Art of the 20th Century



 



Art Styles in 20th century Art Map



 

   

 

 

 

 



Salvador Dali




If You Act the Genius, You Will Be One! 1910-1928
The Proof of Love 1929-1935
The Conguest of the Irrational 1936-1939
The Triumph of Avida Dollars 1939-1946
The Mystical Manifesto 1946-1962
Paths to Immortality 1962-1989

_______

appendix

Illustrations:
Biblia Sacrata, Marquis de Sade, Faust, The Art of Love,
Don Quixote, Divine Comedy, Decameron,
Casanova, Les Caprices de Goya

 


 


 
 





The Conquest of the Irrational
 



1936-1939




 

 

Breton viewed Dali's choice of political subjects more seriously. It was startling and scandalous, and compromised the Surrealists, who did not understand that Dali was quite logically giving preference to regimes that clung to elites, hierarchical structures, pomp and public ceremony - regimes "which espoused rituals, liturgies, splendour, and the rousing presence of a majestic army. Monarchies were plainly more magnificent than republican democracies (and Dali — preverse creature! - preferred them to totalitarian regimes, too). His aim was to confer an aura of the miraculous on Surrealism; and he found the political Left drab and prosaic - in his view it was trivial, wretched, and even a threat, and he found it unacceptable. On the other hand, he did give extensive attention to the history of religions, in particular of Catholicism, which he increasingly came to see as a "complete architectural structure." To the Surrealists he confessed: "Very rich people have always impressed me; very poor people, like the fishermen of Port Lligat, have likewise impressed me; average people, not at all." He regretted that the Surrealists were attracting "a whole fauna of misfit and unwashed petty bourgeois [...] society people every day and almost every night. Most society people were unintelligent, but their wives had jewels that were hard as my heart, wore extraordinary perfumes, and adored the music that I detested. I remained always the Catalonian peasant, naive and cunning, with a king in my body. I was bumptious, and I could not get out of my mind the troubling image, post-card style, of a naked society woman loaded with jewels, wearing a sumptuous hat, prostrating herself at my dirty feet."

To fantasize about Hitler wearing women's clothing is doubtless not altogether innocuous; nor is painting a "Hitlerian wet nurse" with a swastika. Dali's Surrealist associates had not the slightest doubt that obsession with Hitler had its political side, and did not believe for a moment that this ambiguous portrayal of the Nazi Fiihrer might simply be an exercise in black humour like his paintings of William Tell and Lenin. People were to tell Dali in accusing tones that Hitler would have liked the "weakness, solitude, megalomania, Wagnerism and Hiero-nymus-Boschism" of his pictures at this time. "I was fascinated by Hitler's soft, fleshy back, which was always so tightly strapped into the uniform," Dali observed in his own defence. "Whenever I started to paint the leather strap that crossed from his belt to his shoulder, the softness of that Hitler flesh packed under his military tunic transported me into a sustaining and Wagnenan ecstasy that set my heart pounding, an extremely rare state of excitement that I did not even experience during the act of love."

The Surrealists had no patience with his "innately contrary spirit" and were outraged. Dali responded by challenging Breton to convene the group for an emergency meeting "at which the mystique of Hitler shall be debated from Nietzsche's irrational standpoint and from that of the anti-Catholics"; he was hoping that the anti-Catholic aspect would lure Breton. "Furthermore, I saw Hitler as a masochist obsessed with the idee fixe of starting a war and losing it in heroic style. In a word, he was preparing for one of those actes gratuits which were then highly approved of by our group. My persistence in seeing the mystique of Hitler from a Surrealist point of view and my obstinacy in trying to endow the sadistic element in Surrealism with a religious meaning (both exacerbated by my method of paranoiac-critical analysis, 'which threatened to destroy automatism and its inherent narcissism) led to a number of wrangles and occasional rows with Breton and his friends. The latter, incidentally, began to waver between the boss and me in a way that alarmed him."

