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



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





The Triumph of Avida Dollars



Dust jacket for the English edition of
The Secret Life of Salvador Dali published in 1942

Crazy Spaniard Salvador Dali

The Second World War obliged Dali to leave Europe. "I needed, in fact, immediately to get away from the blind and tumultuous collective josthngs of history, otherwise the antique and half-divine embryo of my originality would risk suffering injury and dying before birth in the degrading circumstances of a philosophic miscarriage occurring on the very sidewalks of anecdote. No, I am not of those who make children by halves. Ritual first and foremost! Already I am concerning myself with its future, with the sheets and the pillows of its cradle. I had to return to America to make fresh money for Gala, him and myself."

At the border they met a great many friends again - among them Marcel Duchamp, who had established the concept of the ready-made. Dali claimed: "He was terrorized by those bombardments of Paris that had never yet taken place. Duchamp is an even more anti-historical being than I; he continued to give himself over to his marvelous and hermetic life, the contact with whose inactivity was for me a paroxysmal stimulant for my work."

They left Arcachon together, a few days before the Germans invaded, and travelled via Spain to Portugal. Dali made the detour to Figueras and Port Lligat on the way, to see his family and examine the state the house was in after the Civil War.


Birth of a New World



Design for a poster for "The Secret Life of Salvador Dali"



In Lisbon they met a woman who looked like Elsa Schiaparelh — and was Elsa Schiaparelli. They met a man who could have been Rene Clair - and was Rene Clair. And they happened upon an old man sitting on a bench who looked exactly like Paderewski - and who really was Paderewski. They sailed to New York aboard the Excambion. Eight years of American exile awaited them.

Once in the U.S.A. they accepted their friend Caresse Crosby's invitation to stay at Hampton Manor near Fredencksburg, Virginia. In her diary for 1934-1944, Anais Nin described their arrival and Gala's flair for taking charge from the outset: "They hadn't counted on Mrs. Dali's talent for organization. Before anyone realized what was happening, the entire household was there for the sole purpose of making the Dali's happy. No one was allowed to set foot in the library because he wanted to work there. - Would Dudley be so kind and drive to Richmond to pick up something or other that Dali needed for painting? Would I (Nin) mind translating an article for him? Was Caresse going to invite Life magazine for a visit? In other words, everyone performed the tasks assigned to them. All the while, Mrs. Dali never raised her voice, never tried to seduce or flatter them: it was implicitly assumed that all were there to serve Dali, the great, indisputable artist." Caresse Crosby later reported that she was away for a few weeks, and left the Dali's at Hampton Manor in the company of Henry Miller, the novelist. She was far from surprised when she returned to find the painter going over The Secret Life of Salvador Dali, the autobiography he had written there in July 1941, while Miller was busy painting watercolours.



Design for the Interior Decoration of a Stable-Library


The Sheep



Dali's first exhibition, at the Julien Levy Gallery in 1941, produced a heavy crop of reviews. The Art Digest, a magazine Dali did not particularly care for, wrote ironically: "Crazy Spaniard Salvador Dali is on 57th Street again, arousing the curiosity of sensible people who warily wonder: 'Is Dali mad, or is he a wily businessman?' In my view the question is not quite right, because to be a wily businessman these days you inevitably have to be practically mad [...] Dali's secret consists in juxtaposing the most traditional of objects in the most incongruous of ways. A horse and a telephone are not especially exciting per se; but if the horse nonchalantly appropriates the telephone, it starts a reaction in the observer at chromosome level. Without his feverish imagination and unpredictable statements, Dali would simply be one competent painter among many, with a fine command of draughtsmanship and a first-rate miniaturist's talent. That this artist can draw and paint is undeniable. Countless artists with every bit as much talent are dependent on the Works Progress Administration [...] Is Dali mad? Statistically the figures are against him: there are more of our kind than there are of his."

To which we might be tempted to add that that is cause for congratulation. The critic was palpably expressing American nationalist resentment at seeing the Surrealist pollen drifting over from Europe and fertilizing the American art scene. Other, less nationalist critics, such as Peyton Boswell, emphasized the overall significance of Dali's work and did not hesitate to see him as a witness of his age: "Dali has succeeded better than any other artist in creating an expression of the age." It was an age of transition, in which received values were being questioned; and Dali was subjecting it to close, intense scrutiny — the findings of which 'were visible on his canvases as on a radar screen. Dali closed his autobiography with this statement: "And I want to be heard. I am the most representative incarnation of postwar Europe; I have lived all its adventures, all its experiments, all its dramas. As a protagonist of the Surrealist revolution I have known from day to day the slightest intellectual incidents and repercussions in the practical evolution of dialetical materialism and of the pseudo-philosophical doctrines based on the myths of blood and race of National-Socialism; I have long studied theology. And in each of the ideological short-cuts which my brain had to take so as always to be the first I have had to pay dear, with the black coin of my sweat and passion."



