By Paul Chimera
Salvador Dalí Historian
Salvador Dalí was a master watercolorist. It’s a medium often overlooked when we consider Dalí’s genius as a painter. Oils…drawings…prints…sculpture, sure.
But watercolors? I have a strong sense that few of us think of these washy works on paper when we consider the main man of surrealism. Yet we really ought to – and today we’re going to.
Here’s why: some of Salvador Dalí’s absolute best work – evocative, stirring, esthetically stunning – was in the medium of watercolor, sometimes joined by a touch of gouache or a dip of a pen.
One series I’m certain most Dalí aficionados are not familiar with are the wonderful watercolors Dalí painted, on commission from Albert and Mary Lasker, of three scenes from three distinct venues in Italy: Rome, Venice, and Naples. Shown here with the Venice watercolor is Alfonso Miranda, manager of the Soumaya Museum in Mexico City, Mexico, where the lovely picture hangs.
Meanwhile, Dalí’s Alba Madonna of the Birds is a magical religious watercolor that’s a direct nod to Raphael’s Alba Madonna, and it’s interesting to see the two works paired here. It’s in the collection of the Salvador Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida, and I recall Reynolds and Eleanor Morse – founders/benefactors of the Dalí Museum – remarking how they especially loved this beautiful little gem of a painting.
When several popular artists were commissioned to paint a picture suitable for Hugh Hefner’s iconic Playboy magazine, Dalí produced this sinewy female nude in a sort of dream-like setting, inviting viewers to fantasize as to the face they’d put on her sexy body.
One of Dalí’s most beautiful watercolors, in my estimation, is Cosmic Contemplation of 1951, which also employed red ink. Here’s how the Florida Dalí Museum describes it:
“The celestial sky is comprised of a large central cloud in the shape similar to that of a dodecahedron. Within this shape various visions of angels and saints are projected in an ecstasy. The cloud itself seems to burst through with holes in fragmentation in some type of heavenly explosion. The figures of men and angels gather on the surrounding mountainside above a valley and point to the spectacle in the firmament.”
There are, of course, many other wonderful watercolors created by Salvador Dalí. Some were done as book illustrations, others as single strokes of genius. I’m going to close this blog post with my personal favorite Dalí watercolor – a work whose beauty is truly soaring. It’s titled Allegorical Saint and Angels in Adoration of the Holy Spirit, painted in 1959 and one of the gems of the works on paper in the collection of the Salvador Dalí Museum in Florida, which describes the painting this way:
“In this symbolic narration, the saint and angels are depicted adoring the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove surrounded by roses. The composition is an excellent example of Dalí’s ability to conceive hidden images within the configuration of streaks of blotted watercolor. The artist using a tonal wash wipes the wet color away to form what appears to be angel wings. Dalí then draws the fine detail of the figures. The composition combines Dalí’s metaphysical preoccupations with classical interpretations.”
(All images used under Fair Use guidelines for journalistic purposes only)