Painting Gallery #16

Note: a painting with a highlighted title includes an analysis.
The Poetry of America (unfinished), 1943
• oil on canvas
• 116.8 x 101.6 cm
• Teatro-Museo Dalí, Figueras
    This large picture was painted in a bedroom of the Del Monte Lodge in Monterey, California. Here the Dalínian doctrine has been successfully applied to transcribe the obsessive images, fruit of the years of exile Dalí and Gala spent in America during World War II. American dynamism is represented by the two principal figures, football players, and by the little character posed on the appendage in the back of the one on the left; he is balancing a ball on his finger and symbolizes the physical vitality of Negroes. In this work Dalí has expressed his premonition of the difficulties which would arise between the black and white citizens after the war by painting a soft map of Africa hanging from the clock in the back. As far as he is concerned, the Coca-Cola bottle is also premonitory. He pointed out to me [Robert Descharnes] recently that he had painted the bottle with photographic meticulousness nearly twenty years before Andy Warhol and the American Pop artists started to do the same thing. They were surprised to see this canvas by the Catalonian painter dated 1943 when they thought themselves to be the first ones to show an interest in this sort of anonymous and banal object. Speaking of the vitality of the American people, Dalí gave the following explanation in a taped interview in the summer of 1966: "What the American people like best is: first, blood - you have seen all the great American movies, especially the historical ones; there are always scenes where the hero is beaten in the most sadistic way in the world and where one witnesses veritable orgies of blood! Second, Americans like soft watches. Why? Because they are always looking at their watches. They are always in a hurry, terribly pressed for time, and their watches are horribly rigid, hard, and mechanical. Therefore, the day when Dalí painted for the first time a soft watch, this was a great success! Because for once this awful object, which marked minute by minute the ineluctable sequence of their lives and reminded them of their urgent business, all of a sudden had become as soft as Camembert cheese when it is at its best, when it starts to run. Next, the greatest passion of the American people is when they see little children killed. Why? Because, according to the greatest psychologists in the United States, the massacre of the innocents is the favorite theme, the one which is found in the innermost depths of their subconscious minds, since they are constantly annoyed by children, so that their libido projects itself filling the cosmic surfaces of their dreams. If Americans adore bloody orgies and the slaughter of the innocents and soft watches which run like real French Camembert when it is just right, it is because what they love most in the world are 'dot,' or bits of data, those information bits that symbolize the discontinuity of matter. It is for that reason that all today's Pop art is made up of information 'dots.'"
Galarina, 1944-45
• oil on canvas
• 64.1 x 50.2 cm
• Fundación Gala-Salvador Dalí, Figueras
    Gala has often been depicted in Dalí's works. One might even say that she is the only woman whose face and silhouette appear there incessantly; the painter says, "She is the rarest being to see, the superstar who cannot in any case be compared with La Callas or Greta Garbo, because one may see them often, whereas Gala is an invisible being, the anti-exhibitionist par excellence. At Salvador Dalí's home, there are two prime ministers; one is my wife, Gala, and the other is Salvador Dalí. Salvador Dalí and Gala are the two unique beings capable of mathematically moderating and exalting my divine madness."
    This portrait belongs to the artist's classical period. It was painted in America a little before the end of the Second World War. "Started in 1944," Dalí writes in the commentary of the catalogue for his exhibition in the Bignou Gallery in 1945, "it took me six months of working three hours a day to finish this portrait. I named this painting Galarina because Gala is for me what La Fornarina was to Raphael. And, without premeditation, here is the bread again. A rigorous and perspicacious analysis brings to light the resemblance of Gala's crossed arms with the sides of the basket of bread, her breast seeming to be the extremity of the crust. I had already painted Gala with two cutlets on her shoulder to transcribe the expression of my desire to devour her. It was at the time of the raw flesh of my imagination. Today, now that Gala has risen in the heraldic hierarchy of my nobility, she has become my basket of bread."
    This picture was painted in the United States in 1944-45, three years after Dalí had married Gala in a civil ceremony. It was being done at the moment when the artist was claiming to have discovered for the first time in his life the real way to paint; in other words, with over- and underpainting. For him, this is infinitely more subtle in its tonalities than the pictures painted before. He links it already to the period of Leda Atomica, when he was doing all the technical research work related to matter. This research absorbed him so much that he ended by not paying attention to conversations and even to remarks that Gala made to him. In recalling this episode he tells the following anecdote: "It was exactly during this period that I used to wake up at night to place a drop of varnish, more or less, on a painting. It was complete lunacy. Then Gala - we were in the midst of the war at the very time when the Americans were leaving for the Pacific - said to me, 'Really, what would you do if one day the same thing happened to you as to these boys who must leave for the war in airplanes every day to go and fight? It seems to me that beside this your technical problems are not so insoluble! It is much less dramatics And I replied, 'If they should do such a thing to me, if they insisted on leaving, on parachuting' - because at the time there was some possibility that foreigners would be enlisted - 'well, in that case, I would not let YOU leave.' I had completely forgotten that it was a question of my going and was convinced that if anyone had to go to war, it would be Gala !"
    The bracelet she is wearing on her wrist was a Faberge creation of Mogul inspiration that Dalí liked immensely. He used it placed around his wife's ankle in the painting Original Sin, which may be seen today in the Boymans-van Beuningen Museum in Rotterdam. The serpent,. along with all of Gala's jewelry, was stolen a few years later from the bedroom of the hotel in which the couple was staying in California.
Tristan and Isolde, 1944
• oil on canvas
• 26.7 x 48.3 cm
• E. and A. Reynolds Morse collection on loan to the Salvador Dalí Museum, St. Petersburg, Florida
    The figures of Tristan and Isolde depicted on this canvas were painted by Dalí in 1944 as a backdrop for the ballet Bacchanale, performed to Wagner's music and presented for the first time in 1944 on the stage of the International Theater in New York. The tale of this ballet, for which Dalí wrote the libretto, began before the war. At that time that title was Mad Tristan. It was to be performed in Paris with the choreography by Leonide Massine, the scenery by Prince Charvachidze, and costumes on which Coco Chanel wished to use real ermine and genuine precious stones. The war prevented the production in Paris, and later the Marquis Georges de Cuevas decided to stage the spectacle in New York. "As with everything else," Dalí writes in The Secret Life, "my Mad Tristan, which was to have been my most successful theatrical venture, could not be given; so it became Venusberg and finally Bacchanale, which is the definitive version." The ballet is favorable ground for Dalí to put his paranoiac-critical method into practice with happy results. Unfortunately, most of the time his directions were not followed exactly in the production of the scenery and staging; his ideas often seemed too difficult to execute in actual practice, they were too costly, and they could not be accepted under the security rules normally applied to theaters.
    The two latest collaborations by Dalí in ballets date from 1961, when he participated with Maurice Bejart in the staging of The Spanish Lady and the Roman Cavalier by Scarlatti and a Ballet de Gala for which he wrote the libretto, designed the scenery and costumes, and demanded a curtain formed by motorcycles backfiring, hanging one from the other, and a real boeuf-ecorche-de-Rembrandt which was to have been replaced at each performance so as to exert over the spectators the paralyzing effect of its freshness.