Stairway to Heaven: Life and Death in the Visions of Salvador Dalí
Illustrations for Les Chants de Maldoror and The Divine Comedy
December 4, 2020 – February 8, 2021
Salvador Dalí (1904-1989) is among the most recognized and eccentric artists of the 20th century. He layered the surreal imagery of his “paranoiac-critical method” onto hundreds of artworks, including paintings, theatrical designs, films, architecture, sculptures, jewelry and fine art prints, such as those featured in Life and Death in the Visions of Salvador Dalí. Created for two publications, the artworks in this exhibition signal two distinct periods in Dalí’s career: the hedonism of his youth and the redemption he sought later in life. These two sets of artworks also signal his transition from Surrealism to Mysticism, which can be seen in this exhibition through his unwavering technical mastery in printmaking and draftsmanship. With nearly 150 individual artworks on view, this exhibition provides an expansive selection to interpret Dalí‘s dream-like subjects.
Dalí was born and academically trained in Spain. Instead of finishing his education, the burgeoning artist went to Paris where he was surrounded by modern painters such as Pablo Picasso, René Magritte and Joan Miró. However, his romantic painting style and fine draftsmanship, as well as his unusual tactics of attracting attention, gained him a home with the growing Surrealist movement of the 1920s. His technical skill and his audacious self-promotion cemented his popularity. This early and shocking imagery was later replaced with ethereal and religious subjects that further endeared an ever-widening patron base to his mystical subjects.
Under the influence of intimate friends and poets such as Federico García Lorca and André Breton, Dalí became equally infatuated with the sadistic and amoral subjects of the Surrealist icon, the Count of Lutréamont (pseudonym of the French Uruguayan romantic poet Isidore Lucien Ducasse). Dalí was soon asked to supply illustrations for a reprinting of the Count of Lutréamont’s epic poem, Les Chants de Maldoror (1868-9). The artist created 44 original intaglio prints for the publication. Less illustrations of the Maldoror narrative, Dalí’s prints are more like the early paintings that he was creating at this time – a personal reflection into his own mental health and dramatic lifestyle. This was among his earliest book projects; however, Dalí would supply artworks for dozens of publications in his lifetime, including Shakespearean plays, Alice in Wonderland and The Divine Comedy, to name a few.
Dalí originally began illustrating The Divine Comedy as a commission by the Italian state with papal approval, to commemorate the 700-year anniversary of the birth of its author, the poet Dante Alighieri. Due to Dalí’s Spanish heritage and early blasphemous attitude, his agreement to illustrate this centrally important biblical Italian text fell through. Instead, he personally oversaw the creation of woodblock prints replicating all 100 of the watercolors he produced for the project. From an astounding 3,500 individually carved printing blocks, the series of prints was produced over four long years. The result was a portfolio of 100 fine art prints corresponding to The Divine Comedy and among the most expensive books ever produced.
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