Untitled - for the campaign against venereal disease



Study for the campaign against venereal disease: "Soldier Take Warning"



Somewhat more modestly, he added a comment that is extremely revealing: "Heaven is what I have been seeking all along and through the density of the confused and demoniac flesh of my life — heaven! Alas for him who has not yet understood that! The first time I saw a woman's depilated armpit I was seeking heaven. When with my crutch I stirred the putrefied and worm-eaten mass of my dead hedgehog, it was heaven I was seeking. When from the summit of the Muh de la Torre I looked far down into the black emptiness, I "was also and still seeking heaven! Gala, you are reality! And what is heaven? Where is it to be found? Heaven is to be found, neither above nor below, neither to the right nor to the left, heaven is to be found exactly in the centre of the bosom of the man who has faith! At this moment I do not yet have faith, and I fear I shall die without heaven."

In October Dali went to New York to work on Labyrinth, a ballet. His libretto was inspired by the myth of Theseus and Ariadne; he also designed the set and costumes. His choreographer was another exile, Leonide Massine. The ballet was premiered in the Metropolitan Opera. Immediately afterwards, Dali was accorded the official recognition of a retrospective show mounted by the Museum of Modern Art (together with a homage to his fellow-countryman Miro). The exhibition included over forty drawings and paintings by Dali, from work done in his youth to the very latest products of his imagination. It afforded a fairly complete overview of his development - from Cubism to Surrealism to drawers and telephones. The exhibition travelled to Los Angeles, Chicago, Cleveland, Palm Beach, San Francisco, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and Santa Barbara, making Dali a household name from coast to coast.

Dali was now making a great deal of money. American vitality was good for him — nourishing, as it were. And he "was getting more and more commercial commissions. He did not take up all the offers, but he was well aware that these subsidiary activities represented a good way of getting to know (and taking advantage of) the unlimited opportunities offered by the country of his exile. It was at this time that Breton quite rightly thought up his famous anagram, Avida Dollars. Dali thought it "auspicious". His break with the Surrealists was now complete. In the New York magazine View (June 1941), Nicolas Calas raged: "I accept the challenge and reply without hesitation: 'Yes, Dali is a renegade!' [...] He claims the age of experiment is over, and tells us the rose is a prison and the prisoner is none other than himself! As for the rose, we admire its perfection without wondering if it is happy to be a palace of perfumed songs or a dagger thrust into a "woman's breast. The reason for Dali's change is quite different: when he was confronted with results (as happens to us all) and found they were the total opposite of what his experience had prepared him for. Dali was terrified, felt guilty, and hastily withdrew to aesthetic positions intended to please the leaders of the triumphant counter-revolution while he still could [...] The captive of his own errors, no longer capable of distinguishing what is modern in science and aesthetics from what is not. Dali is like a naive girl from the country who thinks herself stylish if she puts a new ribbon on her grandmother's hat."


Maquette of the scenery for "Labyrinth"



Design for "Labyrinth"


Saint George and the Dragon



Study for the Set of "Labyrinth" - Fighting the Minotaur


Dali had indeed said, "Over and done with: the time for experiments is over, a thousand times over. The hour of personal creation has struck." But he paid no attention to the criticism levelled at him. He was far too busy. His years in America were years of hectic activity. He designed jewellery with the Due de Verdura. He designed Helena Rubinstein's apartment. He did regular work for leading magazines such as Vogue, Harper's Bazaar, Town and Country. He produced new ballets, designing the sets and costumes himself; among them were Lorca's El Cafe de Chmitas, Colloque sentimental (based on Paul Verlaine), and Tristan Insane. He illustrated Maurice Sandoz's Fantastic Memories. In the space of a few weeks he wrote his first novel, Hidden Faces, at the home of the Marquis de Cuevas in New Hampshire. In 1943 he created the advertising for Schiaparelli's perfume 'Shocking', and advertised himself with a photo feature in Click magazine. He exhibited portraits of prominent Americans at the Knoedler Gallery, New York, and even gave a dinner in aid of needy emigre artists. These activities (which do not necessarily appear here in chronological order) give some idea of Dali's feverish activity during the "war years.



