortunately, most of the time his directions were not followed exactly in the production of the scenery and staging; his ideas often seemed too difficult to execute in actual practice, they were too costly, and they could not be accepted under the security rules normally applied to theaters.
The two latest collaborations by Dali in ballets date from 1961, when he participated with Maurice Bejart in the staging of The Spanish Lady and the Roman Cavalier by Scarlatti and a Ballet de Gala for which he wrote the libretto, designed the scenery and costumes, and demanded a curtain formed by motorcycles backfiring, hanging one from the other, and a real boeuf-ecorche-de-Rembrandt which was to have been replaced at each performance so as to exert over the spectators the paralyzing effect of its freshness.
My Wife, Naked, Looking at her Own Body (1945)
My Wife, Naked, Looking at her own Body is one of several portraits of Gala where she is viewed from the rear. Dali said that he had instantly realized Gala was the incarnation of his childhood love, the woman he waited for, upon seeing her back, which he believed
On the wall to the right of Gala is a Grecian stone head, which emphasizes the Classical style of the painting. Apart from the Surrealist architectural Gala, this painting could be regarded as Classical.
Gala looks ahead to see her own body, as the title explains, transforming into architecture. The ends of her hair are formed from stonework reminiscent of that seen on the self-portrait, The Great Masturbator (1929). The column that would be Gala's backbone is metallic, creating a visual commentary on the strength and tenacity of his wife. Inside the architectural Gala is the tiny figure of a man, appearing lost inside a huge cage.
The Temptation of Saint Anthony (1946)
In this picture temptation appears to Saint Anthony successively in the form of a horse in the foreground representing strength, sometimes also the symbol of voluptuousness, and in the form of the elephant which follows it, carrying on its back the golden cup of lust in which a nude woman is standing precariously balanced on the fragile pedestal, a figure which emphasizes the erotic character of the composition. The other elephants are carrying buildings on their backs; the first of these is an obelisk inspired by that of Bernini in Rome, the second and third are burdened with Venetian edifices in the style of Palladio. In the background another elephant carries a tall tower which is not without phallic overtones, and in the clouds one can glimpse a few fragments of Escorial, symbol of temporal and spiritual order. The elephant theme appears several times in Dali's works of this period: for example, in Atomica Melancholica of 1945 and Triumph of Dionysus of 1953.
This picture was painted in the studio that the artist occupied for a few days next to the Colony Restaurant in New York. It is the first and only time that he participated in a contest. It was an invitational artistic competition for a painting on the theme of the temptation of Saint Anthony, organized in 1946 by the Loew Lewin Company, a movie-producing firm. The winning picture was to figure in a film taken from the story "Bel Ami" by Maupassant. Eleven painters took part in the competition, among them Leonora Carrington, Dali, Paul Delvaux, Max Ernst, and Dorothea Tanning. The prize was given to Max Ernst by a jury composed of Alfred Barr, Marcel Duchamp, and Sidney Janis. All these works were shown at an exhibition in Brussels and in Rome during 1947.
Dematerialization Near the Nose of Nero (1947)
Dematerialization Near the Nose of Nero, while a good example of Dali's "nuclear mystical" period, also evinces a more Classical style. With typical irony, Dali wrote that "the two worst things that can happen to an ex-Surrealist today are, firstly, to become a mystic and secondly, to know how to draw. Both these forms of vigour have lately befallen me at one and the same time".
Against an Ampordan plain, a huge pomegranate has been spliced, like an atom, into two parts. Seeds spill out from the pomegranate, floating in the air between the two halves. A bust of Nero hovers above the dissected cube that houses the pomegranate. The bust itself has split into four parts, (or alternatively, the four parts are coming together to form a whole). Dali's use of a Classical theme such as Nero is emphasized by the Classical architecture that hangs over Nero's head. However, it is not just the content that marks this painting's Classical style; the brushwork is meticulous, the depiction realistic and the balance within it also evokes the Classical style, while being at the same time Dali's interpretation of atomic force.
