By Paul Chimera
Salvador Dalí Historian
The issue of nudity in art recently hit home with me in connection with my own amateur art career, but I won’t bore my readers here with details. It raises an important issue, though: that of the naked human form in art. How much, if any, is too much? What is in “good taste” and what is not? And how did it factor into Salvador Dalí’s art?
It amazes me that, even in our ostensibly less-puritanical, more enlightened era, many people – often, though not always, women – still find the naked male and female body offensive when captured by an artist’s brush or sculptor’s chisel.
I’m not going to pontificate on the matter, however. Beauty – and disgust – are in the eye of the beholder, the height of subjectivity. The same would have to be said for what is acceptable and what goes too far. I also speak from an American perspective; it appears the European lens through which the matter is viewed seems a bit less judgmental or – dare I say it – prudish. At least that’s the impression I get.
For instance, while some were (and are) repulsed by Gustave Courbet’s controversial painting, The Origin of the World, seen below, others recognize it as art, pure and simple. Nothing more, nothing less.
That said, Salvador Dalí’s art ran the gamut – from traditional standards of good taste (however that is defined) to what some would term marginal, and to what others would call pornographic, if not conscience-shocking.
It seems clear that Salvador Dalí always did what he felt he needed or wanted to, and damn the torpedoes. It wasn’t necessarily only with the issue of nudity. Scatological references weren’t off limits, either, as witnessed in works like The Hand – Remorse and The Lugubrious Game, in which, like it or not, viewers are not spared the formidable presence of feces.
Unabashed depictions of male and female genitalia appear in a wide range of Dalí’s works. And simple yet total nudity showed up even in very early works, such as The Picnic of 1921 and Nude in a Landscape of 1922-1923, when Salvador was a teenager.
Of all art genres, perhaps Surrealism was the most conducive to embracing nudity – and certain forms of perversion. Certainly many Dalí works – paintings, prints and others – delved into masturbation, cunnilingus, fellatio, incest, and sadomasochism.
Now, in terms of the nude as subject matter in Salvador Dalí’s works, examples abound. I’m going to look at just a small sampling from a large reservoir of Dalínian immodesty . . .
Many of Dalí’s nudes would fall into what most would likely call “traditionally artistic,” if I can coin a phrase here. I would include, for example, Gala’s Back, which is a beautiful work painted along classic lines. Even Galarina – where Gala’s left breast is uninhibitedly revealed – invites a classic and, I think, more respectful appreciation.
But then there’s nudity in Dalí’s art – full-body or partial – that for some begins to cross the line of decency. These might include William Tell (the voyeuristic treatment of the exhibitionistic penis is undeniable, not to mention a suggestion of castration, thanks to the scissors); Two Adolescents; and Female Seated Nude.
And Dalí’s creative world was well-stocked with many additional references to nudity, erotic and otherwise . . .
(Images used under Fair Use provisions for journalistic purposes only).