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




A Meissonier of the Unconscious

Though Dali could refer to the Second World War, in his Secret Life, as "an episodic children's fight on a street-corner", he had preferred to sit it out in the U.S.A. America appealed to him. "I travelled in America, but instead of romantically and directly rubbing the snakeskin of my body against the asperities of its terrain, I preferred to peel protected within the armor of the gleaming black crustacean of a Cadillac which I gave Gala as a present. Nevertheless all the men who admire and the women who are in love with my old skin will easily be able to find its remnants in shredded pieces of various sizes scattered to the winds along the road from New York via Pittsburgh to California. I have peeled with every wind; pieces of my skin have remained caught here and there along my way, scattered through that 'promised land' which is America; certain pieces of this skin have remained hanging in the spiny vegetation of the Arizona desert, along the trails where I galloped on horseback, where I got rid of all my former Aristotelian 'planetary notions'. Other pieces of my skin have remained spread out like tablecloths without food on the summits of the rocky masses by which one reaches the Salt Lake, in which the hard passion of the Mormons saluted in me the European phantom of Apollinaire. Still other pieces have remained suspended along the 'antediluvian' bridge of San Francisco, where I saw in passing the ten thousand most beautiful virgins in America, completely naked, standing in line on each side of me as I passed, like two rows of organ-pipes of angelic flesh with cowrie-shell sea vulvas." Such was Dali's enthusiasm for America, indeed, that at times he was quite carried away by it.


The Americans, meanwhile, were busy trying to make up their minds about Dali, and where he fitted in 'with Surrealism as a "whole. Robert M. Coates, in The New Yorker (November 1941), noted that the tendency to view Surrealism as a private product of Dali's imagination was too widespread, and dictated responses to Surrealism in terms of responses to Dali. This reaction led, according to Coates, to an under-valuation of Lurcat, Tanguy and Masson, and of artists such as Peter Evergood and James Guy on the American side of the Atlantic. Surrealism, he argued, was the most substantial and promising movement of the times, and must be more than Dali's dreams and erotic fantasies - though he was careful to concede Dali's technical mastery, apparent (for example) in the fish scales in Imperial Violets or the opalescent, shimmering effects in Apparition of Face and Fruit Dish on a Beach.

The Avida Dollars machine was working smoothly, and in November 1941 Dali shared a major retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York with his old fatherly friend Joan Miro, who had given him his entree to Paris. Critic Peyton Boswell took the opportunity, in The Art Digest, to describe Dali's art as morbid, sado-masochistic and nihilist (in contrast to Miro's) - and to celebrate its hypnotic hold on the public notwithstanding. To Boswell's way of thinking, the merit of Dali's art lay in its qualities as precision representation, which he likened to those of realistic miniatures. Even Dali's opponents, Boswell pointed out, had to concede that Dali's pictures were never boring and always had a manifest thought content. In time of war, when the whole world was going through convulsions of hysteria, it was good, declared Boswell, to consider a canvas that juxtaposed a horse and a telephone. In such juxtaposition there might, after all, be more intuitive wisdom than anyone guessed.

Geopoliticus Child Watching the Birth of the New Man



Dali in an egg photographed by Philippe Halsman in 1942



The Dial Press publication of The Secret Life of Salvador Dali, in an admittedly imperfect English version by Haakon Chevalier, prompted cries of protest. Sol A. Davidson (in The Art Digest, February 1943) observed that the public display of so schizophrenic a personality inevitably tempted one to seek the answers to the questions raised by the artist's 'work in the profile of his psychology; but the temptation was one that was best resisted. Dali's indulgences, his perversities and crimes, his breached taboos and childhood violence, were to Davidson (as to Orwell and many others) the record of a disturbed candidate for psychoanalysis, and not the transcript of a genius's aesthetic stratagems. No doubt the Freudians would have a field day with the Secret Life, concluded Davidson; certainly it offered ample opportunity to grub about in the entrails of Surrealism. Elsewhere, in the Pacific Art Review, Stephen S. Kayser quoted a French psychologist, Frois-Wittmann, as seeing the limits of Dali's art as being similar to those of Brueghel's or Bosch's. The difficulty 'was not that these artists presented their fantastic obsessions but that, by recording those obsessions in such precise detail, they foregrounded them in the eye of the public. Such painters were "Meissoniers of the unconscious". It is unclear whether this comment was intended as praise or damnation; but Dali was certainly flattered rather than affronted.