Portrait of Picasso (1947)
This portrait might be entitled Official Paranoiac Portrait of Pablo Picasso, because Dali has assembled here all the folkloric elements that anecdotally depict the origins of the Andalusian painter. His renown is affirmed by his bust mounted on a pedestal, symbol of official consecration; the breasts depict Picasso's nutritious aspect while he carries on his head the heavy rock of the responsibility for the influence of his work on contemporary painting. The face itself is a mixture of a goat hoof and the headdress of the Greco-Iberian marble bust, the Lady of Elche, which brings to mind Andalusian and Malagan origins of Picasso. The Iberian folklore is finished off with a carnation, a jasmine flower, and the guitar. Speaking about the work of this Titan shortly after his death, Dali said: "I believe that the magic in Picasso's work is romantic, in other words, the root of its upheaval, while mine can only be done by building on tradition. I am totally different from Picasso since he was not interested in beauty, but in ugliness and I, more and more, in beauty; but ugly beauty and beautiful beauty, in extreme cases of geniuses like Picasso and me, can be of an angelic type."
The Madonna of Port Lligat (1950)
This immense canvas, one of Dali's most famous, marks the beginning of a new period in his work. At the same time, it is the first picture so large, it is the first of the religious paintings, and it heralds the corpuscular epoch. The whole composition is arranged around the eucharistic bread visible through a hole in the center of Jesus' body, the point of intersection of the diagonal lines indicating the middle of the painting. Gala is depicted as the Virgin and also as the cuttlefish-angles on the right side of the canvas. A little boy of Cadaques called Juan Figueras was used as the model for the infant Jesus.
"Gala Madonna embodies all the geological virtues of Port Lligat," the painter wrote in 1956; "for example, the nurse, from whose back the night stand was taken, has this time been sublimated into the tabernacle of living flesh though which the celestial sky may be seen, and in turn another tabernacle cut from the chest of the infant Jesus, containing eucharistic bread in suspension." There are two oils of the same subject; that reproduced here is the second one. The first, which is smaller in size, was submitted by Dali to Pope Pius XII for approval and is now at Marquette University. About the larger canvas, Dali has commented to me (Robert Descharnes): "This picture because of its size was destined to know many mishaps. In the midst of an awful storm we had to have a contractor come to Port Lligat to enlarge the window in the room, the room with the birds, because the canvas on its stretcher would not go through the window. Then Gala had to hire a truck, because it was too big for the train, to ship it first to Paris and then to Le Havre, in order to ship it by boat to America. In New York, it was too big for any elevator; they had to hoist it up with a rope to the windows of the floor on which the Carstairs Gallery was located and where it was to be shown. The dealer, George Keller, himself said at the time, 'This painting is magnificent, but I will never be able to sell it, because there is no house big enough for it, and it costs too much to ship it around.' It is, however, the one which opened the doors to the sale of all my large pictures." Today The Madonna of Port Lligat is in the collection of Lady Beaverbrook in Canada. It is never shown in retrospective exhibitions because, in order to get it out, it would be necessary to knock down the door or take out one of the windows in the library where it hangs.
Christ of Saint John of the Cross (1951)
By far the most popular of all Dali's religious works is without a doubt his Christ of Saint John of the Cross, whose figure dominates the Bay of Port Lligat. The painting was inspired by a drawing, preserved in the Convent of the Incarnation in Avila, Spain, and done by Saint John of the Cross himself after he had seen this vision of Christ during an ecstasy. The people beside the boat are derived from a picture by Le Nain and from a drawing by Velazquez for The Surrender of Breda. At the bottom of his studies for the Christ, Dali wrote: "In the first place, in 1950, I had a 'cosmic dream' in which I saw this image in color and which in my dream represented the 'nucleus of the atom.' This nucleus later took on a metaphysical sense; I considered it 'the very unity of the universe,' the Christ! In the second place, when, thanks to the instructions of Father Bruno, a Carmelite, I saw the Christ drawn by Saint John of the Cross, I worked out geometrically a triangle and a circle, which 'aesthetically' summarized all my previous experiments, and I inscribed my Christ in this triangle."
