Salvador Dalí’s talents as a master draftsman were abundantly evident, no matter what medium he chose to work in. Best known as a Surrealist painter – in addition to his fame as a flamboyant showman – Dalí was also wonderfully prolific and articulate as a writer and, among other creative outlets, an etcher and lithographer as well. Some of his finest work was done in these graphic mediums, and the present work – Leda Atomica – is a great example of both his creative energy and his technical accomplishment.
In this instance, Dalí has chosen to work with a theme he had also explored with astonishing articulation in his oil on canvas of the same name. In the etching, we see a somewhat less detailed but still beautifully handled depiction of this classic theme, done in the style of the Old Masters. It has a classical, traditional look to it – yet Dalí also brings it into a contemporary focus by linking his reverence for classicism with his then emerging excitement over new discoveries in atomic science.
Nuclear physics at the time was revealing a revolutionary, almost spellbinding fact: solid materials are actually made of particles, in a constant state of flux that Dalí once described as “everything rumping and jumping about!”
Thus, in taking on the Greek myth of Leda and the Swan – Leda being the wife of the King of Sparta, who is ravaged by Zeus, the supreme ruler of the gods, but now appearing disguised as a swan – Dalí gives us a contemporary, atomic view of things. Even the sea is detached and suspended above the ground. Since Dalí’s relationship with Gala was almost mythical in some respects – he in fact often compared it to the relationship between gods and mortals – portraying Gala as Leda in this finely executed etching is right in keeping with the unique way Salvador Dalí viewed his wife, model and muse.
The same year, 1947, saw several very important paintings emerge from Dalí’s easel, clearly reflecting his interest in classical themes and their nexus with new scientific discoveries, most particularly in intra-atomic physics. Examples include Dematerialization near the Nose of Nero; Feather Equilibrium; and The Three Sphinxes of Bikini.