Frontispiece for "Hidden Faces" - I Am the Lady...


Monumental Shield for "Hidden Faces"

Mad Tristan

Study for the Backdrop of "Mad Tristan" (Act II)


Study for the set of the ballet "Tristan Insane" (Act 1)

Tristan and Isolde


"Tristan and Isolde" - study for the set of the ballet "Bacchanale"



"Tristan Insane": Costumes for the Spirits of Death



Costume for "Tristan Insane" - The Ship



"Tristan Insane": "The first paranoiac ballet based
on the eternal myth of love unto death", 1944



Dali was in fact the "Meissonier of the unconscious "par excellence. He painted colour photographs of his dreams. He was an Einstein of phantasmagoric paranoia. From his memories and imagination he created juxtapositions of images real and fictitious; it was as if he merely needed to take up his paranoiac brush, and the images flowed along the conductor. Whenever Dali provides a commentary on one of his own works (and he did so unstintingly) we feel — as we do when a magician lets us into his secrets - almost disappointed, to realise that what dazzled us initially with its lunatic, inspired brightness draws in fact upon logical, lucid, concrete sources in philosophical reflection of a profoundly intelligent order. The bizarrerie of Dali comes from the mirror-image distortions that occur when his thinking is transferred to canvas. It is logic through the looking-glass.

Through it all, we do well to bear in mind that Dali was the very opposite of the petty snobs of Paris salons. He remained in a real sense the boy from Figueras. The 1939 Philosopher Illumined by the Light of the Moon and the Setting Sun, though a weird, dark and unsettling picture, seems sweetness and light once we learn how it came to be painted. The premonitory quality is related to the fears of a German invasion which Dali and Gala had as they withdrew to the Font-Romeu region on the Atlantic; but the reclining figure comes directly out of Dali's surfeited weariness of Surrealist circles, a weariness that had him pining after Port Lligat. The man was inspired by the fishermen of Port Lligat, in particular one named Ramon de Hermosa: "He was a man of about fifty, very hale and hearty, with a coquettish moustache a la Adolphe Menjou — he even looked a little like him. He was probably the laziest man in the world. He liked to repeat the phrase, 'There are years when you don't feel like doing anything.' [...] His case of do-nothingness "was so proverbial that it had been accepted, with a touch of pride even, by the fishermen. [...] Ramon had the virtue of telling the least interesting things in the world with a minuteness and an epic tone worthy of the Iliad. His best story was about a three-day trip he had made in which he had had the duty of carrying a small suitcase for a billiard champion. It was told with all the minute-to-minute details and was a masterpiece of build-up without suspense. After the tense, agitated conversations of Paris, swarming with double meanings, maliciousness and diplomacy, the conversations with Ramon induced a serenity of soul and achieved an elevation of boring anecdotism that were incomparable. And the gossip of the fishermen of Port Lligat, with their completely Homeric spirit, was of a corporeal and solid substance of reality for my brain weary of 'wit' and chichi."


