By Paul Chimera
Salvador Dalí Historian-Writer
It turns out there’s room for both at the top of Salvador Dalí’s large Battle of Tetuan painting: Gala standing above the battle scene, and – in a background detail – the coronation of the Virgin, for whom a young United Nations guide appears to have been the inspiration.
Readers of this blog (www.dali.com/news) are asked to refer to the post of Wednesday, Jan. 23 (the 30th anniversary of Dalí’s death) to learn about Marie (nee Weizmann) Briefel. She was “discovered” by Dalí in 1961 in New York to be the ideal look he was after for the Virgin at the top of the Battle of Tetuan picture.
However, it now appears – thanks to the sharp eye of Dalí scholar Elliott King, Ph.D. – that Marie’s face is that of a smaller background image of the Virgin, and not what we first reported in the Jan. 23 post. (See circled image, provided by Dr. King).
King, who some months ago finally saw the masterwork in the flesh at the Morohashi Museum of Modern Art in Fukushima, Japan, was motivated after reading my blog (written exclusively for The Salvador Dalí Society®, Inc.©), to carefully scrutinize the upper details in this complex work. He detected that a comparatively small portrait of the Virgin, apparently done in black and white paint, is undoubtedly the face of Marie.
King reasons that it would be unlikely anyone during the period in Dalí’s career when Battle of Tetuan was painted (1962) would command such a leading female role in a painting of his, other than Gala. I agree.
Said King: “I’ve heard personal stories of Gala insisting that Dalí paint out other women from his paintings because ‘Dalí only paints Gala.’ I really think she might have complained to have another woman as such a large central figure. But that’s just a hunch.”
It is now a virtual certainty that Marie Weizmann served as the inspiration for the figure of the Virgin.
The matter, for me, points up the impressive lengths to which Dalí would go to achieve his artistic intentions. Even such a relatively small detail (small in size, not in significance) warranted his insistence on visiting New York City universities to scope out foreign students or staff who might yield the Moroccan features he was looking for.
“Truly I can’t say I was necessarily surprised by The Battle of Tetuan, but it was just as impressive as I expected – which is saying something, since I had travelled 6,645 miles one-way almost entirely for the sole reason of seeing it in person!,” King says.
“It took me a full 36 hours to get home, but it was absolutely worth the trip. The painting is very big, of course, so the main thing about viewing it first-hand is that you can see all the small figures and details that are far too tiny in a reproduction. It’s really spectacularly detailed, though because it’s wider than it is high, it’s not as difficult to see those details as it is in, say, Santiago El Grande or The Ecumenical Council. I certainly appreciate why Reynolds Morse included it as one the artist’s ‘masterworks.’”
Someday someone needs to do a book devoted expressly to nothing but the huge masterworks, of which there are some 20. Reynolds Morse did a small paperback in black and white in 1971 (Dalí: The Masterworks), but I’m envisioning a colorful, elaborate coffee table tome – perhaps with my name as co-author, with Elliott King!