By Paul Chimera
Salvador Dalí Historian
I once wrote that, had Salvador Dalí painted nothing more than landscapes, his place in art history would still be assured. Of course, let’s be clear: Dalí could have painted anything; his talent was beyond extraordinary.
Fortunately for lovers of landscape painting, Dalí produced some remarkable ones – sometimes decked out in the regalia of mind-bending surrealism, on other occasions just cloaked in everyday clothes. Either way, he achieved undeniable beauty – especially in his skies.
Which is what I’m focusing on in this post: Dalí’s skies. After all, he had some great inspiration in this regard: the skies over Port Lligat and Cadaques were a fountainhead of dazzling color and infinite form.
A cool place to start is with his quite beautiful and charming little painting of 1918, Old Man at Twilight. This was pretty inventive of 14-year-old Salvador, who actually glued stones to achieve a wonderful raised effect against gradations of dark blues, softer blues, greens and yellow.
Perhaps equally prominent is the sky – ablaze in orange and blue hues – in Portrait of My Father of 1921.
The pendulum swung in the opposite direction with a number of Dalí paintings whose skies were essentially devoid of anything, not even clouds. These would include such works as Enigma of Desire: My Mother, My Mother, My Mother; The Great Masturbator; and The True Painting of the Isle of the Dead.
But we’d also have to include THE BIG ONE. Yeah, that one: The Persistence of Memory, Dalí’s best-known work and what is easily one of the most famous paintings in history. But its sky is, well, unremarkable (yes, I hear you out there, saying, “But what should a sky look like in a dreamscape?” You make a good point).
Strange dual-color skies are found in works like Nostalgia of the Cannibal and Diurnal Fantasies, while clouds assertively dominate the sky in such works as Meditation on the Harp; Masochistic Instrument; Morning Ossification of the Cypress; The Specter and the Phantom; and Triumph of Tourbillon.
Around the mid-1930s or so, a greater number of Dalí’s surrealist pictures were focused around landscape scenes, and his skies were often lovely. In this category I would mention, among many others: Paranoiac-Critical Solitude; The Chemist of Ampurdan in Search of Absolutely Nothing; Suburbs of a Paranoiac-Critical Town; Soft Construction with Boiled Beans – Premonition of Civil War; Honey is Sweeter than Blood; Landscape of Port Lligat; and The Sacrament of the Last Supper.
For whatever reason, Dalí included a quite expressive cloud formation in his Portrait of Mrs. Jack Warner; the cloud almost seems to want to come alive.
Indeed, Dalí put some very specific and unusual things up high in his paintings that included skies. I’m talking about works like his Portrait of John Theodoracopoulos, in which none other than Dalí himself appears in the distant sky. Likewise, a portrait of Gala appears in the sky in both Gala’s Castle at Pubol and Battle of Tetuan.
Meanwhile, Dalí’s iconic Christ of St. John of the Cross appears in the sun-saturated sky in Gala Contemplating the Mediterranean Sea…, while a chair is seen hovering in the sky in The Chair stereoscopic painting.
Let’s close with a contrast: the very dark sky Dalí chose for his painting, Poetry of America, and a rainbow in the sky of an otherwise somber painting, The Horseman of Death.
(Images used under Fair Use provisions for journalistic purposes only.)