This work was regarded as banal by an important art critic when it was first exhibited in London. Nevertheless, several years later, it was slashed by a fanatic while it was hanging in the Glasgow Museum, proof of its astonishing effect on people. Dali relates that, when he was finishing the picture at the end of autumn in 1951, it was so cold in the house in Port Lligat that Gala abruptly decided to have central heating installed. He remembers the moments of terror through which he then lived, fearing for his canvas on which the paint was still wet, with all the dust stirred up by the workmen: "We took it from the studio to the bedroom so that I could continue to paint, covered with a white sheet which dare not touch the surface of the oil. I said that I didn't believe I could do my Christ again if any accident were to befall it. It was true ceremonial anguish. In ten days the central heating was installed and I was able to finish the picture in order to take it to London, where it was shown for the first time at the Lefevre Gallery." When it was at the Biennial of Art in Madrid, along with other works of the painter, General Franco asked that two of the oils of the master of Figueras be brought to the palace of El Pardo - Basket of Bread and Christ of Saint John of the Cross.
Raphaelesque Head Exploding (1951)
This is yet another work in which Dali combines imagery and references to many different facets of his life into a whole. Dali's Classical fascination with the atomic structure, a return to the influences of the Renaissance, and his religious background all come together in this remarkable work.
Dali's interest in perfect forms led him to idolize the rhinoceros horns which can be seen floating above the figure's left eyebrow. These horns represent Dali's conviction that the basis of life itself was indeed a spiral. The Madonna face here is depicted in a state of nuclear fragmentation, thus further illustrating Dali's point. The crown of the head seems to be made up of a vaulted ceiling, certainly a reference to Dali's love of all things classical, and perhaps to the ruins of Ampurius near his childhood home.
Asummpta Corpuscularia Lapislazulina (1952)
Lapis-lazuli Corpuscular Assumption repeats several of the images seen in Raphaelesque Head Exploding (1951). The outline of the Pantheon can be seen, the top of which acts as a halo to Gala's head. Like the Madonna, Gala is exploding, her body delineated by the rhinoceros horns that swirl about the painting.
Above an altar is the figure of the crucified Christ. The model for Christ was a boy from Cadaques called Juan whom the Dalis were very close to, treating him like an adopted son. The boy's body forms a triangle, a shape repeated by Gala's arms and head above. Dali had a glass floor put in his studio so that he could look up or down on his models in order to recreate this perspective.
Dali saw this painting as an interpretation of the philosopher Nietzsche's idea of natural strength, although here we have Gala as a "superwoman", ascending to heaven through her own innate force. In a later explanation of the work, Dali wrote that Gala was rising to heaven with the aid of "anti-matter Angels". The painting can be interpreted as Gala's body either disintegrating or integrating.
Crucifixion (Corpus Hypercubus) (1954)
When disembarking from the steamship America in Le Havre on March 27, 1953, on his return from New York, Dali announced to the reporters gathered around him that he was going to paint a picture he himself termed as sensational: an exploding Christ, nuclear and hypercubic. He said that it would be the first picture painted with a classical technique and an academic formula but actually composed of cubic elements. To a reporter who asked him why he wanted to depict Christ exploding, he replied, "I don't know yet. First I have ideas, I explain them later. This picture will be the great metaphysical work of my summer."
It was at the end of spring in 1953 in Port Lligat that Dali began this work, but it is dated 1954, the year in which it was finished and then exhibited in the month of December at the Carstairs Gallery in New York. The painting may be regarded as one of the most significant of his religious oils in the classical style, along with The Madonna of Port Lligat, Christ of Saint John of the Cross, and The Last Supper, which is in the National Gallery in Washington, D.C.