 

 
The Dream places a Hand on a Man's Shoulder
1936

 


Necrophiliac Springtime
1936

 


Singularities (Singularitats)
1936

 

 
Three Young Surrealistic Women Holding in Their Arms the Skins of an Orchestra
1936

 

 
Untitled - Woman with a Flower Head
1937

 


The Man with the Head of Blue Hortensias
1936

 

 


The Fossilized Automobile of Cape Creus
1936

 


Hands Chair
1936
 

In fact they had long gone beyond mere dispute. Contrary to Dali's wishes, the Surrealists remained devoted to Breton, their iron-fisted leader whose every order had to be obeyed. When required to appear before the group, Dali showed up with a thermometer in his mouth, claiming he felt ill. He was supposedly suffering from a bout of 'flu, and was well wrapped up in a pullover and scarf. While Breton reeled off his accusations, Dali kept checking his temperature. When it was his turn for a counter-attack, he began to remove his clothing article by article. To the accompaniment of this striptease, he read out an address he had composed previously, in which he urged his friends to understand that his obsession with Hitler was strictly paranoiac and at heart apolitical, and that he could not be a Nazi "because if Hitler were ever to conquer Europe, he would do away with hysterics of my kind, as had already happened in Germany, where they were treated as Entartete (degenerates). In any case, the effeminate and manifestly crackpot part I had cast Hitler in would suffice for the Nazis to damn me as an iconoclast. Similarly, my increased fanaticism, which had been heightened by Hitler's chasing Freud and Einstein out of Germany, showed that Hitler interested me purely as a focus for my own mania and because he struck me as having an unequalled disaster value." Was it his fault if he dreamt about Hitler or Millet's Angelas? When Dali came to the passage where he announced, "In my opinion, Hitler has four testicles and six foreskins," Breton shouted: "Are you going to keep getting on our nerves much longer with your Hitler!" And Dali, to general amusement, replied: "... if I dream tonight that you and I are making love, I shall paint our best positions in the greatest of detail first thing in the morning." Breton froze and, pipe clenched between his teeth, murmured angrily: "I wouldn't advise it, my friend." It was a confrontation that once again pointed up the two men's rivalry and power struggle. Which of them was going to come out on top?


Suburbs of a Paranoiac-Critical Town: Afternoon on the Outskirts of European History
1936

 

 


Bread on the Head of the Prodigal Son
1936

 

 


"Morphological Echo"
1936

 

 

Following his confrontation, Dali was given a short-lived reprieve, but then notified of his expulsion. "Since Dali had repeatedly been guilty of counter-revolutionary activity involving the celebration of fascism under Hitler, the undersigned propose [...] that he be considered a fascist element and excluded from the Surrealist movement and opposed with all possible means." After he had been expelled, Dali continued to participate in Surrealist exhibitions; after all, the movement needed Dali's magnetic hold on the public, as Breton well knew. Thus in 1936 Dali made his appearance at the New Burlington Galleries in London wearing a diving suit - to illustrate the thesis stated in his lecture concerning art's function of revealing the depths of the subconscious. At one point he appeared to be suffocating in it - and a panting Dali was hastily freed of his suit and helmet, to the enthusiastic applause of the audience, who supposed it was a well-rehearsed act.

In Paris, Dali exhibited at the Surrealist show in the Galerie des Beaux-Arts. There was a shock in store for art lovers in the entrance hall: in his Histoire de la Peinture Surreahste, Marcel Jean reports that "Dali's Rainy Taxi was on display there: an ancient boneshaker of a car, with an ingenious system of pipes pouring showers onto two dummies, a chauffeur with a shark's head and, in the back seat, a blonde in an evening gown, hair tousled, reclining amidst lettuce and chicory, with fat snails leaving their wet, slimy trails across her."

