By Paul Chimera
Salvador Dalí Historian
Today we’re taking a look at one of the final paintings by Salvador Dalí, created in 1982 when the Surrealist master was 78 years old and in the throes of daunting health issues. Although we don’t know for certain, it’s probable that Dalí had some help with this canvas by a studio assistant, given the increasing unsteadiness of Dalí’s hand at the time.
It seems fitting that Dalí has yet again appropriated the motif of the landscape of his native Spanish countryside. The unique terrain of Port Lligat, Cape Creus and Cadaques was arguably his single most important source of inspiration in his paintings, in addition, of course, to his own imagination, aided and abetted by Freudian symbolism and fueled in part by the powerful presence of his wife, Gala, in his life.
Another rich wellspring of inspiration for Salvador Dalí were the great Renaissance painters, whom Dalí venerated and emulated throughout his career. Now, in what would be one of the very final paintings by Dalí, he again chooses to nod toward one of the greatest sculptures of all time – the “Pieta” by Michelangelo.
One wonders if Dalí, aware of his immortality now, and that surely he didn’t have many years left, had chosen this theme as a way of connecting spiritually to whatever future lay ahead for him. The dead Christ in the arms of his holy Mother therefore seemed an appropriate subject for him to visit.
And Dalí’s interpretation brings me to two key points. First, as I mentioned earlier, is the landscape Dalí so loved. Here, against a quite sketchy background, the figures of Jesus and his Mother in effect become part of the terrain. Holes appear where Mary’s breasts would be, and through Christ’s abdomen. Through them we get a glimpse of both the rocky coastline and the bay.
The actual draftsmanship here is a bit coarse, as if the figures were roughly hewn from rock, giving both a sculptural look to the subject while also suggesting the morphing of the rock formations into human figures – and thus completely consistent with a long-standing Dalínian motif.
The second key point I find fascinating, and I think you will too, is that this might be Dalí’s final double-image painting. Look at the pointed rock formation that appears where Mary’s right breast would be – it is a second appearance of the face of the cradled Son!
Dalí paid tribute to Michelangelo in several other paintings in his career, including one painted around this same late period in Dalí’s life. He never lost interest in paying homage to the great, masterful precursors who helped make Dalí one of history’s most prodigious and ingenious artists.