"Metaphysical, transcendent cubism" is the way that Dali defines his picture, of which he says: "It is based entirely on the Treatise on Cubic Form by Juan de Herrera, Philip II's architect, builder of the Escorial Palace; it is a treatise inspired by Ars Magna of the Catalonian philosopher and alchemist, Raymond Lulle. The cross is formed by an octahedral hypercube. The number nine is identifiable and becomes especially consubstantial with the body of Christ. The extremely noble figure of Gala is the perfect union of the development of the hypercubic octahedron on the human level of the cube. She is depicted in front of the Bay of Port Lligat. The most noble beings were painted by Velazquez and Zurbaran; I only approach nobility while painting Gala, and nobility can only be inspired by the human being."
Crucifixion is a stunning work that successfully combines elements of Dali's Nuclear Mysticism with his return to his Catholic heritage during this time. In this work, Dali is giving us a crucifixion in the age of modern science, completing his theme started in Christ of St. John of the Cross.
Of particular note is the stunning athleticism with which the crucified savior is represented. Even the nail holes in the palms and feet are not present, as Salvador shows us his perfect redemption. The cross itself, an eight sided octahedral cube, represents the possible theoretical reflection of a separate 4-dimensional world. Dali's fascination with mathematics is incorporated with his return to his Catholic faith in later life. This union represents Dali's assertion that the two seemingly diametrically opposed worlds of faith and science CAN coexist.
Six feet in height, this painting can be considered one of the 18 Masterworks, so named by Mr. Reynolds Morse. Gala Dali stares up at the crucifixion as a reverent witness, wrapped in gold and white robes, standing on a large chessboard, while the familiar outline of the mountains of Catalonia recede into the distance.
Rhinocerotic Disintegration of Illissus of Phidias (1954)
Painted during Dali's corpuscular period, this is one of the pictures in which the artist used rhinoceros' horns in suspension to form a part or the entire figure of his subject, as in Raphaelesque Head Exploding of 1951, Paranoiac-Critical Study of Vermeer's Lacemaker of 1954-55, or Young Virgin Auto-Sodomized by Her Own Chastity. The Illisos was begun in Port Lligat during the summer of 1953 at the same time that Dali was working on the Crucifixion (Corpus Hybercubus), now in the Metropolitan Museum in New York. In his Le Journal d'un genie, Dali has given a detailed account of his day-to-day progress on these two works, describing how he managed to overcome his fear of undertaking certain surfaces of the canvas, which seemed to come from his neurotic fear of not having any testicles and of always keeping his teeth too tightly clenched. He conquered this fear one afternoon by attacking two completely different things: the torso and the testicles of Illisos. The care he devoted every day to this picture must be regarded as the strenuous work of a painter who knows how to seek mastery by doing a still life at the same time that he controls the atmosphere and the rendering of a work of his imagination, such as Crucifixion (Corpus Hybercubus). As a respite from the tension demanded by his work on the Crucifixion, he did the Illisos in his studio, using as a model a plaster replica of this marvelous sculpture by Phidias, originally found on the west pediment of the Parthenon and today in the British Museum in London.
The mythological figure is depicted in suspension in the middle of the Bay of Cadaques, where one glimpses in the background the rock called Cucurucuc which stands at the entrance to the bay. The underpart of the water is treated the same as in two other paintings, the first one dated 1950 and entitled Dali at the Age of Six When He Believed Himself to Be a Young Girl, Lifting with Extreme Precaution the Skin of the Water to Observe a Dog Sleeping in the Shadow of the Sea, and the second from 1963: Hercules Lifts the Skin if the Sea and Stops Venus for an Instant from Waking Love.