 


Title page of the catalogue for the International Surrealist Exhibition
at the Galerie des Beaux-Arts, Paris, 1938

 

Dali with his dummy.
Photo for the International Surrealist Exhibition
at the Galerie des Beaux-Arts, Paris, 1938

The Rainy Taxi (Mannequin Rotting in a Taxi-Cab)
For the International Surrealist Exhibition
at the Galerie des Beaux-Arts, Paris, 1938
 

The Rainy Taxi (Mannequin Rotting in a Taxi-Cab)
For the International Surrealist Exhibition
at the Galerie des Beaux-Arts, Paris, 1938


 




Apparition of the Town of Delft
c. 1936

 

 

At this time, Dali published a number of key texts. The most important was his seminal essay The Conquest of the Irrational (1935), which appeared simultaneously in Paris and New York and was also reprinted in an appendix to the Secret Life a few years later. (Dali had realised that if he was to achieve real fame it would have to be via America.) In it he described his quest, and wrote: "My whole ambition in painting is to manifest the images of concrete irrationality in terms of authoritative precision [...] images which for the moment can neither be explained nor reduced by logical systems or rational approaches." He stressed: "Paranoiac-critical activity: spontaneous method of irrational knowledge based upon the interpretive-critical association of delirious phenomena;" every one of these phenomena includes an entire systematic structure "and only becomes objective a posteriori by critical intervention." The infinite possibilities available to this method can only originate in obsession. Dali concluded by seeming to do an about-turn, though in fact what he said was a warning, and clearly anticipated the consumer society and its atavistic need for whatever is edible: his imponderable, chimerical images concealed nothing other than "the familiar, bloody, irrational, grilled cutlet that will devour us all." That selfsame cannibal cutlet was to be rediscovered later by Pop Art and appropriated as its very own when Andy Warhol, Allen Jones, Claes Oldenburg, Tom Wesselmann and others sang the praises of Coca Cola, Campbell's soup and so forth.

Andre Breton had to admit that Dali's paranoiac-critical method had provided Surrealism with "an instrument of prime importance." Even Andre Thirion, who was one of the dogmatic hard-liners of the group, later conceded: "Dali's contribution to Surrealism was of immense importance to the life of the group and the evolution of its ideology. Those who have maintained anything to the contrary have either not been telling the truth or have understood nothing at all. Nor is it true that Dali ceased to be a great painter in the Fifties, even though it was distinctly discouraging when he turned to Catholicism [...] In spite of everything, what we are constantly seeing in his work is exemplary draughtsmanship, a startlingly inventive talent, and a sense of humour and of theatre. Surrealism owes a great deal to his pictures."

 

 


Ampurdanese Yang and Yin
1936

 

 


Hypnagogic Monument
1936

 

 

If Breton and the other Surrealists had difficulty swallowing Dali's attitude to Hitler, their fellow artist's steadily growing popularity was even more of a problem. He was the art hero of the world. People loved his constant provocations and his increasingly manneristic, detailed style of painting - a style for which he cited the Pompiers and above all their master, Meissonier, as the principal source. Dali quite unashamedly wanted money. He said so, loudly, and didn't care a toss for social revolution.

Many people wanted his recipe for success. To one young man who asked, Dali replied: "Then you must become a snob. Like me. [...] For me, snobbery - particularly in Surrealist days - was a downright strategy, because I [...] was the only one who moved in society and was received in high-class circles. The other Surrealists were unfamiliar with the milieu. They had no entree. Whereas I could get up from their midst at any time and say: T have an engagement,' and let slip the fact or allow people to guess (next day they would know or, better still, would hear from a third party) that I had been invited to the Faucigny-Lucinges' or other people that the group eyed as if they were forbidden fruit because they were never invited there. But the moment I arrived at the society people's homes I adopted a different, more pronounced kind of snobbery. I would say: 'Right after coffee I have to go, to see the Surrealists.' I would make out that the Surrealists had far greater shortcomings than the aristocracy, than all the people one knew in society, because the Surrealists wrote abusive letters to me in which they said high society was nothing but arseholes who understood absolutely nothing [...] In those days, snobbery was saying: 'Now I must be off to the Place Blanche. There's a very important Surrealist meeting.' The effect of saying this was terrific. On the one hand I had society, politely astonished that I was going somewhere that they could not go, and on the other hand, the Surrealists. I was always off to where the rest couldn't go. Snobbery consists in going to places that others are excluded from — which produces a feeling of inferiority in the others. In all human relations there is a way of achieving complete mastery of a situation. That was my policy where Surrealism was concerned."

