Salvador Dalí (1904-1989) Coeur-Sacré de Jésus (Painted in 1962)

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Lot 13AR
Salvador Dalí
Coeur-Sacré de Jésus

£ 800,000 - 1,200,000
US$ 1,000,000 - 1,600,000
Salvador Dalí (1904-1989)
Coeur-Sacré de Jésus
signed and dated 'Dalí 1962' (lower left)
oil on canvas
86.5 x 61.4cm (34 1/16 x 24 3/16in).
Painted in 1962


  • Provenance
    Harry G. John Collection, Milwaukee (commissioned directly from the artist in 1961).
    Erica P. John Collection, US (by descent from the above); her sale, Sotheby's, New York, 26 February 1990, lot 137.
    Anon. sale, Lyon Brotteaux, Lyon, 13 June 1990, lot 28.
    Private collection, Girona (acquired at the above sale).

    R. Descharnes & G. Néret, Salvador Dalí 1904 - 1989, The Paintings, Vol. II, 1946 - 1989, Cologne, 2007, no. 1218 (illustrated p. 546).
    Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí (eds.), Salvador Dalí, catalogue raisonné of paintings, Vol. IV, 1952 - 1964, online catalogue, 2014, no. 792 (illustrated).

    Coeur-Sacré de Jésus is a devout composition marking Dalí's return to religion and classicism in the 1950s and 60s, commissioned by an American philanthropist who founded the world's largest Catholic charity. The present work offers an insight into Dalí's personal beliefs, contradictory as they may have been, and illustrates the prevailing influence of the Renaissance Masters.

    Painted in 1962, Coeur-Sacré de Jésus followed a series of religious paintings, apparently supporting the artist's wholehearted return to Catholicism. Following his homecoming to Europe from America in 1948 Dalí painted two versions of Madonna of Port Lligat, one of which he actually submitted to Pope Pius XII for approval. When an election for a new Pope took place in 1958, Dalí supported the successful Cardinal Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli to the extent that he made Roncalli's ear the subject of his trompe-l'œil composition The Sistine Madonna. Dalí even re-examined his civil marriage to wife Gala in 1934, choosing to marry again in a Catholic ceremony in 1958: 'this time I want it to be affirmed and made sacred by the Catholic Church' (S. Dalí, The Secret Life of Salvador Dalí, New York, 1942, p. 394).

    Powerful, vast works such as Christ of St. John of the Cross (1951), The Sacrament of the Last Supper (1955) and The Ecumenical Council (1960) illustrate Dalí's spiritual reawakening, in a thematic and stylistic sea-change derided by the Surrealists: 'Breton wrote...[Dalí has] returned to the bosom of the Catholic church and to the 'artistic ideal of the Renaissance', and who nowadays quotes letters of congratulation and the approval of the Pope' (R. Descharnes & G. Néret, Salvador Dalí 1904-1989, The Paintings, Vol. II, 1946 - 1989, Cologne, 2007, p. 423). The Christian subject matter, delicate handling and above all, lack of shock value in Coeur-Sacré de Jésus certainly separate this work from those of his Surrealist years.

    The reasons for Dalí's return to religion may be manifold, but many critics have pointed to the political climate in Europe following the devastation of both the Spanish Civil War and World War II. Reminiscent of the wish for a 'return to order' following World War I, Dalí shared the desire for peace, believing 'the unity of Europe will be made, and can only be made, under the sign of the triumph of Catholicism' (S. Dalí, op. cit., p. 395).

    The artist's voracious interest in contemporary developments in science and technology has also been linked to his renewed faith. Following the explosion of the atom bomb in August 1945, Dalí looked to create a blend of atomic theory and Catholicism in an approach he termed 'nuclear mysticism': 'the extraordinary progress made in nuclear physics [was] a science he felt would lead the younger generation back to religious faith and to mysticism' (R. Descharnes & G. Néret, op. cit., p. 445). To Dalí, science and religion went hand in hand. Writing in his Anti-Matter Manifesto, which was published in a New York exhibition catalogue, he declared: 'if the physicists are producing anti-matter, let it be allowed to the painters, already specialists in angels, to paint it' (S. Dalí, Anti-Matter Manifesto, 1959, reproduced in H. Finkelstein, (ed.), The Collected Writings of Salvador Dalí, Cambridge, 1998, p. 366).

