Salvador Dalí: Go *Small* or Go Home!

By Paul Chimera

Salvador Dalí Historian


Like it or not, size matters. At least when it comes to the art of Salvador Dalí. We’re talking paintings, of course, not prints or drawings or sculpture, albeit some of those offer surprising revelations, too.


But size inevitably enters into the Dalí picture, and probably first reared its head when we consider his most famous painting, The Persistence of Memory.


Much smaller than most realize.

Much smaller than most realize.

University students have had, and continue to have, reproductions of this iconic Dalí canvas displayed on their dorm room doors or walls. And, with rare exception, the reproductions were quite large – understandably implying that the original was at least as big, and probably bigger.


Not true, of course. The Persistence of Memory is roughly the size of your average laptop computer screen – a fact fairly astonishing to the unsuspecting admirer of the work, who invariably has assumed it’s a quite large painting. It clearly is not.


Of course, Dalí painted quite a few very large canvases, and a substantial number that could only be described as enormous. But he also created some very, very small paintings that, in themselves, are unique enough to have given birth to an important exhibition that opened September 9 and runs through December 9 at the Meadows Museum in Dallas, Texas, USA.


Titled Dalí: Poetics of the Small, 1929 – 1936, the exhibition showcases small-format paintings Dalí created during this fertile period of his artistic creativity and genius. The museum’s website notes that this period was probably Dalí at the apex of his career, though I’ve long been a vigorous debunker of that tired assertion. I believe firmly that Dalí reached exciting and important new and innovative levels of great art long after the 1930s surrealist period.


At any rate, size matters – and the surprisingly tiny nature of some of Dalí’s works was recently driven home to me, thanks to Nigel Simmins, Britain’s most ardent Dalí enthusiast. Having recently returned from Barcelona after seeing the Gala Dalí exhibition there, Nigel pointed out that Dalí’s frequently reproduced oil on panel, Portrait of Gala with Two Lamb Chops Balanced on Her Shoulder (1933) is an astonishing 2.36 in. x 3.14 in.


Very, very tiny.

Very, very tiny.


I must admit that, as many times as I’ve seen this work in books – and despite my general awareness that it was a small work – I had no idea it was that small!


And in keeping with the diminutive nature of the work, Salvador Dalí painted many other quite tiny paintings, among the notable ones being: Specter of Sex Appeal; Untitled (Dreams on the Beach); First Portrait of Gala; and Portrait of Gala – none with a dimension more than 5 inches, and virtually all considerably shorter than that.


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Interestingly enough, while we stand in awe of the giant Dalí masterworks – paintings such as Santiago El Grande, Apotheosis of the Dollar, The Perpignan Railway Station, and Battle of Tetuan – we’re also enormously impressed by the stunning detail Dalí was able to achieve in such a miniscule matrix.

It’s just another example of how Salvador Dalí’s art continues to make us sit up and take notice – in a big way.


[All images used under Fair Use provisions for journalistic purposes only]