Painting Gallery #18

Note: a painting with a highlighted title includes an analysis.
The Madonna of Port Lligat (second version), 1950
• oil on canvas
• 144 x 96 cm
• private collection, Tokyo
    This immense canvas, one of Dalí's most famous, marks the beginning of a new period in his work. At the same time, it is the first picture so large, it is the first of the religious paintings, and it heralds the corpuscular epoch. The whole composition is arranged around the eucharistic bread visible through a hole in the center of Jesus' body, the point of intersection of the diagonal lines indicating the middle of the painting. Gala is depicted as the Virgin and also as the cuttlefish-angles on the right side of the canvas. A little boy of Cadaqués called Juan Figueras was used as the model for the infant Jesus.
    "Gala Madonna embodies all the geological virtues of Port Lligat," the painter wrote in 1956; "for example, the nurse, from whose back the night stand was taken, has this time been sublimated into the tabernacle of living flesh though which the celestial sky may be seen, and in turn another tabernacle cut from the chest of the infant Jesus, containing eucharistic bread in suspension." There are two oils of the same subject; that reproduced here is the second one. The first, which is smaller in size, was submitted by Dalí to Pope Pius XII for approval and is now at Marquette University. About the larger canvas, Dalí has commented to me [Robert Descharnes]: "This picture because of its size was destined to know many mishaps. In the midst of an awful storm we had to have a contractor come to Port Lligat to enlarge the window in the room, the room with the birds, because the canvas on its stretcher would not go through the window. Then Gala had to hire a truck, because it was too big for the train, to ship it first to Paris and then to Le Havre, in order to ship it by boat to America. In New York, it was too big for any elevator; they had to hoist it up with a rope to the windows of the floor on which the Carstairs Gallery was located and where it was to be shown. The dealer, George Keller, himself said at the time, 'This painting is magnificent, but I will never be able to sell it, because there is no house big enough for it, and it costs too much to ship it around.' It is, however, the one which opened the doors to the sale of all my large pictures." Today The Madonna of Port Lligat is in the collection of Lady Beaverbrook in Canada. It is never shown in retrospective exhibitions because, in order to get it out, it would be necessary to knock down the door or take out one of the windows in the library where it hangs.
Christ of Saint John of the Cross, 1951
• oil on canvas
• dimensions unknown
• Christ of Saint John of the Cross, 1951
    By far the most popular of all Dalí's religious works is without a doubt his Christ of Saint John of the Cross, whose figure dominates the Bay of Port Lligat. The painting was inspired by a drawing, preserved in the Convent of the Incarnation in Avila, Spain, and done by Saint John of the Cross himself after he had seen this vision of Christ during an ecstasy. The people beside the boat are derived from a picture by Le Nain and from a drawing by Velazquez for The Surrender of Breda. At the bottom of his studies for the Christ, Dalí wrote: "In the first place, in 1950, I had a 'cosmic dream' in which I saw this image in color and which in my dream represented the 'nucleus of the atom.' This nucleus later took on a metaphysical sense; I considered it 'the very unity of the universe,' the Christ! In the second place, when, thanks to the instructions of Father Bruno, a Carmelite, I saw the Christ drawn by Saint John of the Cross, I worked out geometrically a triangle and a circle, which 'aesthetically' summarized all my previous experiments, and I inscribed my Christ in this triangle." This work was regarded as banal by an important art critic when it was first exhibited in London. Nevertheless, several years later, it was slashed by a fanatic while it was hanging in the Glasgow Museum, proof of its astonishing effect on people. Dalí relates that, when he was finishing the picture at the end of autumn in 1951, it was so cold in the house in Port Lligat that Gala abruptly decided to have central heating installed. He remembers the moments of terror through which he then lived, fearing for his canvas on which the paint was still wet, with all the dust stirred up by the workmen: "We took it from the studio to the bedroom so that I could continue to paint, covered with a white sheet which dare not touch the surface of the oil. I said that I didn't believe I could do my Christ again if any accident were to befall it. It was true ceremonial anguish. In ten days the central heating was installed and I was able to finish the picture in order to take it to London, where it was shown for the first time at the Lefevre Gallery." When it was at the Biennial of Art in Madrid, along with other works of the painter, General Franco asked that two of the oils of the master of Figueras be brought to the palace of El Pardo - Basket of Bread and Christ of Saint John of the Cross.