    However, Dalí's very interest in scientific developments such as holography and cryonics perhaps also hint at a crisis of faith. Towards the 1970s the artist explored these technologies as a means of attaining immortality: 'Dalí was deeply afraid of death. Any and every recipe for immortality was welcome, and he collected them as others collect cooking recipes, hoping that one would work' (R. Descharnes & G. Néret, op. cit., p. 700). Following the death of his beloved wife Gala in 1982, Dalí attempted suicide through dehydration, hoping even then that it would allow him a future rejuvenation. In typical Dalínian fashion, the artist was ambiguous about the strength of his religious faith. After calling for a union under the banner of Catholicism in his 1942 autobiography, he ends on a wistful post-script: 'At this moment I do not yet have faith, and I fear I shall die without heaven' (S. Dalí, op. cit., p. 400).

    Robert Descharnes suggests that Dalí used religion partly as a vehicle to explore the wider sphere of the mystical and the sacred, and indeed the artist wrote a treatise on mysticism in 1953 in which he displayed his characteristic modesty: 'I have an unusual weapon at my disposal to help me penetrate to the core of reality: mysticism – that is to say, the profound intuitive knowledge of what is, direct communication with the all, absolute vision by the grace of Truth, by the grace of God. More powerful than cyclotrons and cybernetic calculators, I can penetrate to the mysteries of the real in a moment...Mine the ecstasy I cry! The ecstasy of God and Man. Mine the perfection, the beauty, that I might gaze into its eyes!... By reviving Spanish mysticism I, Dalí, shall use my work to demonstrate the unity of the universe, by showing the spirituality of all substance' (S. Dalí quoted in R. Descharnes & G. Néret, op. cit., p. 407).

    For Dalí, the transcendent act of communing with God, the very act of faith, was perhaps more important than the belief system itself. In his Mystical Manifesto he spoke out against modern art, believing it to be unrooted: 'the decadence of modern painting comes from scepticism and lack of belief' (S. Dalí, Mystical Manifesto, 1951, reproduced in H. Finkelstein, op. cit., p. 365). Those who believed in nothing, painted nothing.

    Dalí's interest in religion occasionally centred perhaps more on the rituals and display of devotion than its teachings and moral values, and he once admitted only attending church services in Port Lligat in order to set a good example to its inhabitants. Madonna of Port Lligat of 1949 can be read as more of an homage to Gala, transformed into the deified figure of the Madonna, than a traditional rendering of the Christian figure. Dalí declared himself not only a genius in 1965, upon the publication of his Diary of a Genius, but also God-like when painting himself as Christ in The Railway Station at Perpignan, complete with crown of thorns and bleeding wounds.

    No such injuries mar the subject of the present work, in which only a small crucifix bears testimony to Christ's suffering. In Coeur-Sacré de Jésus we see an unusually muscular and attractive Christ who illustrates the artist's belief that 'eroticism is the royal road of the spirit of God' (S. Dalí quoted in R. Descharnes & G. Néret, op. cit., p. 434). A young man in his prime, his hair is thick and lustrous, his powerful arms emphasised by folds of delicate drapery. Jesus in the present work is strong, physical, vital, and recalls the figure in Dalí's 1951 Christ of Saint John of the Cross, for which the artist used a Hollywood stuntman as his model, suspending him from an overhead gantry in order to accurately capture the pull of gravity on his body. Christ's divinity in the present work however, is reminded to us in the gentle halo of light around his hair and person and the delicate cross he holds. As corporeal as Dalí depicts him, his lower torso fades softly into the foreground, reminding us of the The Sacrament of the Last Supper in which Jesus shimmers with a stunning translucence.

    Coeur-Sacré de Jésus shows that the eroticism of Dalí's earlier oeuvre was clearly not abandoned in his stylistic and thematic shift - the artist painted perhaps his most sexualised work of all, Young Virgin Auto-Sodomized by her Own Chastity in 1954, in the midst of these religious compositions. In contrast to the tortured figures of old, 'I want my next Christ to be a painting containing more beauty and joy than anything that will have been painted up to the present' (S. Dalí, Mystical Manifesto, 1951, reproduced in H. Finkelstein, (ed.), op. cit., pp. 365 - 366).