The Last Supper (1955)
This work is another excellent example of Dali's idea of Nuclear Mysticism, in which he has combined ideas of science and religion. As in several other Dali masterworks (namely The Ecumenical Council) we are unable to view the face of God here. The elements of the Catholic Eucharist, bread and wine, are present on the table, a direct reference back to Dali's Catalonian heritage. The wondrous landscape of Dali's homeland once again dominates the surrounding background, and the whole scene seems to be taking place inside some surreal and ethereal building.
Perhaps even more importantly, this work translates Dali's desire to become Classic in that he is adhering to the rules of Divine Proportion. The theory of the Golden Section, as forwarded by Euclid, created in Dali a whole new painting style, in which these classical artistic techniques were elevated to modern levels of mastery.
Nature Morte Vivante (Living Still Life) (1956)
Classical influences are again most prevalent in this Masterwork. Dali had many times painted still life works such as tabletops filled with fruit, fish or bread. But this work is particularly important because it shows some of these objects in motion, suggesting Dali's themes of Nuclear Mysticism.
The knife in the center of the painting divides the work into several perfect sections, another reference to Dali's obsession with classical methodology. The fruits in the upper right hand portion of the work are all in nuclear motion, as are one of the fruit bowls and the water spilling out of the decanter. A hand holds a rhinoceros horn on the left hand side of the work, while a cauliflower floret dominates the upper right hand section. All of these objects suggest the natural spiral shapes with which Dali had become so obsessed.
The small, colorful bits in the lower center of the work represent, according to Dali, the bits of matter that are left over from when he painted this work. Taken as a whole, this piece is an in-depth examination of the tenets expounded upon Dali in his theories of Divisionism and Nuclear Mysticism. Dali asserted that all matter was not at all like it seemed, but instead had attributes that even he was only able to guess at. As nuclear physics continued to mature, Dali was somewhat 'vindicated' in these beliefs, once the true nature of matter began to be unveiled.
The Discovery of America by Christopher Columbus (1959)
From the first day that he set foot on the pavement of Surrealist Paris, Dali has never ceased to proclaim that most of the pompiers painters and the ultra-academicians, especially Meissonier and the Spanish Mariano Fortuny, were a thousand times more interesting than the representatives of the aging "isms" of modern art, and the African, Polynesian, Indian, and even Chinese art objects. Therefore, it was normal that, at a certain point in his life, he should come face to face with patriotism, and, as the pompiers did at the end of the nineteenth century, he decided to paint pictures glorifying the history of his country.
The Discovery of America by Christopher Columbus was painted in 1958 and 1959. This oil antedated Santiago el Grande, which depicts Saint James of Compostela, patron saint of Spain. Dali says that in this canvas he painted for the first time with an existentialist shiver: the shiver for the unity of the fatherland. Everything in it springs from the four petals of a jasmine flower exploding in an atomic cloud of creative genius. Two years after finishing his Discovery of America, Dali produced a third historical work, The Battle of Tetuan, inspired by Mariano Fortuny's painting of the same name which is in the Museum of Modern Art in Barcelona. The Discovery of America by Christopher Columbus was a major step in Dali's painting of that period. Here one finds for the first time, brought together and intimately mixed with previous styles, the technique of his corpuscular period. In this canvas, the figure on the banner is Gala, and the monk kneeling and holding the crucifix is Dali. In a taped interview in 1972, while speaking about this picture he told me (Robert Descharnes) that he had wished to pay homage to the glory of Velazquez. On the other hand, what seemed to him more important from a technical point of view was to employ a process utilizing the lines of the photoengraver which, greatly enlarged, would allow the image, taken from the Christ of Glasgow, to reappear so that it would seem to mingle with the glorious halberds of the Spanish warriors, inspired by the painting by Velazquez in the Prado Museum, The Surrender of Breda.
It may seem surprising to say that Dali decided to paint pictures glorifying his country and then show Columbus discovering America. However, it has been argued that Columbus was a Spaniard. He never wrote anything in Italian; all writings are in Spanish, and some historians believe that his family was forced to leave Spain and flee to Italy. The Catalonians firmly believe that he was from Catalonia. Therefore, to Dali, this was the logical beginning of his historical paintings.
