Surrealist painter Salvador Dali produced over 1500 artworks. Just 96 of his oil paintings plus some prints and drawings are in the St. Petersburg, Florida Dali Museum. It well worth visiting nonetheless because they are so well presented.
Photos are permitted, but unfortunately I had only a newly-purchased phone with me and struggled to get a few sample images.
Dali lived from 1904 to 1989. He was a remarkably skilled painter. The St. Petersburg collection does an admirable job tracing the evolution of his work from impressionism to developing the skills of an old master to becoming the master of surrealism. It reveals him as a man extraordinarily devoted to his personal muse, his wife Gala. Known for his flamboyant showmanship, the museum also describes a man who tried to keep up with the latest scientific discoveries which he then symbolized in his later paintings.
Newly-wedded and wealthy businessman A. Reynolds Morse and his wife Eleanor saw a Dali painting in 1942 and bought their first one, Daddy Longlegs of the Evening – Hope! in March 1943 as an anniversary present to themselves. They subsequently met Dali and his wife Gala in April. The Morses and Dalis developed a turbulent friendship over the next forty years.
Despite Dali sometimes urging otherwise, the Morses bought only the paintings they loved (Studies have shown that despite some extraordinary prices, most art does not appreciate better than any other investment, so if you are going to own it, you should like it.). Nonetheless, Reynolds Morse’s New York Times obituary said the couple “amassed nearly 100 paintings and more than 1,000 drawings, watercolors, prints and objects, as well as film and designs for clothing, furniture and ballet sets.”
The Morses each compiled notebooks describing their paintings as explained by Dali himself. These along with the seven books Reynolds Morse wrote are exceptionally helpful in understanding the enormous amount of symbolism found in each painting.
Deciding to give their Cleveland, Ohio collection away, they found museums rejected their stipulation that the collection remain intact. After a campaign led by a St. Petersburg lawyer, they agreed to give the collection to that city.
Florida state money helped renovate an old marine equipment warehouse to house the collection. The current building, built to reflect Dali’s style and interests and to better resist a possible hurricane, opened in 2011.
Inside the museum, a helical staircase reflects Dali’s interest in spirals and the discovery of the double helix DNA molecule.
Dali created his first painting at age 6 and quickly proclaimed his ambition to be the finest painter in the world despite the strong opposition of his father. The small picture of Cadaqués, done when he was around 13 (unfortunately out of focus in my photo) clearly demonstrates the influence of the impressionists. He came to know, was influenced and was helped by Picasso. However, a painting The Basket of Bread done while he was a art student, showed he had the draftsmanship skills of an old master. The Girl with curls painted in 1926 is the first one to show a move to surrealism.
Surrealism, influenced by the writings of Sigmund Freud, was an early 20th century movement in literature, theater, film and art to tap the unconscious mind through the exploration of dreams and ancient myths. Therefore, it often deliberately rejected rational juxtapositions or depictions.
As his career progressed, however, Dali broke with other famous surrealists — or they broke with him. He rejected their fascination with communism, and his own Catholic tradition is reflected in many paintings. They rejected his flamboyant self-promotion. But he always proclaimed himself to be a surrealist.
Geopoliticus Child Watching the Birth of The New Man, painted in 1943 after the break, rejects abstraction and uses his own surrealism to indicate (among many things as in all Dali) the emergence of the United States as the predominant world power.
Perhaps his most famous painting is The Persistence of Memory, 1931 (the melting clocks). The St. Petersburg museum has The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory, 1952 which is interesting because it reflects his interest in atomic theory and breaks down the earlier painting into blocks symbolizing atoms.
His Gala contemplating the Mediterranean Sea Which at Twenty Meters Becomes the Portrait of Abraham Lincoln (Homage to Rothko), 1976, demonstrates his propensity to give very descriptive titles to his painting and, again, his interest in science. He had read a Scientific American article about the number of pixels needed to reveal a human face; he used 121.
In The Hallucinogenic Toreador, 1970, the Venus de Milo is seen 28 times. But the painting actually is the optical illusion of a large toreador, a bull and seemingly countless other images.
I loved The Ecumenical Council and The Discovery of America by Christopher Columbus as well as several smaller paintings. You, however, will just have to visit the museum to appreciate them all.
Click on photos (as poor as they are) to enlarge.
P.S. Dillydallying is also an on-going children’s program at the museum.