Nicolas and Olivier Descharnes have confirmed the authenticity of this work.
The present work’s gestural, nearly abstract composition has origins in French academic painting and tells the story of the American penchant for European art during the Gilded Age.
Dalí’s painting was inspired by William-Adolphe Bouguereau’s Nymphs and Satyr (fig. 1), which hung in the bar of New York City's Hoffmann House Hotel for twenty years. Bouguereau exhibited his painting at the 1873 Salon in Paris, where it was immediately purchased by an American collector who brought it back to New York. By the end of the 19th century, the masterpiece had reached iconic status in the United States, its image reproduced on cigar boxes, matchbooks, plates, urns and even bathroom tiles. The painting later would hang under a red velvet canopy in the Hoffmann House Hotel’s famous males-only saloon, where it was admired by countless visitors, including William Frederick “Buffalo Bill” Cody, Ulysses S. Grant, Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, and Sterling Clark, who would eventually purchase the work.
When the Berkshire Hotel was built in 1926 in midtown Manhattan, a copy after the famed Bouguereau was installed in The Barberry Room of the hotel. For decades, it maintained a prominent place in the hotel bar. Salvador Dalí, a frequent patron, believed he could do better. He painted his “impression” of Bouguereau’s iconic work while guests, such as Joan Crawford, looked on (fig. 2). When the hotel was sold in the 1970s, the owners moved Dalí’s painting into their offices, where it has remained until this day.
With the execution of his Impression de Bouguereau, the great Surrealist touched upon the current phenomenon of the artist as performer, showcased at "happenings" in New York City in the 1960s. We see Dalí exploring this notion in his film, Chaos and Creation, made that same year. Widely regarded as one of the first artist videos, Chaos and Creation follows the planning, development and execution of an artwork in the form of a performance. Back in Paris, also the same year, Yves Klein was beginning to organize events that involved his presiding over the creation of his Anthropométries before an audience. The present lot is a prime example of Dalí’s contribution to the artistic milieu of the day. The thick, gestural brushwork conveys the vitality and enigmatic energy of a performance work. In fact, contemporary accounts of the happening describes how spectators were splashed with paint while Dalí used his own hands and turban-covered head to apply paint to the canvas.
(fig. 1) William-Adolphe Bouguereau, Nymphs and Satyr, 1873. The Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts.
(fig. 2) The artist painting the present work, 1960.