Ruin with Head of Medusa and Landscape



Mural Painting for Helena Rubinstein (panel 1)



Untitled - Design for the Mural Painting for Helena Rubinstein



Mural Painting for Helena Rubinstein (panel 2)



Mural Painting for Helena Rubinstein (panel 3)



Princess Arthchil Gourielli (Helena Rubinstein)
c. 1943



Study for the portrait "Princess Arthchild Gourielli-Helena Rubinstein"



Divine Couple - Sketch for "Nativity of a New World"



1946 found Dali in Hollywood, working "with Walt Disney on a film project called Destino, which was unfortunately never to be completed. It was intended to use cartoon characters, settings and objects alongside real ones (an idea which has since proved fruitful for other directors), and the story involved a young girl and Chronos, God of Time. It was like a ballet: the young girl and the ancient god brought monsters into the world, monsters that drowned in primeval waters at the end of the film. When Dali realized that the project was coming to nothing, he accepted another commission and designed the dream sequence in Alfred Hitchcock's Spellbound.

About this time, Dali met the photographer Philippe Halsman; a friendship resulted that was to last until Halsman's death in 1979. At their first meeting, Halsman asked: "Dali, you wrote that you can remember life inside the womb. I would like to photograph you as an embryo inside an egg." To which Dali replied: "A good idea. But I should have to be completely naked." Halsman: "Of course. Would you care to undress?" Dali: "No, not today... next Sunday." Countless photographs resulted from this exchange. Dali would ask: "Can you make me look like a Gioconda? Can you do a portrait photo that makes half of me look like myself and the other half like Picasso?" And Halsman would always find a way of achieving the desired effect. Halsman gave his own explanation of Dali's fascination with these photographs: "The real reason for Dali's photographic eccentricity is that it is Surrealism taken to the extreme. He would like the least of his actions to be a surprise, a shock. His Surrealist creativity is only partially expressed in his paintings. His own personality is the most Surreal of his creations - and it extends into his handwriting, which is more Surreal than any of his pictures."


Decor for "Romeo et Juliet"



Design for the set of "Romeo and Juliet"


Design for the set of "Romeo and Juliet" (backdrops and wing flats)


Equestrian Parade (possibly Set Design for "Romeo and Juliet")



Juliet's Tomb



Romeo and Juliet Memorial



From then on, however, Dali took to speaking less of the conquest of the irrational and more of the conquest of reality. In Esquire (August 1942) he published an article titled "Total Camouflage for Total War", in which he defined the essence of the Dali method of bewildering the public and creating an absolute magic: "I believe in magic, which ultimately consists quite simply in the ability to render imagination in the concrete terms of reality. Our over-mechanized age underestimates what the irrational imagination - which appears to be impractical, but is nonetheless fundamental to all these discoveries - is capable of [...] In the realm of the real, the struggles of production are now decisive and will be in the foreseeable future. But magic still plays a part in our world."

In the pictures he painted in America, his use of colour, space, and often landscape, too, still harked back to Catalonia, even if the people in them were American. Dali had the audacity to paint a Coca Cola bottle before anyone else, drew attention to race problems in the U.S.A., and poked fun at the cult of American football. All these subjects appeared in a single painting, Poetry of America - a title to which he added the words The Cosmic Athletes shortly before he died.


The Poetry of America - The Cosmic Athletes



His method was now practically the reverse of what it had been. He defined his famous Soft Self-Portrait with Fried Bacon, for instance, as "an anti-psychological self-portrait; instead of painting the soul, that is to say, what is within, I painted the exterior, the shell, the glove of myself. This glove of myself is edible and even tastes a little rank, like hung game; for that reason there are ants and a rasher of fried bacon in the picture. Being the most generous of all artists, I am forever offering myself up to be eaten, and thus afford delicious sustenance to the age."

Sigmund Freud is always present in Dali's work, even if a religious note is increasingly struck from this time on. Dali's comment on Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee around a Pomegranate, One Second before Awakening was: "For the first time, Freud's discovery that a typical narrative dream is prompted by something that wakes us was illustrated in a picture. If a bar falls on a sleeper's neck, it both wakes him and prompts a long dream that ends with the falling of the guillotine; similarly, the buzzing of the bee in the painting prompts the bayonet prick that wakens Gala. The burst pomegranate gives birth to the entirety of biological creation. Bernini's elephant in the background bears an obelisk with the papal insignia."


One Second Before Awakening from a Dream Caused
by the Flight of a Bee Around a Pomegranate



Gala Naked.
Study for
"One Second Before Awakening from a Dream Caused by the Flight of ..."



William Tell Group

Discuss Art

Please note: site admin does not answer any questions. This is our readers discussion only.

| privacy