The National Gallery of Victoria has an opportunity to become the first public collection in Melbourne to acquire a painting by Surrealist artist Salvador Dalí, and is launching a campaign in 2018 to raise funds to ensure this work finds its home in Australia. NGV Magazine presents the first chapter in a series of three, each focusing on an aspect of the Spanish artist and his enduring appeal that continues to influence and inspire today.
Salvador Felipe Jacinto Dalí I Domènech was born on 11 May 1904 in the small agricultural town of Figueres, Spain. The son of a prosperous notary, Dalí spent his boyhood in Figueres and at the family’s summer home in the coastal fishing village of Cadaqués where his parents built his first studio.
Dalí was twenty-five when he held his first solo show in Paris in 1929. He also joined the Surrealists, led by former Dadaist André Breton. That same year, Dalí met Gala Eluard when she visited him in Cadaqués with her husband, poet Paul Eluard. She became Dalí’s lover, muse, business manager and chief inspiration.
Dalí soon became a leader of the Surrealist movement. His painting The Persistance of Memory, 1931, is still one of the best-known Surrealist works. The melting watches created by Dalí in his work have been appropriated and recreated countless times in popular culture over the eighty years since they were first revealed.
As the war approached, the apolitical Dalí clashed with the Surrealists and was ‘expelled’ from the group during a ‘trial’ in 1934. While still exhibiting works in international Surrealist exhibitions throughout the decade, by 1940 Dalí was moving into a new type of painting with a preoccupation with science and religion.
Dalí and Gala escaped from Europe during the Second World War, spending 1940–48 in the United States. The Museum of Modern Art in New York gave Dalí his first major retrospective exhibition in 1941. In 1942, Dalí’s autobiography, The Secret Life of Salvador Dalí, was published.
In 1974, Dalí opened the Teatro Museo in Figueres, Spain. This was followed by retrospectives in Paris and London at the end of the decade. After the death of Gala in 1982, Dalí’s health began to fail. It deteriorated further after he was burned in a fire in his home in Puból in 1984. Much of this part of his life was spent in seclusion. Dalí died on 23 January 1989 in Figueres from heart failure with respiratory complications.
Trilogy of the desert: Mirage, 1946
The United States proved transformative for the artist. In the eight years that Dalí lived in America, he reinvented himself and his approach to art. Seeking to distance himself from the French Surrealists, he embraced Catholicism, drawing from it a new symbolic language to replace the Freudian symbolism employed by the Surrealists. He also embraced American consumerism, peppering his art with items such as Coca-Cola bottles and working with the American advertising industry.
Rebelling against what he saw as the debased status of contemporary abstraction, Dali announced his rebirth as a Renaissance artist and craftsman, inspired by Raphael. Following the explosion of the atomic bomb in 1945, he proclaimed his new theory of Nuclear Mysticism.
Trilogy of the desert: Mirage encapsulates all these changes in Dalí’s art, proving it as a key work from his middle period. It was the centrepiece of a triptych commissioned in 1946 by William Lightfoot Schultz, founder of Shulton Cosmetics, to promote a new brand of perfume and make-up for women, Desert Flower. Dali’s renowned paintings of the desert-like landscapes of his homeland of Catalonia made him a natural fit with this brand. The image depicts an arid landscape where a meticulously drawn but atomically fragmented Renaissance architectural fantasy emerges, at the centre of which, the desert flower blooms from a classical bust of the Apollo Belvedere.
The other two Trilogy of the desert paintings, The invisible lovers and Oasis, are currently held in private collections. Trilogy of the desert: Mirage would make a major contribution to the representation of Surrealism, and that of Salvador Dalí, for the NGV and our community of Victorian, Australian and international visitors. Just as Dalí left an artistic legacy, acquiring this work for the NGV Collection will have enduring appeal and lasting impact on audiences for generations to come.
The NGV welcomes gifts of all sizes. To make a donation, please visit ngv.melbourne/donate or call the NGV Foundation on 03 8620 2415. If you are interested in making a significant gift to this campaign, please contact Misha Agzarian, Associate Director, Fundraising, on 03 8620 2392 or Misha.Agzarian@ngv.vic.gov.au
This article was first published in NGV Magazine January/February 2018.