In related fashion, Poetry of America - The Cosmic Athletes should be seen as a homage to the New World that welcomed Dali in and gave him a safe refuge during the Second World War. The painting draws upon childhood memories, featuring the plain of Ampurdan rendered in a style that might as well represent the desert Arizona Dali enthused over. It includes the tower at the Pichot residence, the hills of the Cadaques hinterland, and the coast at Cape Creus. In short, it is Catalonia Americanized: to provide his account of a new place, Dali drew on memories of old. Indeed, in the distance of this sandy landscape we see a female figure reminiscent of his cousin Carolinetta. In the foreground, two male figures are posed in American football attitudes. The two players, a white and a black, are wearing kit that recalls Italian Renaissance costumes. The white brings a Morrone warrior to mind: his head is an empty, puppet's head, and his body is giving birth (as it were) to a Coca Cola bottle. The black is giving birth to a new Adam, who holds the egg of the future world balanced on his forefinger. According to Dali, this exceedingly moralistic painting was one of his warnings against war. Black America, triumphant yet horrified, is almost refusing to take note of the white man's unstoppable self-destruction -as if Dali had intuited the racial conflict that was to haunt the U.S.A. in the post-'45 decades. The limp map of Africa hanging from the mausoleum tower similarly seems to point to bad times ahead for the continent.. As for the Coca Cola bottle, it unwittingly anticipates developments in art that we subsequently learnt to associate with the names of Andy Warhol and other Pop artists. Convinced as they might be that they were the first to take an interest in the mass-produced articles of modern consumer society, Dali had been there before them. Dali's acquaintance with America, with the dynamism of a land he felt was symbolized by two football players, led him to the conviction that what Americans loved best was blood first and foremost (his proof being scenes in movies that showed the hero being sadistically beaten). He also insisted that Americans loved soft watches. They were always looking at their own watches, always in a terrible hurry - and when Salvador Dali offered them a soft, imprecise watch as runny as Camembert they were so grateful to be released from their enthrallment to time that he was an instant success. A further American preoccupation, in Dali's view, was with the murder of children: the massacre of the innocents, he claimed, was the major psychological obsession of the U.S.A.


Sentimental Colloquy (Study for a Ballet)



Coloque sentimental, 1948



In evolving these conscious ideas out of unconscious intuitions, and tuning in to the spirit of the age - a process that was Surrealist to the core, since what interested Dali most was always the intangible — Dali was arriving at a turning point, doubtless in reaction to his contact with American realities. The critics, inspired in part by the resentful tone taken by Breton, tried to make sense of the shift in emphasis. An article in the January 1942 Art News noted that Dali's technique, from the Basket of Bread of 1926 to the 1940 Two Pieces of Bread Expressing the Sentiment of Love, was profoundly academic, and established that at the age of thirty-eight (eleven years Miro's junior) Dali had as accomplished a mastery of his craft as any other living painter, and indeed assigned greater weight to that mastery than he did to complex Surrealist ideas and ideology. The Art News critic suggested that Dali had moved on from smooth surfaces painted in imitation of Renaissance art, via Bocklin, to the Mannerists, from whom he took gentle contours and impasto application, and the title to call himself a classicist. James Thrall Soby had forecast, in a catalogue essay, that Dali would be turning increasingly from the unconscious to the conscious; and Art News added that if that were the case (and, as we have seen, there were signs that it was) nothing need stop Dali from becoming the greatest academic painter of the twentieth century.

Portrait of Gala

Portrait of Gala. Study for "Galarina"

Study for "Galarina"



My Wife, Naked, Looking at her own Body


Three Apparitions of the Visage of Gala


Dali, 1943

Dali painting "Galarina" at Caresse Crosby's home, 1944



In fact Dali was remaining truer to his established method of endowing everyday things with an epic dimension than ever. Two Pieces of Bread Expressing the Sentiment of Love, which features only bread, crumbs and a chess pawn, remarkably illustrates Dali's command of a technique academic painters strove for in vain. The still life was painted in Arcachon in spring 1940, when Marcel Duchamp spent the afternoons playing chess with Gala while Dali painted the pieces of bread. Dali, in search of "the exact mixture of amber oil, of gum, of varnish, of imponderable ductility and of super-sensitive materiality" that would express the tactile qualities he wanted, found one day that a pawn had been left by the players beside his bread; and presently Gala and Duchamp found themselves looking for a substitute, Dali having kept the chess piece for his own purposes. Thus it was (Dali recalled with characteristic wryness) that Marcel Duchamp played a key part in the making of the picture.


Bread, as we have seen, played an important part in Dali's art, whether in paintings or in sculptural objects such as the Retrospective Bust of a Woman. Dali gave an explanation for this striking presence in a catalogue for Bignou's Gallery in New York. Commenting on his 1945 Basket of Bread — Rather Death than Shame, he declared that his aim was to recover the lost technique of the old masters and establish the motionlessness of pre-explosive objects. Bread was one of his oldest obsessional fetishes in his work, and he had remained true to it; he had painted Basket of Bread a full nineteen years earlier, and, if the two paintings were compared (thus Dali), they would reveal the entire history of painting, from the linear charm of primitivism to three-dimensional hyper-aestheticism.


