By Paul Chimera
Salvador Dalí Historian
It’s great fun and a fascinating adventure studying and examining the wide and varied aspects of the life and work of this celebrated Catalan artist. This wild and wonderful genius, Salvador Dalí. There’s literally an endless supply of truths and myths, current news and historical morsels to discover, explore, dissect, enjoy, and learn from.
Take, for example, two somewhat mysterious, or at least unusual works by Dalí I want to briefly discuss today. Of course, it could be argued that an “unusual work by Dalí” is a bit of an oxymoron. Anyway, take a look at these two paintings:
One is Automatic Beginning of a Portrait of Gala (Unfinished), 1932. First off, why was it left unfinished? Especially given that its subject was the one constant in Dalí’s life that was most important to him: his wife Gala. It’s truly one of the finest portraits of her in profile he ever painted. But she has no ear and neck (not in oil, anyway), mysteriously leaving the work unfinished for all time.
When a nose becomes a plane
It may be reasonable to draw a parallel between the incomplete Automatic Beginning of a Portrait of Gala and another especially unusual work – it, too, a portrait of Mrs. Dalí: Portrait of Gala with Lobster (Portrait of Gala with Airplane Nose), 1934.
This work is just plain crazy and silly! Even the expression on Gala’s face seems to be one where I sense she’s going to start laughing at any moment. Unlike the juxtaposition of so many elements in Dalí’s richly textured surrealist paintings, here we have two blatant objects that just seem so odd, appearing in the manner in which they do: a lobster unceremoniously plopped on the lady’s head. Gala’s nose morphing into an airplane. Utter lunacy – even for the master of crazy, Salvador Dalí.
The “Other” Ghost of Vermeer
I’m pretty sure when Dalí aficionados think of Dalí’s ghostly representation of Vermeer, the Flemish master Dalí so greatly revered, their mind’s eye focuses on the delightful little canvas in the Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida, titled The Ghost of Vermeer of Delft, Which Can Be Used as a Table (1934). It’s a gem of a painting – very precise and jewel-like.
But a similar work (and there are additional versions Dalí painted on the same theme), which I happen to like better, is Spectre of Vermeer of Delft, 1935. Is it Gala, insouciantly seated on a stone wall, with her back turned to us, that’s so appealing? The large earthen pot behind her? The cypress tree impaling the Vermeerian figure’s gaping chest? The threads dangling from his sewn-up thigh? Or perhaps the tall shafts of wheat that lend a natural air to a very unnatural scene?
Of course, that greatly elongated leg-table is a unique, perplexing, and surreal element common between both surrealist tributes to Vermeer. Can you name another Dalí painting I’m betting most Dalí enthusiasts don’t think of that also features this curiously elongated limb? A painting that, speaking of elongated, is one of the longest ones Dalí ever created?
I’m talking about The Battle of Tetuan. Indeed, in the upper left quadrant of this massive painting, there’s that Ghost of Vermeer leg again, this time bared to the bone.
All little quirky but fascinating factoids that make the study of Salvador Dalí so intriguing. I’ll be looking at other quirks, oddities and nuances in future posts.
(All images used under Fair Use provisions for journalistic purposes only)