Three major influences (other than Gala, who was ALWAYS Dali's chief muse) inspired Dali to create this Masterwork, which is more than 14 feet tall. The first of these was the approaching 300th anniversary of the death of Velazquez, who was very important to Dali. The second was that there was considerable academic debate at the time regarding the true nationality of Columbus. Some were asserting that Columbus had been Catalonian rather than Italian, and Dali seized upon this opportunity to further glorify his wondrous Catalonia. Finally, the gallery which commissioned Dali to paint this work, the Huntington Hartford Gallery, was situated on Columbus Circle in New York City. The combination of these 3 things was enough to inspire Dali to wondrous heights of creativity.
The appointment of Columbus to explore the New World by King Ferdinand, and Queen Isabella of Spain is depicted in the upper center of the painting. Just to the right of that, the flying crosses, and the lances, standards and polearms held aloft by the figures below are direct references to the Velazquez painting The Surrender at Breda (or The Lances). In this way, Dali is paying his direct respects to the 17th Century Spanish Master who has so influenced him.
The center of the painting is dominated by a young Columbus who is leading one of his ships onto the shoreline of the New World. He holds in his right hand, a standard on which the visage of Gala is depicted in the pose of St. Helena, the mother of Constantine. Constantine was the founder of Constantinople and the Byzantium Empire, which so heavily influenced the development of Western Civilization. To the right of Columbus, is a kneeling figure of a monk, who is actually Dali, and in the lower right hand corner, the figure whose head is totally covered by the cloak is representative of the introspective and private side of his wife Gala.
In the lower left hand corner, a translucent bishop holds his staff aloft amongst a series of crosses and other objects. This is Saint Narcisso, the Bishop of Gerona, who had been murdered in his own abbey. There was a Spanish legend that said whenever any foreign invaders would advance into the area of St. Narcisso's tomb, that huge clouds of gadflies would pour forth in order to drive the foreign invaders away.
This painting, above all, is a tribute to Dali's Spanish Catholic heritage. The pose of Gala on the banner held by Columbus symbolizes the way in which Gala helped Dali to discover America. She was very much responsible for many of the antics for which he became famous, and as a result of her guidance, Dali rose to the great heights with which we are now familiar.
Meditative Rose (1958)
Roses appear in many of Dali's works; in the Thirties he made several paintings of women whose heads were formed by roses. Dali uses the rose as a female sexual symbol. The Invisible Man (1929-32) includes two partially naked women with huge roses appearing where their wombs should be. In 1930, Dali used this image again but in a more definitive way, depicting a nude woman with bleeding roses coming from her womb. To Dali then, the rose represented menstruation and the internal reproductive organs of women.
The Rose shares a similar structure with the Portrait of Gala with the Rhinocerotic Symptoms (1954). Both paintings have the familiar intensely blue sky as a backdrop to a dominating central image that hovers over a Spanish landscape. The paintings also share the same vivid red color of the rose, which contrasts so effectively with the blue sky; in Portrait of Gala with the Rhinocerotic Symptoms, the red is used for the border beneath her head. In The Rose, there is a tiny drop of water on one of the petals of the flower, as realistic as a photograph. Dali often used this effect of trompe l'oeil to highlight a small detail of a painting.
The Ascension of Christ (1958)
Dali said that his inspiration for The Ascension of Christ came from a "cosmic dream" that he had in 1950, some eight years before the painting was completed. In the dream, which was in vivid color, he saw the nucleus of an atom, which we see in the background of the painting; Dali later realized that this nucleus was the true representation of the unifying spirit of Christ.
The feet of Christ point out at the viewer, drawing the eye inwards along his body to the center of the atom behind him. The atom has the same interior structure as the head of a sunflower. As with most of Dali's other paintings of Christ, his face is not visible. Above the Christ is Gala, her eyes wet with tears.
