Dalí painted Nu dans la plaine de Rosas during his wartime exile in America. With German armies on the march during the spring of 1940, there was no question of leaving Europe--Gala was Jewish, and he would have had a difficult time with any totalitarian regime. There were other motivations, as he wrote in The Secret Life of Salvador Dalí: "I needed, in fact, immediately to get away from the blind and tumultuous collective jostlings of history, otherwise the antique and half-divine embryo of my originality would risk suffering injury and dying before birth in the degrading circumstances of a philosophic miscarriage occurring on the very sidewalks of anecdote. Ritual first and foremost! Already I am concerning myself with its future, with the sheets and pillows of its cradle. I had to return to America to make fresh money for Gala, him and myself" (New York, 1942, p. 390). Awaiting their visas, Dalí, made a trip to his native region of Empordà in Catalunya, visiting his birthplace in Figueres, as well as Port Lligat and Cadaqués--towns which had all suffered bitterly during the Spanish Civil War.
Dalí and Gala arrived in New York on 16 August 1940. He hurled himself into new projects and made preparations for a solo exhibition at The Julien Levy Gallery, which opened on 22 April 1941. Dalí's self-promotional antics during his previous stays in New York made him widely known in America, where he had become the singular face of Surrealism, much to the consternation of Breton and his circle. Although paintings sales were slow, Dalí took advantage of numerous other opportunities, including the production of sets and costumes for Massine's ballet Labyrinth, based on the myth of Theseus and Ariadne. In conjunction with Miró, he was given a retrospective exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art, which thereafter travelled to eight cities across the nation.
In 1942 Helena Rubinstein commissioned Dalí, whom she had known since the early 1930s, to decorate the dining room of her 36-room triplex apartment on Park Avenue. By the end of the year Dalí completed three murals representing morning, noon and night. His imagery speaks of memories of past deeds, and the melancholy of departure and migration. An androgynous hero, an apparent conflation of Theseus, Jason and no doubt Dalí himself, dominates the first panel. Flying birds and clouds give shape to his face and upper body, following Dalí's paranoid-critical method, by which the artist, in his "delirium of interpretation," elicits multiple images from a single configuration.
Dalí painted Nu dans la plaine de Rosas in conjunction with the Rubinstein murals, expanding on the elements in the third panel. To this composition Dalí added the Ariadne-like figure of a reclining nude, seen from behind, as he liked to depict Gala's shapely form. She looks out from the portico of her abode across the flatlands surrounding the coastal town of Rosas, in the Empordà region, only to see her beloved hero's image fading into absence, with only a trace of his sandaled foot and a visage formed by birds on the wing. At the unveiling of the murals, one of Mme Rubinstein's guests asked Dalí about their meaning. "The whole thing is an allegory of life," Dalí explained. "It is for the viewer to decipher. If no meaning is found, then there is none." (quoted in A. Parinaud, The Unspeakable Confessions of Salvador Dalí, London, 1977, p. 210).