Prunier hâtif (Hasty Plum) watercolour, gouache and 19th century stipple engraving 48 x 34.3cm (18 7/8 x 13 1/2in). Executed in 1969
This work is sold with a photo-certificate of authenticity from Messieurs Robert and Nicolas Descharnes.
PROVENANCE Jean Schneider, Basel (by whom commissioned from the artist in 1969). Galerie Orangerie-Reinz, Cologne (on consignment from the above, 2000). Acquired from Galerie Orangerie-Reinz by the present owner in 2000.
EXHIBITED Cologne, Galerie Orangerie-Reinz, Rückblick auf Positionen der Galerietätigkeit zum 40-jährigen Bestehen, 10 November 2000 - 15 January 2001.
LITERATURE C. Sahli, Salvador Dalí, 257 Editions Originales 1964-1985, Paris, 1985, under nos. 168-179. R. Michler and L.W. Löpsinger, Salvador Dalí. Catalogue raisonné of etchings and mixed media prints 1924-1980, Munich, 1995, under nos. 344-355. A. Field, The Official Catalog of the Graphic Works of Salvador Dalí, New York, 1996, under no. 69-11.
Salvador Dalí: Metamorphosis and Illusion The FruitDalí Series (lots 27-40)
The FruitDalí series ties together many of the themes that run through Dalí's long career as a relentlessly curious and innovative artistic pioneer. Characteristically, he also gives a knowing nod to the broader tradition of Western Art while mining the iconographic language of Dalínian surrealism for which he is best known. These fourteen compositions were commissioned in 1969 and 1970 by the publisher Jean Schneider for a series of lithographs with drypoint that immediately became immensely popular with collectors. Aside from a brief appearance at exhibition in Germany however, these finished works made for the commission have remained in private hands ever since.
While the artist's usual preoccupations are at the forefront of the imagery of FruitDalí, the compositions also show a healthy sense of humour, a playfulness and lightness of touch. Indeed it is possible to read in this series a response to the prevailing currents of Pop Art, particularly in addressing questions of mass media reproduction and the use of the botanical illustrations as embellished 'found objects'. Dalí was certainly friendly with Andy Warhol in this period, and like him was unconcerned by applying his creative instincts to advertising and other commercial media.
Central to the FruitDalí series is the concept of illusionism and metamorphosis. Dalí claimed always to have had the ability to see multiple meanings and patterns in single images, recalling a childhood ability to read shapes in the clouds of a summer storm 'so that I became master of that thaumaturgical faculty of being able at any moment and in any circumstance always to see something else.' (quoted in R. Radford, Dalí, London, 1997, p. 157). In divining multiple images from botanical compositions in the FruitDalí series he is drawing on this same technique. Once identified it is hard to suppress, as for example in the photograph he instructed Robert Descharnes to take of a rock formation in the shape of human profile at Cap de Creus near Figueras, which becomes a personification of Sleep in several paintings throughout his career.
Dalí was initially most valued by the Surrealists as a writer and theorist, and his use of illusion and double images is rooted in his 'paranoiac-critical method'. This was first discussed in La Femme Visible, published in 1930, and takes as its base the premise that the obsession driven by the paranoiac condition invests objects and images with heightened meaning and reality. By harnessing this state of hyperreality, new dimensions of representation are possible: 'It is by a frankly paranoiac process that it has been possible to obtain a double image: that is to say the representation of one object which, without the least figurative or anatomical distortion is at the same time the representation of a totally different object' (S. Dalí, La Femme Visible, Paris, 1930, p. 15, quoted in D. Ades ed., Dalí's optical illusions, exh. cat., Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, and elsewhere, 2000, p. 37). Although apparently in tune with Surrealist strategies this approach is in fact significantly different in that it is an active tactic rather than the Surrealists essentially passive process of automatism and chance. Dalí put this paranoiac-critical method into practice first in The Invisible Man (1929-32; Madrid, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia), in which a crowded landscape and seated man coexist in a simultaneous composition.
According to Dalí, the writing of La Femme Visible was only made possible through the influence of Gala Eluard, who he had met in the summer of 1929 and who would become his muse, amanuensis, lover and eventually wife. From 1929 he would often, as in the FruitDalí series, sign his work 'G Dalí' in recognition of her influence and their partnership.
It is perhaps significant that Dalí, in common with many of the artists in the Surrealist circle, should so often find images of the human body, and more specifically the human face, when they investigated their subconscious minds for patterns and images. As he later declared, in connection with his designs for jewellery, 'I see the human form in trees, leaves, animals; the animal and vegetable in the human. My art in paint, diamonds, rubies, pearls, emeralds, gold, chrysoprase shows the metamorphosis that takes place; human beings create and change. When they sleep, they change totally into flowers, plants, trees. In Heaven comes the new metamorphosis. The body becomes whole again and attains perfection.' (quoted in Dalí Jewels: A Collection of the Gala-Salvador Dalí Foundation, Milan, 1999, p. 36).
This concern with doubling and illusionism, again targeted specifically at the human body, can also be found in In Voluptas Mors (1951), Dalí's collaboration with the photographer Philippe Halsman in which a tableau vivant of naked female models are arranged to build a grinning skull. The two sides of the meaning may be abundantly clear, but the technical skill in building the image, based on Dalí's preparatory drawings, adds an intriguing element.
