Dalí’s ‘Infanta’ is Homage to Velasquez; Was Eleanor Morse’s Favorite

By Paul Chimera

Dalí Writer & Historian

 

When I was publicity director of the original Salvador Dalí Museum in Beachwood, Ohio, near Cleveland, a frequently asked question was posed to the museum owners (and benefactors of the present-day Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida), Reynolds and Eleanor Morse: “Which Dalí painting is your favorite?”

 

Eleanor was unhesitant: “Velasquez Painting the Infanta Margarita with the Lights and Shadows of His Own Glory,” 1958. Mrs. Morse found the work lovely and enchanting, and it’s easy to see why the woman had such good taste.

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This Dalí painting is another superb example of how nothing Salvador Dalí did was ever predictable or conventional. Indeed, much of his genius lay in his uncanny ability to see differently, to put an entirely unique and unprecedented twist on everything he did.

 

Here Dalí pays homage to his favorite painter, Diego de la Silva Velasquez (1599-1660), and, specifically, to the iconic Velasquez masterpiece, “Infanta” of 1660 in Madrid’s Prado Museum. At the same time, Dalí contemporizes his large canvas by using quick brush strokes that capture the look and feel of atomic particles zipping within the space of which all matter is composed – a discovery popular at the time, thanks to then-modern scientific findings. The Infanta’s dress is composed of a dazzling explosion of such high-velocity brushstrokes, so to speak – creating an electrifying look that underscores Dalí’s belief that, when you scrutinize very closely Velasquez’s own Infanta, what you see is a kind of abstract-expressionism; the realistic illusion is achieved as you step away to a more normal viewing distance.

 

'Infanta' by Velasquez, which inspired Dalí

‘Infanta’ by Velasquez, which inspired Dalí

Dalí’s rhinoceros horn obsession also makes a showing here, as seen in the Infanta’s face, which, upon close examination, is constructed entirely of the horn whose logarithmic curve so intrigued the master of surrealism.

 

Dalí detail shows rhino horn influence,

Dalí detail shows rhino horn influence,

Dalí’s title accurately describes the action here. Look just below the very center of the painting and you’ll see the small silhouette of Velasquez himself, standing before and working on the lady’s large portrait.

Details shows Velasquez working on Infanta canvas.

Detail shows Velasquez working on Infanta canvas.

 

All of this is overspread by Dalí’s large and spectacular “atomic” expression of the same lovely subject, even the suggestion of an exploding rose in her left hand.

 

The shafts of light, and the corresponding shadows, contrast geometrically with the verticality of the canvas within a canvas, and echo the glances of sunlight seen in the upper left of the picture – Dalí’s nod to a painting by J. Breughel (1560-1625) titled “Los Sentidos Corporales, La Vista y El Olfato” in the Prado – a museum he visited often to study the masters.

 

When we consider Salvador Dalí’s genius, a work like this validates that assessment of his intellect. He ingeniously combines an atomic/rhinocerotic technique with a classical theme and creates a hauntingly beautiful illusion of one of the most iconic portraits ever set to canvas.

 

Little wonder why Eleanor Morse singled this work out from her and her husband’s vast Dalí collection as her favorite. She’s shown here with husband and the Master himself, together with the painting when it hung in the Morse’s home on Chagrin Boulevard in Beachwood, Ohio in the 1970s.

 

Ren Morse with Dalí and Eleanor Morse in the Morse home in Ohio, c. 1971.

Ren Morse with Dalí and Eleanor Morse in the Morse home in Ohio, c. 1971.