In this year that commemorates the 30th anniversary of the death of the artist (1904-1989), the exhibition "Dalí. A History of Painting" exhibition offers the public an exceptional journey through the painter’s artistic production. It not only offers a retrospective view of Dalí's work, but reveals how the painter himself saw himself in the history of twentieth-century painting. The selection brings together paintings, drawings, documentation and photographs dated from 1910 to 1983 and reveals the different stages in the artist's creativity. After the first experiments, he immersed himself in the European avant-gardes: Impressionism, Cubism, metaphysical painting and abstract art, hyperrealism, surrealism… Dalí devoted himself to the observation of classicism in his paintings paying tribute to the most remarkable painters in the history of art such as Vermeer, Velázquez, Raphael, Leonardo da Vinci and Picasso.
The selection made by Montse Aguer, Curator of the exhibition, Director of the Dalí Museums, includes about 80 paintings, drawings and photographs, mostly from the Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí in Figueres, the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía de Madrid, and also from Dalí Museum de St-Petersburg in Florida and from a private collection.
The oldest painting in the exhibition dates from 1916; Salvador is 12 years old. At that time, he made regular stays around Figueres, his hometown, in the property of the Pichot family - family of intellectuals and artists - where, thanks to the collection owned by the painter Ramon Pichot, he discovered Impressionism. His first paintings are inspired by this anti-racist movement and deal almost exclusively with the landscape of Cadaqués, coastal village of the Costa Brava where the Dalí spend their holidays. The landscape will remain a favorite theme for the painter, truly "inhabited" by its geographical environment. In addition to self-portraits, in the great tradition of painting, the young artist takes as model his family, his father and especially his sister Anna Maria. Finally, Salvador's father will accept him to attend the courses at the municipal drawing school in Figueres. At the age of 15, in 1919, Dalí exhibited his paintings for the first time at the Municipal Theater in Figueres (the future Dalí Theater-Museum).
In 1922, Dalí entered the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Madrid and befriended a group of students who, over time, became important intellectual and artistic figures of the 20th century, such as Luis Buñuel and Federico García Lorca. Dalí is a very curious young man who is interested in everything that is done again and reads important European art magazines like Valori Plastici or Art Nouveau. It is by Cubism that Dalí will express his difference at this time. He paints canvases influenced by Picasso or Juan Gris and has a small monograph of Braque. In the twenties, he turned to Italian metaphysical painters, such as De Chirico or Carrà, whose influence was considerable both technically and aesthetically. In 1925, his first solo exhibition was presented at Galeries Dalmau in Barcelona; Dalí is 21 years old. The following year, he was expelled from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts for having declared the examination board incompetent to evaluate his theoretical knowledge of the fine arts.
In 1926, Dalí made his first trip to Paris where he met Pablo Picasso and visited the Musée du Louvre. The following year, his fellow countryman Joan Miró takes him under his protection and encourages him (he will be essential in the rallying of Dalí to Surrealism). For the moment, Dali is in a period of transition, in his life as in his creation. It is at this time that he painted abstract canvases inspired by Miró, as evidenced by the painting Four Fishermen's Wives in Cadaqués, or Jean Arp.
Dalí moved to Paris in 1929. The film Un Chien andalou, which he co-wrote with his friend Luis Buñuel, was screened in a cinema in the capital and earned him an official place in the Surrealist group. In the early 1930s, Dalí found his own style, this particular artistic language that will accompany him all his life despite the evolutions of his work; it is the beginning of his consecration as a painter. Dalí's chapter in the surrealist world features exceptional paintings such as The Memory of the Woman-Child of 1929, The Specter of Sex-Appeal or Enigmatic Elements in a Landscape from 1934. The Surrealist paintings corpse selected on occasion of this exhibition shows Dalí's specific contribution to André Breton's movement, whether it be the paranoiac-critical method, a system invented by Dali to make the invisible manifest through a controlled delirium of the mind, or the application of the double image.
Following his expulsion from the surrealist group in 1939 and under the influence of his wife Gala, met ten years earlier, Dalí devoted himself in the 40s and 50s, to the observation of Classicism. Exiled in the United States during the Second World War, he declares that surrealism is dead and that it has entered a classical phase in order to "save" modern painting. He studies especially the works of the artists of the Renaissance and travels in Italy with Gala. The culmination of this passion for classical culture is found in his literary production and more particularly in 50 Secrets of Magic Craftsmanship, a real "treatise" of painting that he publishes in 1948 and where he explains wanting to paint his time with the trade's great masters of the past. In July of this year 1948, Dalí and Gala return to Europe and settle in Portlligat. Dalí's admiration for classicism and religious painting became part of his growing interest in science, marking the beginning of a new period of creation, that of nuclear mysticism.
If Dalí is inspired by tradition, he is also deeply rooted in the contemporaneity of his time, as evidenced by his relationship to American art in the 60s and 70s. His taste for the American hyperrealism is part of the interest he always had on photography and realistic painting. He defends the values of this movement against the abstract art that represents everything he hates. Dalí is also the first painter to represent a Coca-Cola can in a canvas, becoming "pop art" before the hour. This period of reciprocal and transgenerational inspiration is symbolized by the emblematic encounter between Dalí and Andy Warhol as well as by the many contributions of the Master on the American art and media scene.
In the 60s and 70s, the interest of the painter increased for science and holography, which offered him new perspectives in his constant quest for mastery of three-dimensional images. Dalí studies and uses the possibilities of new scientific discoveries, especially those relating to the third dimension. He works on the optical illusion and produces a series of stereoscopic works composed of double, almost identical canvases, whose simultaneous observation in one and the same vision creates an impression of relief. The choice of stereoscopic works presented in the exhibition, through their references to Velásquez or Claude Lorrain, continues to highlight Dalí's ability to always combine innovation and tradition. Although he has long since incorporated into his pictorial works optical illusions and trompe-l'oeil, Dalí is experimenting at this time with new media and innovative processes, such as holography. He is interested in all the processes that aim to offer the viewer the impression of plasticity and three-dimensional space.
The last stage of Dalí's creation in the 1980s is an ambivalent period. It is at the same time the time of the recognition, with great retrospectives which dedicate his art, his appointment to the Academy of Fine Arts of the Institut de France and his title of Marquis of Dalí de Púbol granted by King Don Juan Carlos I; but it is also the death of Gala in 1982, which is a deeply painful event, and the beginning of the disease. His painting is imbued with evocations and reflections around death, immortality and his passion for painting. The artist is obsessed with tracing his own history of art and devotes the last years of his life to the study of major paintings by Velásquez and Michelangelo from different aesthetic angles. Some of the amazing exhibits describe imaginary landscapes and celestial characters in more abstract compositions.
The last part of the exhibition proposes to return to the heart of the subject through two thematic rooms: a cabinet of drawings presenting the illustrations of the painting treaty that Dalí publishes in 1948, 50 Secrets of Magic Craftsmanship, and a dedicated chapter to the influence of the five great masters of art history who have fed the artistic conception of Dalí: Vermeer, Raphael, Velásquez, Leonardo da Vinci and Picasso. When writing his treatise on painting, Dalí gives an account of his experience as a painter and makes a comparative analysis of the values that an artist worthy of the name must possess - technical, inspiration, color, drawing, genius, composition, originality, mystery and authenticity-, distributing notes to great masters of painting such as those mentioned above.