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    Sale 7735

    Impressionist/Modern Evening Sale

    23 June 2009, London, King Street

  • Lot 40

    Salvador Dalí (1904-1989)

    Le piano surréaliste

    Price Realised  


    Salvador Dalí (1904-1989)
    Le piano surréaliste
    signed and dated 'Dalí 37' (lower left)
    charcoal heightened with white chalk on paper
    24 5/8 x 18¾ in. (62.5 x 47.6 cm.)
    Executed in 1937

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    Robert Descharnes has kindly confirmed the authenticity of this work and it is archived under no. A-16, D-1354.

    'And on Fifth Avenue Harpo Marx has just lighted the fuse that projects from the behinds of a flock of expensive giraffes stuffed with dynamite. They run in all directions, sowing panic and obliging everyone to seek refuge pell-mell within the shops. All the fire-alarms of the city have just been turned on, but it is already too late. Boom! Boom! I salute you explosive giraffes of New York and all you fore-runners of the irrational -Mack Sennett, Harry Langdon, and you too, unforgettable Buster Keaton, tragic and delirious like my rotten and mystic donkeys, desert roses of Spain' (Salvador Dalí, 'Projected Extract from 'Giraffes on Horseback Salad', in The Secret Life of Salvador Dalí, New York, 1942, p. 332).

    The Surrealist Piano is a study for a scenario in an unrealized film to have been entitled Giraffes on Horseback Salad that Dalí prepared in collaboration with the Marx brothers in Hollywood in 1937. A lifelong fan of the Marx brothers, Dalí met Harpo Marx - his favourite Marx brother - in Hollywood in 1936, becoming close to the legendary comedian and painting his portrait. Together with Harpo and his brothers Groucho and Chico, Dali began work on preparation for a new film in which their unique brand of madcap comedy would ally itself with his own Surrealist imagination. Then currently obsessed by the themes of the burning Giraffe and the Surrealist Woman - a spectral figure with her face full of roses - Dali began to write and draw scenarios for the film.

    The Surrealist Piano incorporates several typical Dalinean themes, from the phallic cypress tree reminiscent of Böcklin's Island of the Dead erupting through a piano, to the figure of a naked woman with the face of a clock. The scenario that the picture describes is the embracing of the 'Surrealist Woman' 'photographed from behind, or in circumstances where the face is hidden, in order to increase the enigmatic atmosphere of her personality' by the film's central character 'Jimmy' (Salvador Dalí, 'The Surrealist Woman': unpublished Marx brothers film scenario, 1937 reproduced in R. Descharnes, Salvador Dali, New York, 1984, p. 158). For Jimmy, as for Dalí, the Surrealist Woman personifies a 'world of fantasy, dreams and the imagination'; her friends are Harpo, Groucho and Chico Marx. In The Surrealist Piano, the Surrealist Woman is embraced at the piano which simultaneously serves a sacred spring filling a lake while at the top of the picture, in a scene that anticipates Dali's later work on the Hitchcock film Spellbound, a landscape where a lone figure and long mysterious shadows extend steeply towards a horizon.

    Recalling such earlier paintings as Three Young Surrealist Women Holding in their Arms the skins of an Orchestra of 1936 and Necrophilic Fountain Flowing from a Grand Piano of 1933, The Surrealist Piano, with its embracing couple standing at the meeting point of a cello-shaped pool and a dissolving grand piano, is both a typical Dalinean dreamscape, and a rare testament to the brief but fascinating collaboration between two of the most imaginative surrealist imaginations of the Twentieth Century.

    Special Notice

    VAT rate of 5% is payable on hammer price and at 15% on the buyer's premium


    The Marx brothers.
    J.M. Tessone, New York, by 1989.


    K. von Maur, Salvador Dalí, 1904-1989, Stuttgart, 1989, no. 172 (illustrated p. 221).
    Exh. cat., Salvador Dalí, Montreal, 1990, no. 42 (illustrated p. 97).


    Stuttgart, Staatsgalerie, Salvador Dalí, 1904-1989, May - July 1989, no. 42 (illustrated); this exhibition later travelled to Zurich, Kunsthaus, August - October 1989, no. 172.
    Atlanta, Michael C. Carlos Museum, Emory University, From Gaudi to Tàpies: Catalan Masters of the 20th Century, April - June 1996 (illustrated p. 59); this exhibition later travelled to Quebec, Musée de Québec, June - July 1996; St. Petersburg, Florida, The Salvador Dalí Museum, July - September 1996 and San Antonio, Museum of Art, October - December 2006.
    Barcelona, Fundació Caixa de Catalunya, La Pedrera, Dalí Arquitectura, June - August 1996, no. 17 (illustrated).
    Rio de Janeiro, Museu Nacional de Bellas Artes, Dalí Monumental, March - May 1998, no. 106 (illustrated p. 87).
    Huntington, New York, Heckscher Museum of Art, Aaron Copeland's America, November 2000 - January 2001 (illustrated).
    Rio de Janeiro, Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil, Surrealism, 2001. Barcelona, Fundació La Caixa, Dalí: Cultura de masses, February - May 2004, no. 123 (illustrated); this exhibition later travelled to Madrid, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, June - August 2004; St. Petersburg, Florida, Salvador Dalí Museum, October 2004 - January 2005 and Rotterdam, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, February - May 2005.
    London, Tate Modern, Dalí & Film, June - September 2007 (illustrated p. 150, fig. 94); this exhibition later travelled to Los Angeles, County Museum of Art, October 2007 - January 2008; St. Petersburg, Florida, Salvador Dalí Museum, February - June 2008 and New York, Museum of Modern Art, June - September 2008.