    Placed in the lower third of the present work (perhaps intentionally within the golden section) is a window in Christ's chest, revealing his heart within. The dark sky of the bleak background lightens to blue when seen through the prism of his heart, and strong sunshine casts shadows on the sill of the painted window. The title Coeur-Sacré de Jésus refers to the common devotion within Roman Catholicism to Jesus' physical heart, standing as a representation of his love for humanity, and reminds us of Dalí's The Royal Heart from 1953, which was made of gold and rubies, complete with a moving mechanism to allow it to beat. The sacred heart of Jesus appears to embody Dalí's own belief, voiced in the closing words of his autobiography, that 'Heaven is to be found, neither above nor below, neither to the right nor to the left, heaven is to be found exactly in the center of the bosom of the man who has faith!' (S. Dalí, op. cit., p. 400).

    Coeur-Sacré de Jésus pairs the most traditional of subjects with a classical style of painting. Unlike compositions such as La madone de Raphaël à la vitesse maximum in which Dalí used his interest in nuclear physics to create an atomic disintegration of a subject, here Christ is solid, his hair clearly delineated, the delicate swathes of white cloth and Madonna-like blue robe softly captured, and his face and arms modelled with strong chiaroscuro. Dalí had long been interested in the Old Masters, and as a young student would copy the works at the Museo del Prado whilst yet experimenting with Cubism and Futurism, before embracing Neoclassism in beautifully rendered portraits in the 1920s. He particularly admired the seventeenth century Spanish artist Francisco de Zurbarán, the 'Spanish Caravaggio' for his precise and skilful use of light and shadow, whose influence can certainly be read in the present work.

    Having parted from Surrealism in the mid-1930s, Dalí's love for the Renaissance was renewed. In his 1948 Fifty Secrets of Magic Craftsmanship Dalí criticised modern artists such as Cézanne for being too abstract (possessing 'two clumsy hands' (S. Dalí, Fifty Secrets of Magic Craftsmanship, 1948, reproduced in H. Finkelstein, op. cit., p. 351)) and yet in a typical Dalínian dichotomy, continued all the while with his own artistic experiments such as shooting nails and ink-filled bullets out of an arquebus. However, in this treatise he expounded on the beauty of symmetry, the golden section and correct perspective, whilst deriding modern artists who he felt daubed paint crudely and clumsily onto the canvas without thought. When applied in the manner of the Masters however, both the oil paint and the process of painting became a mystical experience, 'spiritualized to the point of giving us the illusion that they painted their pictures with elements of heaven' (S. Dalí, Fifty Secrets of Magic Craftsmanship, 1948, reproduced in H. Finkelstein, ibid., p. 355).

    That Coeur-Sacré de Jésus was commissioned by a devout Catholic only reaffirms its, and Dalí's, sincerity. Harry G. John (1919-1992) was an American businessman, heir to the Miller Brewing Company, and a deeply religious philanthropist. In addition to funding charities in India, West Africa, the Philippines and his home town of Milwaukee, he established the De Rance Foundation in 1946. Named after a seventeenth century abbot of a French monastery, the foundation became the world's largest Catholic charity, donating to missionaries and even funding an attempt to locate Noah's Ark.

    Dalí's friend and advisor, the Carmelite monk Father Bruno Froissart, wrote that Dalí 'wanted to paint heaven, to penetrate the heavens in order to communicate with God. For him, God is an intangible idea, impossible to render in concrete terms. Dalí is of the opinion that He is perhaps the substance being sought by nuclear physics...At heart a Catalonian, Dalí needs tactile forms, and 'that applies to angels, too'' (R. Descharnes & G. Néret, op. cit., p. 424). In Coeur-Sacré de Jésus he captures a very tangible, physical and beautiful Christ, modelled with thoughtful academic technique looking back to the Renaissance Masters he so admired. Moreover, the present work illustrates not only Dali's fundamentally Catholic faith, but his interest in mysticism and the very act of belief, beautifully exemplifying his theory that heaven is to be found in the heart of the individual.

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