Basket of Bread - Rather Death



We should never forget either, added Dali, that the two most powerful motors driving his super-sensitive artistic brain were the libidinous instinct and fear of death. These were to remain constant till Dali's death; they were also mirrors of his age, throughout. Not one minute passed, stated Dali, without the sublime Roman, Catholic and apostolic spectre of Death accompanying him on the most penetrating and idiosyncratic of imaginative journeys.

The Face of War was painted in California at the end of 1940. Anticipating the horrors which were mostly yet to come in the Second World War, this terrible face with eyes of death is primarily a retrospective response to the grim tragedy of the Spanish Civil War. The "crude reality of violence and of blood" in that war had deeply shocked Dali: "all at once, in the middle of the cadaverous body of Spain half devoured by the vermin and the worms of exotic and materialistic ideologies, one saw the enormous Iberian erection, like an immense cathedral filled with the white dynamite of hatred. To bury and to unbury! To unbury and to bury! To bury in order to unbury anew! Therein lay the whole carnal desire of the civil war of that land of Spain, too long passive and unsated, too long patient in suffering others to play the humiliating game of the vile and anecdotic ping-pong of politics on the aristocratic nobility of its back [...] It was going to be necessary for the jackal claws of the revolution to scratch down to the atavistic layers of tradition in order [...] The past was unearthed, lifted to its feet, and the past walked among the living-dead, was armed [...] For nothing is closer to an embrace than a death-grapple." As for Bataille, death and eroticism were always closely related in Dali's eyes. Of this somewhat Gothic response to the civil war, what survives in the 1940 painting is the atmosphere of terror, emphasized by the sombrely earthy browns. (Dali always pointed out that it was the only painting of his in which a print of his hand could be seen.)



Untitled - Design for the ball in the dream sequence in "Spellbound"



The Eye - Design for "Spellbound"



Design for the Film 'Spellbound' (1)



Design for the Film 'Spellbound' (2)


Drawing for "Spellbound"


The ball as filmed by Hitchcock, 1945


Alfred Hitchcock was determined to use Dali's skills
to design the Freudian dream sequence in his film "Spellbound".
David O. Selznick made it possible. "I could have taken De Chirico or Max Ernst,"
Hitchcock said, "but no one is as imaginative and extravagant as Dali."
The photo shows Dali with Hitchcock, 1945


Photo: Dali with Gregory Peck and Ingrid Bergmann, 1945



Dali's avowal of a classicism that served to reinforce his fantasies and leitmotifs became clearer from one work to the next. The masterly pictures he was painting were attempts to create a synthesis out of his craft and his ideas. Dali's principle of seeing landscapes through architectural or landscape gaps (which might also have dual image functions) was part of this endeavour. In Disappearing Bust of Voltaire, Houdon's bust of the French writer can equally well be seen as a group of figures. Again Dali is offering us a part of his imaginative life. The painting was done in the U.S.A., the year after Slave Market with the Disappearing Bust of Voltaire. In that picture, painted at Arcachon in 1940, the fruit bowl from The Endless Enigma reappears, with Gala, whose love (Dali said) had saved him from a world full of slaves. Dali, immersed in the life of art, ascribed to Gala the magical ability to dissolve the image of Voltaire, and thus to protect him from the critical scepticism of the French Enlightenment. He later recalled that as he was painting the picture he continually recited a poem, "The Love of War", by Joan Salvat Papasseit, a Catalonian anarchist he greatly admired. In Barcelona, Papasseit was accused of being a right-wing extremist because he spoke out for war at a time when everyone else was espousing pacifism. The dropping of the first atom bomb on Hiroshima, on 6 August 1945, deeply shocked Dali. He expressed his response in works such as Melancholy, Atomic, Uranic Idyll, The Apotheosis of Homer and The Three Sphinxes of Bikini. These paintings introduced a new technique which he called "nuclear" or "atomic painting". The technique peaked in a masterpiece he completed in 1949, Leda Atomica.


Melancholy, Atomic, Uranic Idyll



The page of the first number of the "Dali News",
which appeared on 20 November 1945 for the exhibition in the Bignou Gallery.
The page shows a detail of "Melancholy, Atomic, Uranic Idyll"


The Apotheosis of Homer

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