The figure of the Christ, from his feet in the foreground to his outstretched arms, forms a triangle. Dali had used the same geometry for his Lapis-lazuli Corpuscular Assumption. He used a triangular structure first in the 1951 painting Christ of St. John of the Cross. The inspiration for this form came from a drawing by Spanish mystic St. John of the Cross, where Christ is depicted as if seen from above.
Portrait of My Dead Brother (1963)
Dali's brother, also named Salvador, died at the age of two, a year before his birth. He looked very like his dead brother and said that his "forced identification with a dead person meant that my true image of my own body was of a decaying, rotting, soft, wormy corpse ...". This is the only painting Dali did of his brother, although the boy is older than his real brother was before he died. Dali felt that he was exorcizing the spirit of his brother with this painting.
The face of the boy is created by a dot matrix, a technique that was widely used in the Pop Art period of the Sixties. This technique emphasizes the ghost-like quality of the boy, he is insubstantial, yet his presence fills the landscape. The boy's hair also forms part of the wings of a crow; a bird often viewed as a harbinger of death. Beneath the boy is a miniature depiction of Millet's The Angelus. Dali believed that through an X-ray of The Angelus, it would be proved that the basket over which the couple are praying was initially the coffin for a child.
The Hallucinogenic Toreador (1970)
This large vertical composition was begun in Port Lligat in 1968 and finished in 1970, when it was purchased by Mr. and Mrs. A. Reynolds for the Salvador Dali Museum in Cleveland, to be hung along with their other works already assembled there.
The double image appearing in the center of this work is that of the Venus de Milo repeated several times from different angles in such a way that the shadows form the features of a toreador whose coat of lights is made up of the corpuscles obtained through the multiplication of dots and of flies, mingled with the corpuscular image of the dying bull. Dali's first obsession with the Venus de Milo was in 1936, when he transformed a plaster replica into Venus de Milo with Drawers, putting drawers in her body and in her forehead. He told me (Robert Descharnes) recently that he had practically not touched the original plaster, on which he had only marked where the drawers should be. It was Marcel Duchamp, creator of the ready-made, who undertook the production of the model.
Here, it was in the Venus de Milo reproduced on the cover of a box of pencils of a well-known brand that Dali instantly saw the face of a toreador appear. The architecture of the arena lighted by the shadows of the sun at five o'clock in the afternoon, the hour of the bullfight, is a mixture of classical Spanish arenas with Palladian structures seen in Italy and the porticoes in the old, ruined theater in Figueras before it was transformed into the Teatro-Museo Dali.
As a whole, this painting can be viewed as the most comprehensive, single retrospective painting of Dali's career. It incorporates elements from Dali's Catalan culture, his religious upbringing, and many other specific elements of his life. Dali conceived the idea for this painting while in an art supply store. In the body of Venus, on a box of pencils of that brand name, he saw the face of the toreador. This is a double image painting that repeats the image of the Venus de Milo several times in such a way that the shadows form the features of a toreador.
The toreador's face is imposed on the middle Venus. The face is tilted, the lips are slanted, and the right breast of Venus makes up the toreador's nose. Starting with the button at the waist of the second Venus to the left, transform that area into a collar button and man's collar. The green skirt of the Venus becomes the toreador's tie. Her abdomen becomes his chin, while her midriff and left breast make up the most of the rest of his face. The right side of her face become the toreador's eye, which is shedding a tear for the dying bull. The arena at the top makes up the toreador's hat. The toreador appears again in the figure outlined in yellow with arms raised in dedication of the bull to Gala. She appears in the upper left hand corner surrounded by yellow. Dali painted Gala with a frown because she disliked bullfights.
