Figueres, 30 May 2011
The Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí presented the latest work acquired, an oil-on-panel work from 1934 entitled Enigmatic Elements in a Landscape. The Foundation paid 11 million dollars (7.8 million Euros). The presentation event was conducted by Antoni Pitxot, Director of the Dalí Theatre-Museum, and Montse Aguer, Director of the Centre for Dalinian Studies.
The Dalí Foundation's aim is to maintain the Figueres Museum’s status as an essential place for understanding the pictorial evolution, thought and life of Salvador Dalí.
Context of the work
Today we present Enigmatic Elements in a Landscape, an oil-on-panel work dating from 1934, in which year Salvador Dalí was fully integrated as a member of the Surrealist group and took part in the many activities in which its members were engaged. His involvement was not devoid of controversy, however. At the beginning of that year, the group headed by André Breton made an unsuccessful attempt to expel the painter. It was also the year when Dalí, at the behest of the gallery owner Julien Levy, put on his first individual exhibition in the United States, and more specifically in New York.
The “enigmatic elements” that appear in this work are assembled beneath a sky notable for its special, intense light. The main figure is that of the painter Vermeer of Delft, whom we see in the central part of the work. Vermeer was one of the reference painters for Dalí, acting as a major influence throughout his entire oeuvre. Right from an early age, Dalí was fascinated by a reproduction of The Lacemaker by Vermeer that hung in his father’s office. Nor was this the only painting of Dalí’s in which the Dutch painter was the leading figure, for from that same year we also find: The Ghost of Vermeer of Delft Which Can Be Used as a Table (Phenomenologic Theory of Furniture-Nutrition) (cat. no. 363); Masquerader, intoxicated by the limpid atmosphere, Ghost of Vermeer of Delft (cat. no. 365); The Ghost of Vermeer of Delft (cat. no. 367); Spectre of Vermeer's Chair / Spectre of Vermeer of Delft (cat. no. 366). In the first two, we see the painter from behind as a dark figure, kneeling, his arm supported by a crutch. In both cases, too, the figure has an exaggeratedly long leg that forms a table. In the first, The Ghost of Vermeer of Delft Which Can Be Used as a Table (cat. no. 363), we see a bottle and a small glass on the table, while in the second, Ghost of Vermeer (cat. no. 365), the table-cum-leg is not holding anything. In the other two works, Vermeer has become a spectre. The figure depicted is reminiscent of the one from The Spectre of Sex-Appeal (cat. no. 338): they are figures upheld by crutches, almost anthropomorphic, but with their members amputated, being a collection of flesh and bones vaguely reminiscent of a human form. In the painting we are now presenting, on the other hand, Vermeer is shown at his easel, actively painting.
The landscape he has before him presents — as the title tells us — “enigmatic elements”. Thus, at the bottom right of the work we see Dalí as a boy, dressed as a sailor, holding a hoop and a bone, and beside him, sitting with her back towards us, the figure of a nursemaid engaged in some unspecific task. Both elements recur very frequently for the Surrealist Dalí, and particularly in his work around that time.
Enigmatic Elements in a Landscape was a work little shown at the time it was executed. Indeed, from the 1930s we know of only two exhibitions at which it had been on display. In 1934, Dalí entered it for the Carnegie of Pittsburgh award, and it received a special mention of honour. Later, in 1939, it formed part of the exhibition Contemporary Art of 79 Countries organised by The International Business Machines Corporation Collection, which owned the work.
Dalí’s interest in Vermeer of Delft recurs over time. Around 1936, he painted Apparition of the town of Delft (cat. no. 299), a work in which Dalí shows us in the background a view of the town where Vermeer was born. Later on, in 1955, the painter asked the Musée du Louvre if he could make a copy of The Lacemaker by the master from Delft, and he was granted permission to do so. The result of this experience, on which documentary materials remain, is a copy of the work by Vermeer and the Dalinian version in which The Lacemaker explodes into multiple rhinoceros horns.
In Enigmatic Elements in a Landscape we also find the cypresses, the architecture and other iconography characteristic of this period, though our attention is particularly drawn to the draped figure, which we only come across again in West Side of the Isle of the Death (Reconstructed Compulsive Image After Böcklin), also dating from 1934 (cat. no. 391). The tower, tower of enigmas, had been a feature that interested Dalí from the period of Molí de la Torre down to the last days in Figueres. The setting and the clouds of Enigmatic Elements in a Landscape are constant features in the works Dalí produced that year, as are the cypresses and the ruins that evoke in us various, open-ended meanings.
The painting can be viewed from tomorrow in the Drawings Gallery (ground floor) of the Dalí Theatre-Museum in Figueres, in a montage expressly created for this major Surrealist work.