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 (1904 - 1929)
> analysis of art, paintings, and works...
- Portrait of Lucia (Retrato de Lucia) (1918)
- Self-Portrait with the Neck of Raphael (1921)
- Self-Portrait with L'Humanitie (1923)
- Portrait of Luis Bunuel (1924)
- Figure at a Window (1925)
- Girl from the Back (1925)
- Portrait of My Father (1925)
- Venus and a Sailor (Homage to Salvat-Papasseit) (1925)
- Pierrot Playing the Guitar (1925)
- Figure on the Rocks (1926)
- Figure on the Rocks (Penya Segats) (1926)
- The Girl of Figueras (1926)
- The Bather (Beigneuse) (1928)
- Surrealist Composition (1928)
- Little Cinders (Senicitas) (1928)
- Bird (1928)
- The Spectral Cow (1928)
Portrait of Lucia (Retrato de Lucia) (1918)
This is one of the first portraits Dali painted. It depicts his nurse, Lucia Moncanut, as an old woman. Hired by Dali's family to look after him and his sister, Ana-Maria, in Figueras, she occupies an important place in the Dalinian iconography. When this picture was painted, the children having grown up, Lucia was taking care of their maternal grandmother, Ana; Dali remembers having worked at the same time on a portrait of Ana, in profile, holding in her hand a similar dahlia or perhaps a carnation - Dali can't remember which - like the Moorish carnations that Spanish women were in the habit of placing behind their ears or sticking in their hair. Dali thinks that he painted Lucia's portrait while he had tonsilitis and she was hovering around him as she used to do when he was a child in order to tell him stories.
We know that Lucia never left the apartment on Monturiol Street; she never went to Cadaques. It is she, however, whom the painter confused with the silhouette of Lydia, the wife of a fisherman of Cadaques, when he painted the figure in the center of a picture such as The Weaning of Furniture-Nutrition. Lydia was used as the archetype for the heroine of a novel by Eugenio d'Ors, La Ben Plantada (The Well-Planted Woman). Her paranoiac personality made a great impression on Picasso and Fernande Olivier when they visited the little port of Cadaques in 1910.
Lydia's son and Dali's father figured out a few years ago that Portrait of Lucia must have been painted c. 1918. Even if it had been done at the end of the following year, it is a good example of Dali's impressionistic style, as in the Portrait of Hortensia, Peasant Woman of Cadaques; Old Man at Twilight - and numerous landscapes of the same period. The mastery of his touch, the precision with which he has rendered the half-blind eyes of the old woman, and the richness of color show what a keen eye the young painter had, even at the age of fourteen.
Self-Portrait with the Neck of Raphael (1921)
Here we see Dali at the age of about seventeen at the top of the road that dominates all Cadaques and leads to the cove of Seboya. The village appears in the background, sparkling in the morning sunshine. Behind Dali we see what is nearly an island, Sortell, the estate of the Pichots. Dali often went to this spot to paint the landscape in different lights. Speaking of this canvas, which is small in size, he relates: "At that time they called me Senor Patinas because I wore sideburns; it was in the middle of my student days at the Academy of Fine Arts, in 1921, when these sideburns were the longest. At the time of this painting, my hair was starting to grow but not as much."
"It was painted by the light of the setting sun. Sometimes I got up at dawn and I worked on four or five pictures at the same time. My canvases were brought to me, but I myself was wearing an outfit with all the brushes attached to it by strings, which made me into a sort of hippie! It allowed me immediately to grab the brush I needed. Later I wore a mechanic's suit which was so smeared with glue as to become a veritable suit of armor." All Dali's interest is turned to the atmosphere of the picture; for the sake of accuracy, he had to return to the scene every day at the exact hour when the sun hit the village, leaving the cliff in the foreground in the shadow, where he placed himself. Then he worked on the likeness of himself in front of a mirror in his studio during the hot hours of the day.
Self-Portrait with L'Humanitie (1923)
Self-portrait with L'Humanitie was painted while Dali was at the Madrid Academy of Arts. The title refers to a French Socialist journal L'Humanitie to which Dali subscribed. In the background to the right of Dali is part of the word "L'Humanitie"; Dali cut out the title from the front page and pasted it on to the painting, giving a collage effect, to create contrasting textures and formats within the piece.