The tear in the eye (at the nape of Venus' neck) is shed for the dying bull. The legendary flies of St. Narrciso (said to come from the tomb of St. Narrciso whenever any foreign power tried to invade Spain) are shown first realistically and then more symbolically where they merge into the details of the toreador's cape. At the top of the painting, the flies suggest the small black balls of thread that were once sewn to the hair nets worn by the toreador's in the time of Goya, and still persist in the black over-aprons of the old women of rural Spain. The colored spheres are reminiscent of those on the spires of the cathedral "Sagrada Familia" by Antonio Gaudi. They also refer to Optical Art, as the spheres create a 3-D cube.
The image of the dying bull emerges from the rocky terrain of Cape Creus that appears just below the toreador's cape. A large fly makes up the eye. What might at first appear to be a pool of blood beneath the bull is really a translucent bay. On this bay a woman appears on a yellow raft. This seeming incongruity symbolizes the 'modern tourists' invasion of Cape Creus which even the flies of St. Narrciso have been unable to halt! Dali once remarked that he was not too worried about the profanation of his beloved Cape Creus because its rocks would "eventually vanquish the French tourists and time would destroy the litter they leave everywhere".
In the center foreground at the bottom of the painting, a dog appears made up of expressionistic flecks of color that could be reflections from the water. This dog was derived from a 1966 photograph by Ronald C. James showing a Dalmatian. The dog was removed, but the spots remained. This photo addressed the same issue that concerned Dali in all of his double images: how much visual information is needed to recognize a shape? This dog also brings one back to the 1923 painting Cadaques with its dog in the same spot, showing the breadth of Dali's art and genius. Finally, often barely visible in even the best color scans of this work, in the lower left corner, Dali signs his own retrospective with a small figure of himself as a boy. He's wearing his favorite blue sailor suit, and playing with his favorite toys, a hoop and a fossilized bone.
Dali from the Back Painting Gala from the Back Eternalized by Six Virtual Corneas Provisionally Reflected in Six Real Mirrors (1973)
Research into the third dimension, completely controlled by the rigorous laws of perspective, plays a dominant role in the work of Salvador Dali. The painter has always been interested in methods of depicting spatial dimensions, the offshoot of optics and photography, stereoscopy, holography, stereo-video. "In the pictorial domain," he has written, "my sole ambitions were directed toward optical truth, even before arriving in Paris. I have always praised color photography." The extreme precision with which he paints his subjects, copied according to his needs just as expertly from photographs as from nature - his talent allows this - makes him define painting in this way. "Photography in three dimensions and in color of the superfine images of concrete irrationality, entirely made by hand."
Since 1961, when Dali was studying stereoscopy, I (Robert Descharnes) have been able to collaborate directly with him in all his research work. In 1971 he came upon the work of the Dutch painter Gerard Dou, and he noticed that several paintings by this pupil of Rembrandt, done in two versions, exhibited undeniable stereoscopic characteristics. He then decided to return to the experiments of Dou: starting with stereoscopic documents, he painted two canvases, one for the left eye, the other for the right eye. These appeared to be in three dimensions, with the help of a system of mirrors focused by Roger de Montebello. The first images were disappointing, the major disadvantage being the weight of the glass, its fragility, and the impossibility of getting rid of the reflected double image caused by the thickness of the glass mirrors. I was able to solve this problem, to Dali's greatest satisfaction, by using tightly stretched plastic film with a higher power of refraction than glass. Thanks to these new methods, stereoscopy ceased being a secret and became monumental. Going further, going beyond painting, in December 1973 I suggested that Dali apply our discovery to television, creating a stereo-video in which experimentation continues.
This colorplate shows the painting for the right eye faithfully copied by Dali from the stereoscopic photograph in black and white. All the painter's work turned toward the study of the variations of colors, values, and the rendering of the lights and shadows from the canvas to the other in order to achieve a three-dimensional effect and to offer a new stereoscopic, binocular vision, thanks to the optical superimposing of his two paintings.
Salvador Dali Art
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