On March 31, 2017 Fabergé Museum will open its exhibition “Salvador Dalí. Surrealist and classicist”. This will be the first time Saint Petersburg has hosted such a large exhibition of Dalí’s art, which will include more than 150 of the artist’s paintings and graphic works, provided by the Gala-Salvador Dalí Foundation in Figueres (Catalonia, Spain) and other museum and private collections. The exhibition follows the artist’s creative journey, beginning with the surrealist works of the 1930s that made him famous and concluding with his turn to themes of classical European art in the 1980s. The exhibition particularly emphasizes Dalí’s conceptualizations of the legacy of Italian Renaissance geniuses Michelangelo and Cellini and of Dante’s Divine Comedy.
Salvador Dalí was one of the leading figures in the development of 20th century art, and was just as endlessly paradoxical as the century itself. Immediately recognizable and with a style unlike anyone else, he has of course made himself a place in the history of visual arts, but will also be remembered in the history of design, fashion, cinematography, theatre and literature. Dalí has managed to reflect in his art practically all of the great ideas and contradictions of his time. The exhibition at Fabergé Museum will bring viewers into contact with the amazing variety of Dalí’s creations and allow them to feel the inner kinship between modernism and classicism that is encapsulated in his work.
The earliest works that will be exhibited are surrealist landscapes from 1934–1937. Dalí creates empty Empordà landscapes and implants into them a variety of figures and elements. The enigmatic combinations recall dreams and visions, and perhaps disclose to us the content of the artist’s subconscious, which, using his paranoiac-critical method, Dalí has liberated from the burden of logic and reason and brought into the realm of painting.
The exhibition will include one of Dalí’s most interesting works of that period – Enigmatic Elements in a Landscape (1934). A recent and unprecedentedly expensive acquisition of the Gala-Salvador Dalí Foundation, the work was purchased from a private collector in 2011. In it, Dalí quite originally invokes Vermeer’s masterpiece The Art of Painting. Dalí was a fervent admirer of both the person and the work of the Dutch painter Vermeer his whole life, placing him at the top of his scandalous list comparing the importance of artists, and even calling him a “Surrealist Integral”. To render homage to his mentor, Dalí often depicted Vermeer in his paintings. In Enigmatic Elements in a Landscape he places him in the forefront of an Empordà landscape penetrated throughout with a striking, unearthly light, while he himself, still a child dressed in a sailor’s costume and with his nanny, is somewhere in the background. Fragments of reality – the sky, cypress trees, an ideal village of the Empordà region, Port Lligat – sit alongside ghosts, shadows, and nameless fantastic forms, giving a wide margin for interpretation.
These and other landmark surrealist images will later reoccur in Dalí’s works, but with time start to change their meaning. The painting Searching for the Fourth Dimension was painted much later, in 1979, a period in which the artist was experimenting with stereoscopic and holographic images that might aid in finding the third and fourth dimensions and thus, according to Dalí’s logic, immortality. In it we again see these symbols – white tunics, bread, cypress trees, soft clocks – but now in a very different context. In this attempt to unite space and time, Dalí combines his own imagery with excerpts from canonical works from the Renaissance era – Rafael’s The School of Athens and Perugino’s Christ Giving the Keys of the Kingdom to St. Peter. But of course Dalí’s interest in classical European painting had arisen much earlier.
After his break with the surrealists, in the beginning of the 1940s, Dalí announces his return to classicism and comes to the defense of Renaissance values. His broad intellectual and artistic interests do not fit in with any popular trends of that time, and indeed recall the humanism of the Renaissance era. Dalí created a series of illustrations for the autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini in 1945, one of the most famous figures of the Florentine Renaissance. He gives an open interpretation of Cellini’s text, creating the widest possible berth for his creative fantasies. These illustrations, done in watercolor and ink on paper, will be shown at the exhibition at Fabergé Museum.
Another major project of Dalí’s, focused on interpreting major works of classical European art and literature, is his series of illustrations for Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy, commissioned in honor of the 700th anniversary of Dante’s birth by the State Polygraphic Institute of Italy. Dalí began work on the series in 1950 in Cadaqués coastal village, and completed it two years later, in total creating 102 illustrations using various techniques -- watercolor, gouache, sanguine, and ink. Between 1959 and 1963, 100 of these were reproduced in photogravure. All 100 of the illustrations included in the final series, which have already become quite iconic, will be on display at the exhibition.
The exhibition will also include canvases by Salvador Dalí from the beginning of the 1980s dedicated to another great master of the Renaissance, Michelangelo Buonarroti. In working with Michelangelo’s themes, the artist shows a great respect for tradition and the past, but at the same time does not hide his aim of surpassing them with constant innovation and an immersion in modernity. Some of these paintings were first shown to the public only last year in a themed exhibition in Italy and it’s the first time they are shown in Russia. These works give us a peek behind the curtain drawn over Dalí’s poorly studied later years. The death of Dalí’s only and ardently loved wife and muse Gala (of Russian origin) was for him a rough blow, and made him contemplate life on the other side even more often. Dalí had a passionate interest in the theme of immortality, and created a whole series of works interpreting the classical images of Michelangelo with that same element of irrepressible fantasy for which he is known. In the famous piece Geological Echo. La Pietà (1982), Dalí incorporates the figures of the Virgin Mary and Christ into a rocky landscape near the gulf by Cadaqués, as if trying to find the divine in the earthly. And in his unique artistic testament Head, after Michelangelo's, 'Giuliano di Medici' (1982) the artist unifies all symbols and methods characteristic of various stages of his earlier work – the beauty of the classical profile, the mysterious and surreal landscapes filled with strange figures, the effect of optical illusion – as if he were somehow summarizing all of his previous artistic pursuits. He would also go on to create a whole series of works in which the image of “Medici’s tomb”, which adorns the chapel of the dynasty of the great Renaissance patrons, becomes a majestic memorial to Gala and himself, granting them immortality if only in the dimension of world art.
The exhibition is organized by the Link of Times Cultural and Historical Foundation (Russia), in partnership with the Gala-Salvador Dalí Foundation (Catalonia, Spain). MondoMostre (Italy) has coordinated the exhibition, and its curators are Montse Aguer, director of the Dalí Museums of the Gala-Salvador Dalí Foundation, and Thomas Clement Salomon, academic coordinator at MondoMostre.