 

 


The Forgotten Horizon
1936

 

 


White Calm
1936

 

 


Beach Scene (detail study)
1936

 

 


Geological Justice
1936

 

 


Surrealist Composition with Invisible Figures (second version of "Rocks of Llane")
c. 1936

 

 

Dali was forever recounting the dream visions of his childhood, and his attention might equally be on Hitler's soft, fleshy back or on that of his nurse, say. In so doing, he drew on a repertoire of gimmicks in order to provoke the scandal that guaranteed publicity. Dali was asked by a journalist about The Weaning of Furniture-Nutrition, which shows the nurse with a window through her crutched body and at her feet a bedside table with a second, church-shaped table and bottle "cut out" of it. The journalist knew that the public was expecting a psychoanalytic or indeed pornographic theory about the bedside table, and had a right to a lyrical (and of course Surrealist) poem ending with an explanation of the bedside table in the terms physics used to describe space, from Euclid via Newton to Einstein. And of course the account Dali provided was provocative, scatological - everything that was expected of him. In the Secret Life it appears as a recollection of childhood, and includes the landscape of Cadaques and the fantasy girl, Galuchka, who by the 30s had become one in Dali's mind with Gala, who informed everything he did: "I pressed myself closer and closer against the infinitely tender, unconsciously protective, back of the nurse, whose rhythmic breathing seemed to me to come from the sea, and made me think of the deserted beaches of Cadaques. [...] I wanted, I desired only one thing, which was that evening should fall as quickly as possible! At twilight and in the growing darkness I would no longer feel ashamed. I could then look Galuchka in the eye, and she would not see me blush. Each time I stole a furtive glance at Galuchka to assure myself with delight of the persistence of her presence I encountered her intense eyes peering at me. I would immediately hide; but more and more, at each new contact with her penetrating glance, it seemed to me that the latter, with the miracle of its expressive force, actually pierced through the nurse's back, which from moment to moment was losing its corporeality, as though a veritable window were being hollowed out and cut into the flesh of her body, leaving me more and more in the open and gradually and irremissibly exposing me to the devouring activity of that adored though mortally anguishing glance. This sensation became more and more acute and reached the point of a hallucinatory illusion. In fact I suddenly saw a real window transpierce the nurse. Yet through this maddening aperture, of frantically material and real aspect, I no longer saw the crowd which ought to have been there and in the midst of which Galuchka standing on a chair ought to have been in the act of looking at me. On the contrary, through this window opened in the nurse's back, I distinguished only a vast beach, utterly deserted, lighted by the criminally melancholy light of a setting sun."

 


The Pharmacist of Ampurdan in Search of Absolutely Nothing
1936

 
 
Landscape with Girl Skipping Rope
1936

 
 


Morphological Echo
1936

 

 

Dali's preeminent intellectual and artistic integrity surely consisted in never going through aesthetic or mannerist motions in order to assimilate disparate, bizarre features to his paintings. We need only consider the Sun Table . When he was painting the picture, Dali had no idea why he was introducing a camel into a Cadaques scene. Not until later did he realize that an internal rationale of kinds had been at work in his conception; for there is a discarded Camel cigarette packet at the feet of the youth (perhaps Dali himself) in silhouette in the foreground. The effect is to emphasize the alien magic of the camel's presence. In his book Ten Recipes for Immortality Dali was subsequently to declare (in bizarre echo of Hamlet?) that if a camel is examined through an electron microscope it proves to be far less precise than a cloud.

 

 


Sun Table
1936

 

 
The Ants
1936
 
 

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