As with a lot of artists, Dali did many self-portraits that were reflective of his life at the time of painting them. Here we see an almost featureless Dali compared to the realistic portrait in the 1921-22 painting, Self-portrait with Raphaelesque Neck. Although this featureless depiction is reflective of the Cubist style of painting that Dali was exploring, it may also be indicative of his feelings about himself, a young man trying to find his own identity. Dali has included humanity here almost as a way of stating who he is through his reading materials, which were rather exclusive, rather than through his featureless self. Dali has no mouth in this painting, an image that is repeated in many of his later paintings, personifying loss of control and subsequent fear.
Portrait of Luis Bunuel (1924)
Dali met Luis Bunuel at the Royal Academy of Arts in Madrid, where he studied from 1922 until 1926, when he was finally expelled. Bunuel was one of a circle of intellectual friends that greatly influenced Dali; among them was Frederico Garcia Lorca, the Spanish poet and playwright. Bunuel was to become a Surrealist film maker, completing two films with Dali: Un Chien Andalou in 1929 and L'Age d'or in 1930.
Portrait of Luis Bunuel was painted when the sitter was 25 years old. It shows a very solemn and thoughtful-looking man who stares out beyond the painter and viewer to the distance. The palette of the portrait is quite restricted, making use of only a few somber colors - this use of color emphasizes the serious look on the subject's face, helping to give the portrait a grave atmosphere.
The portrait is in a similar style to that of other paintings, sculpture and architecture of this period. A Catalan movement called "Noucentisme", meaning a style of art that returned to the Classical while attempting to bring in something of the contemporary spirit of modern life, was evidently an influence on Dali.
Figure at a Window (1925)
Both Figure at a Window and Seated Girl Seen from the Rear were painted in 1925, using oil on canvas. The model was Ana Maria, Dali's younger sister and only sibling. For a long time Dali and Ana Maria were extremely close, especially after their mother's death, when Ana Maria took on the role of mother to the demanding Dali. Ana Maria was the only female model Dali used until Gala replaced her in 1929.
In 1949, Ana Maria wrote an autobiography that portrayed a very different view of Dali to the one he had carefully constructed in his autobiographies; this led to the collapse of their relationship. In revenge for Ana Maria's disloyalty, Dali painted another version of this Figure at a Window in 1954 and called it Young Virgin Autosodomized by her Own Chastity.
As with Seated Girl Seen from the Rear, we can not see the face of the girl and so our focus is drawn to the view that she is looking at from her window. The view is the bay of Cadaques, a Spanish seaside town where the Dalis spent their summers. The predominant colors of light blues and lavenders give the painting a peaceful feel that is unusual in much of Dali's work.
Girl from the Back (1925)
Girl from the Back was painted in 1925, using oil on canvas. The girl in the painting is Ana Maria, Dali's younger sister. She was also the model for Woman at the Window at Figueres. Seated Girl was included in Dali's first solo exhibition at the Dalmau Gallery in Barcelona in 1925, where it was viewed favorably by Pablo Picasso, who Dali was to meet in Paris the following year.
The painting is almost Classical in style; it is simple and harmonious in content and form, harking back to an earlier period of art that was in revival at the time. As with Woman at the Window, Dali has painted Ana Maria from the rear so that her face is not seen. This viewpoint, while lending the picture an air of intrigue, ensures that the viewer's eye is drawn, like the girl's, to the landscape ahead. The golden-brown of the girl's skin contrasts with the white of the rectangular buildings that stand in the sun ahead of her. The distant hills to the right of the picture repeat the exact color of her skin. The curve of the girl's naked shoulder accents the lines and corners of the buildings.
Portrait of My Father (1925)
The imposing presence in this portrait reveals, better than is possible in writing, the strong personality of the notary Salvador Dali Cusi, the artist's father. Dali has superbly portrayed that paternal authority against which less than five years later he was destined to revolt, shortly after his meeting with Gala. He recounts that his father always intimidated him more than anyone else. This feeling is clearly shown by the pose of the sitter, the construction of the picture, the lighting, and the neo-realistic technique inspired by Andre Derain. The portrait was painted in the summer of 1925 at Cadaques in fifteen sittings; Dali, who cannot remember exactly how much time he has spent on a picture, claims to have done it very quickly. We may better appreciate his keen sense of observation if we compare the likeness in this portrait with a pencil drawing of the same period, Portrait of the Artist's Father and Sister, and a photograph in which he posed with his father about 1948, twenty-three years later.