The illusionistic multiple readings of the FruitDalí images can also be located in the wider Western tradition of metamorphic painting to which Dalí saw himself as heir and archetype. For the FruitDalí compositions the most closely comparable body of work are the composite heads made up of fruit painted by Giuseppe Arcimboldo in Prague in the 16th century. It is notable that Edward James, Dalí's major patron in the late 1930s, owned a large illusionistic Seated figure of Summer attributed to the Italian artist.
In the FruitDalí series a fundamental element of the multiple meaning of the composition is provided by the underlying botanical stipple engraving. Ten of these are taken from Pierre-Antoine Poiteau's Pomologie française: recueil des plus beaux fruits cultivés en France published in Paris in four volumes and several editions from 1808 (the 1848 edition was probably the one used by Dalí), and three from Pierre-Jean Redouté's illustrations to the Traité des arbres et arbustes que l'on cultive en France, par Duhamel published in Paris in seven volumes and several editions from 1800. These works are regarded as among the finest examples of botanical illustration, an area that reached its apogee in France in the 19th century. By adding fantastic and illusory creatures to exceptionally precise and botanically correct reproductions Dalí makes comment on scientific discovery, a subject with which he was deeply fascinated.
These creatures and their attributes exhibit elements that are familiar from the Dalínian corpus, including the crutch, Don Quixote, jewels, forms sprouting chicken legs and the eye motif. The eye is perhaps the most enduring and repeated image, repeated for example in the famous sequence of an eyeball slashed with a razor in Dalí and Luis Buñuel's surrealist film Un Chien Andalou (1929), in the floating eyes in the dream scene designed for Hitchcock's film Spellbound (1945), and in the diamondistudded eye from the jewellery collection designed in the 1950s. The eye has an obvious resonance with concepts of perception and illusion: 'What is the eye? A glob of humours, a knot of muscles, a film of flesh and nerves irrigated by a flow of acid? Beneath that appearance lush galaxies of microscopic electrons, agitated by an impalpable wave, itself the fluid of a quasi-immaterial energy. At what level, then, the real?' (The Unspeakable Confessions of Salvador Dalí, London, 1977, p. 144).
The use of these prints also puts the FruitDalí series in the tradition of the 'assisted ready-made' alongside the moustachioed Mona Lisa in Marcel Duchamp's L.H.O.O.Q. (1919), and looks forward to the Chapman Brothers' reworking of Goya in Insult to Injury (2003). Dalí's first significant use of the 'assisted ready-made' is in the Mad Associations based on Fireworks (1930-31; Private Collection) in which an enamelled shop sign for a fireworks manufacturer is embellished with tiny painted images and lettering, a layered approach that instantly allows for multiple meanings that prefigures the work of Roland Barthes.
The closest precursor to FruitDalí is the series of ten watercolours known as the FlorDalí (Flora Dalínea), also destined to be reproduced in lithograph under Schneider's auspices (C. Sahli, Salvador Dalí, 257 Editions Originales 1964-1985, Paris, 1985, under nos. 66-75). As the title suggests these compositions play with the punning metamorphic possibilities of flowers. They are however more schematic and lack the scientific overtones provided by the botanical engravings in the FruitDalí group.
Dalí again took inspiration from printed sources when designing the portfolio Les métamorphoses érotiques: choix de dessins exécuté de 1940 à 1968, Lausanne, 1969. Rather than using botanical illustrations he took print illustrations from children's spelling books and overlaid them with increasingly sexual imagery. The series also looks forward to Dalí's series of engravings Les Caprices de Goya de Salvador Dalí. Conceived from 1973 and published by Berggreuen in 1977, it constitutes a reworking of Goya's masterpiece which as the subtitle notes was 'métamorphosés par Dalí'. In keeping with the subject matter the effect is much darker, with heavily sexualised and onanistic overtones, but as in FruitDalí he plays with the void spaces and curlicues of the engraver's needle to conjure faces, and subverts the compositions with typically Dalínian elements. Figures are hollowed out, new horizon lines appear to upset perspective and dragons sprout from dark corners.
Dalí also applied this approach to three dimensional objects, notably in Nieuw Amsterdam (1974; St Petersburg, Florida, Salvador Dalí Museum), in which he takes a 19th century bronze bust of White Eagle, chief of the Ponca tribe of Plains Indians, and overpaints the face with an interior scene. The eyeballs become the heads of two Dutch merchants, the eyelids hats and ruffs, and the nose a bottle of Coca Cola with which they toast the purchase of Manhattan.
Parallels can also be drawn with Surrealist, or more specifically, Dadaist collage, which often drew on 19th century print imagery. Max Ernst's account of the genesis of his collages taken from technical illustrations is perhaps analogous to the creation of the FruitDalí series: 'One rainy day in 1919, in a town on the Rhine, my excited gaze is provoked by the pages of a printed catalogue. ... Here I discover the elements of a figuration so remote that its very absurdity provokes in me a sudden intensification of my faculties of sight - a hallucinatory succession of contradictory images, double, triple, multiple, superimposed upon each other with the persistence and rapidity characteristic of amorous memories and visions of somnolescence. These images, in turn, provoke new planes of understanding. They encounter an unknown - new and nonconformist. By simply painting or drawing, it suffices to add to the illustration a color, a line, a landscape foreign to the objects represented - a desert, a sky, a geological section, a floor, a single straight horizontal expressing the horizon and so forth. These changes, no more than docile reproductions of what is visible within me, record a faithful and fixed image of my hallucination. They transform the banal pages of advertisements into dramas which reveal my most secret desires.' (Max Ernst, quoted in Max Ernst, exh. cat., Museum of Modern Art, New York, and Art Institute, Chicago, 1961, pp. 11-12).