The exactness of detail in this painting has the merit of causing memories from the time Dali was painting the work to come back to him. Thus, speaking of the pipe held by his father in his left hand, he remembers that the latter "was always smoking and I myself used to smoke a pipe with wood tar because I thought that I was a detective like Sherlock Holmes, without tobacco. But, if I was only pretending, he was really smoking." The family did not think that his right hand was placed in a suitable position, but he himself considered it perfectly normal for a father to put his hand wherever he wanted it, even if this spot was exactly where his paternal virility was! In 1925 Dali exhibited this picture for the first time, in Barcelona at the Dalmau Gallery. In his Secret Life, speaking of this realistic period influenced by Derain and Vermeer, he wrote: "Paris heard rumors that a new painter had just been discovered in Spain. While passing through Barcelona, Picasso had seen my Girl's Back and had praised it highly. I knew that on the day of my arrival in the capital I would put them all in my bag." Later he used this realistic technique in most of his Surrealist works and he remains faithful to it even today in certain canvases, when this seems necessary to him.
Venus and a Sailor (Homage to Salvat-Papasseit) (1925)
This painting is one of three works that were given the title of Venus and a Sailor, all painted in 1925 and shown in Dali's first solo exhibition at the Dalmau Gallery in Barcelona. The Venus and the Sailor (also called Departure) shows Dali to be still exploring his "Neo-Cubist" style, similar to the 1924 painting, Pierrot Playing the Guitar (1925). Dali combined the modern with the old through his choice of subject as well as the manner of the portrayal.
The dominating figure of Venus fills most of the foreground, in true Cubist style she seems large and heavy. She is framed by the window behind her, through which can be seen a boat decorated with flags that is standing ready to leave, (explaining the alternative title of Departure). On Venus's lap is a sailor who, because of the awkward position of his limbs, as if wooden, and his diminutive size, appears to be a toy. Venus is puckering her lips to kiss the vague image of a sailor; only his profile is painted. Dali also used this ghostly quality in Pierrot Playing the Guitar to give just an impression of the harlequin.
Pierrot Playing the Guitar (1925)
Pierrot Playing the Guitar, also called Harlequin with Small Bottle of Rum, was painted in 1925, using oil on canvas. The painting shows that Dali was still working in a Cubist style. The piece is an exploration of different, connecting and opposing forms. The palette is subdued, with limited color used, in typical Cubist style, with emphasis on form, not on color.
This work shows an early attempt at visual illusion and double images. At first glance, there appears to be one clown in the picture, but the image is actually two clowns standing one behind the other to create the appearance of just one figure. The pierrot can be seen only in outline, his shape delineated by one bold, jagged line, a technique that Dali uses in The Spectral Cow (1928). Behind the pierrot is a harlequin, who is composed of shadowy blocks that stand out against the pastel background of the wall behind them. The two clowns appear to be a piece of collage; the rectangular shape of their legs has a shadow falling behind it, as if the clowns were made from paper stuck to the room.
Figure on the Rocks (1926)
This kind of composition first appeared in the middle of 1926, when Dali was painting landscapes, portraits, still lifes, and Cubist compositions at the same time. There are not more than six canvases done in this manner, in which one sees this type of ample female creature stretched out on the sand or on the rocks. These figures visibly show the influence of the works of Picasso from the period called neo-realistic, between 1920 and 1922. Dali groups them instead in what he calls "the time of neoCubist academies." Lorca, Dali's sister, and other friends were in the habit of giving these paintings a Catalonian explanation coming from the peculiar patois of Cadaques - trossos de Coniam, which means, when referring to a person, that he is completely lacking in intelligence and is "totally physical, a sort of vegetable!" Dali never used it literally in the pejorative sense; on the whole he was interested in the vegetative and soft aspect of the figure, in spite of the apparent Cubist treatment, and its opposition to the hardness of the rocks.
Figure on the Rocks (Penya Segats) (1926)
This dazzling little picture was painted on a panel of olive wood at Cadaques during the summer of 1926. By looking at it one arrives at a better understanding of how the monumental architecture of the rocks on the coast around Cadaques could influence Dali's landscapes of the Surrealist period. Here he has faithfully painted the steep cliffs of Cape Norfeu, located between the Bay of Cadaques and the Port of Rosas. This little landscape, full of nostalgia, is one of the most typical canvases that the Catalonian painter produced during that period; among the others, we must mention Portrait of Ana-Maria on copper, Venus and Cupids, The Basket of Bread, and The Rocks of Llaner, an oil which has now disappeared and on which the artist probably painted another subject, later on, in his Surrealist period. Dali relates that during the same summer in Cadaques he painted Figure on the Rocks - Penya Segats, The Basket of Bread, and began the first picture of the Cubist series: "It's paradoxical; exactly the same morning I was doing the two works at the same time: The Landscape of Cape Norfeu and Still Life by the Light of the Moon". The diagonal composition of Figure on the Rocks is remarkable. One finds it again and again throughout Dali's work: Blood Is Sweeter Than Honey, The Madonna of Port Lligat, Hyperxiological Sky, The Perpignan Railway Station, or again in Tuna-Fishing. The Catalonian words penya segats in the title mean "rock" (penya), "cut or sliced" (segats).
The Girl of Figueras (1926)
Although Dali did not date the The Girl of Figueras, it was probably painted in 1926, as the style, both of the brushwork and the content, are comparable to other paintings of this period. The Portrait of my Father, painted a year earlier, shows similar strong lines and structure of form; both figures in these paintings are depicted with a solidity of presence.
The woman in the painting is Ana Maria, as was usual during this period. Due to the subject of the The Girl of Figueras, the painting can be seen as an early attempt by Dali to re-work The Lacemaker. The painting by the seventeenth-century Dutch painter Jan Vermeers, became an obsession with Dali during the Fifties.
Ana Maria sits sewing on a balcony. As with other paintings of Ana Maria at this time, she is turned away from the viewer so that her face can not be seen. The balcony overlooks the town of Figueres, Dali's home town. The blue color of the distant mountains and of the sky contrasts with the sunlit stone of the buildings to capture the viewer's eye. This blue is repeated in the shimmering blue-black hair of Ana Maria.
The Bather (Beigneuse) (1928)
One of the first things that people often notice about this work is the texture of the foreground, or the strange shape of the main figure in the center of the painting. Both of these represent radical departures for Dali, and in fact, this painting marks the start of Dali's Transitional Period during the year of 1928.
The work is a continuation of the theme presented in Beigneuse except that Dali has reduced the figure to a single distorted big toe. Off the coastline, Dali creates a stylized rendering of the Ise of Farnera, which lies off the coast of Port Lligat.
Unfortunately for Dali, the reaction against both Beigneuse and this work were somewhat hostile, and caused his father much distress. Although he has supported his son through his studies at the Academy, the senior Dali still hoped that his son would pursue a more traditional occupation.
The strange figures and use of multimedia in this work precede Dali's even more outrageous Surrealist works, but are marked by a period of increased stress between Dali and his father which was to climax in their eventual 20+ year rift over his lover Gala Eluard in 1929.
Surrealist Composition (1928)
Dali gave this picture its title in 1964. Here the diagonal construction is again used. The visible material in the picture would seem to place it with the works painted in 1927 such as Blood Is Sweeter Than Honey in that series which Lorca called "Apparatus Forest." Inaugural Gooseflesh is painted in the same style but as an afterthought; it is the result of the works of this period and of the paintings done at the same time in 1928 such as Bathers with the gravel collage. The composition is already the product of a hypnagogic image similar to that which Dali repeated often in his Surrealist works -we see an example of it in Portrait of Paul Eluard - little rodlike cells in suspension above an oblong object. Dali has given an explanation of it in his book Le Mythe tragique de L'Angelus de Millet.
"In 1929, for the first time, one of those very clear images appeared to me, most probably following many others, although I cannot find any antecedent for it in my memory. This happened in Cadaques when I was in the act of pulling violently at the oars, and it consisted of a white shape illuminated by the sun, stretched out at full length, cylindrical in form with rounded extremities, showing several irregularities. This form is Iying down on the maroon-purplish-blue soil. All its periphery is bristling with little black rodlike cells appearing in suspension in all directions like flying sticks." Dali continues, "The numbering in the pictures probably corresponds to my unconscious interest in the metric system. In June 1927 I had written an article, 'The Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian,' which appeared in L'Amic de les arts, about which Lorca had said that it was the most poetic text he had ever read. In this article I explained how one could measure the suffering of Saint Sebastian just as with degrees on a thermometer, each arrow being a sort of gradation adding and measuring the amount of suffering. It was at the same time that Lorca wrote in his 'Ode to Salvador Dali': 'A desire for forms and limits overwhelms us. The man who measures with the yellow yardstick comes.' At that time I was preoccupied with all the systems of weights and measures, and numbers were appearing everywhere I was already preoccupied with the metric system, the numerical division of worldly things."
Little Cinders (Senicitas) (1928)
Senicitas, (also known as Summer Forces or The Birth of Venus), was painted when Dali was completing his military service. It is one of a series of paintings that mark the emergence of themes and symbols that were to dominate Dali's work. It also shows Dali producing a more definite Surrealist style, as does The Wounded Bird.
Senicitas is Spanish for "little cinders", referring to the red marks that are attacking the limbless body. The body, though it is more male than female, has no genitals but to the right of it a hand forms the shape of male genitalia. There are also several headless female bodies; one covered in dark veins squeezes her lactating breast. Dali uses various techniques of depiction here: some images are painted quite realistically, like the female body in the bottom middle of the painting, while others like the donkey above, appear as a scattered outline only.
The decapitated head of Dali's friend Lorca appears as if dead, lying on the ground underneath the body. One of their favorite games was for Lorca to pretend he was dead; he could do this quite convincingly for long periods of time.
Dali's bestiary broke loose from reality at the end of 1926 to become altogether fantastic during 1928, which marked a very important period of transition in the painter's work. This picture is part of a series in which the influence of Max Ernst is clearly visible, more particularly so in a painting such as La Belle Saison in the Urvater collection in Brussels.
However, Max Ernst's influence is only superficial. Dali used it momentarily, with others, because at that time, already, trying to transcribe his dreams, he took advantage of this material just as he made use of the Mediterranean sand and gravel that he glued to the surfaces of the picture. Let's make no mistake about it, in the works of this Mediterranean painter from the north of Spain, the monsters are nothing at all like those which, driven mad by the silent darkness of the nordic forests, spring up in the works of Hieronymus Bosch and all German civilization.
In a taped interview, speaking of the Baroque, Dali said: "The luminosity of the rough part of the seashells from the grottoes of the Mediterranean gave birth to the grotesque, succeeding in thus making the joyous light of its own roots and its most obscure branches burst forth. While the monsters of Bosch are the products of music, of the forest, of the gothic, of obscurantism, the grotesque figures in Raphael come directly from Pompeii, from humanism and Mediterranean intelligence; all the grotesque beings of Bosch are only a protest: it's the indigestion that the knights had upon returning from the Crusades! A Pantagruelian way of protesting against the Greco-Roman humanism. The grotesque figures painted by Raphael in the Vatican, on the contrary, are the affirmation of this intelligence, of this humanism, a way of dominating the monsters. With Raphael it is the conquest of the irrational, while the monsters of Bosch are conquered by the irrational. There's the whole difference. And I myself am the anti-Hieronymus Bosch. Let us succeed in making monsters but may they be completely antagonistic and dissimilar! Dali, he is pure Mediterranean!"
All the pictures with collage of gravel and sand were painted at Cadaques. The principal ones are Unsatisfied Desires, Bathers, and Thumb. "The interesting thing in this Bird," Dali has said, "is that with its side already monstrous, it carries in its entrails a thing which is a foetus and instead of the foetus being that of a bird, it's a cat! The moon is there as in many other canvases of this period." Going on, apropos the influence of Max Ernst, he has stated, "It is not the analogies which afford interest but the dissimilarities, even if I used a painting by Max Ernst. In the same way, the Phedra of Euripides becomes exactly the opposite when dealt with by Racine. In this picture it is the same thing instead of seeing an analogy with Max Ernst one should see what is absolutely the contrary. According to me, I perhaps take something of Max Ernst as a point of departure, but because of my Mediterranean heritage and my almost scientific side, I create with the elements torn from the soil of Cadaques - that is, from the Mediterranean - a bird which carries an animal inside it, a monster which has nothing to do with the lucubrations of the Germans. In general, the critics see the petty analogy immediately and draw superficial or false conclusions from it. They are mistaken, but that is of no importance. Even false, only the amount of information counts."
The Spectral Cow (1928)
The Spectral Cow was painted using oil on plywood. The painting dates from a period in Dali's work where his own inimitable style had still not been set and it owes much to other Surrealist artists' work. At the time Dali was not officially a Surrealist, (he did not actually join the Surrealist group until Gala's intervention a few years later), but this painting together with The Unsatisfied Desire, is an indication of the direction that he was now taking.
The aims of Surrealist painting was to portray dreams, the unconscious and the irrational in an effort to shake the viewers own belief in a fixed reality. Surrealist painters often depicted poetry in their work. Dali has tried to do this with The Spectral Cow, which interprets a dream in Andre Breton's Clair de Terre. The cow in the painting is only hinted at, with its delineation formed by several jagged lines of varying width, color and also of apparent texture. Dali has "feathered" some lines, while others appear to be made of powder. To the right of the cow stands the ghostly form of a duck, its body formed from the air, like a stencil reversed.
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