Yin et yang ampurdanais is an eerie, psychological landscape based on the desolate plains of Salvador Dalí's Catalonian homeland. Small scattered clouds are strewn across an oppressively vast sky with the sweeping and sparsely populated terrain of the Ampurdàn region below. This plain stretches from the town of Figueras to the Alberes hills, beyond which lies the fishing village of Cadaqués and Dalí's home village of Port Lligat. The Alberes hills can be seen in the far distance, rendered in a fluid Calligraphic line, with a whitewashed village nestled at their feet. It was here that Dalí spent many summers as a child, and his recollections of this formative period were portrayed in many of his most haunting Surrealist compositions. During the 1930s, Dalí would depict this landscape again and again, using it as the basis for his newly-developed 'paranoiac-critical' method of highly subjective associations.
Yin et yang ampurdanais was painted during the most important period of Dalí's career. He was now at the height of his powers as a painter, a writer, and a thinker, and his startlingly inventive talent was drawing attention and patronage in Paris, London, and New York. But this was also an ominous period of political uncertainty in Europe, especially in Spain, and one of dramatic personal change for Dalí. In 1934, Dalí married Gala, his muse, manager, and lifelong companion. His union with a divorce, and a provocative public statement about his deceased mother, caused a terrible rupture within his family, prompting Dalí's father to banish him and strip him of any inheritance. At the same time, Dalí faced a deteriorating relationship with the leader of the Surrealist movement - André Breton - for his unwillingness to expel political references from his paintings. Being disillusioned by the censorious attitude of the Surrealists and deeply upset by his family's disapproval, Dalí sought to vanquish his father figures through his art, later beginning his Diary of a Genius with the Freud quote: 'He is a hero who revolts against paternal authority and conquers it' (S. Freud quoted in S. Dalí, Diary of a Genuis, London, 1994, p. 19). This theme appears repeatedly in Dalí's paintings of the 1930s both as references to the legend of William Tell and through depictions of a father and son walking alone though arid landscapes, as in the present work.
Yin et yang ampurdanais is one of several paintings executed in the mid-1930s that portray a man and child dwarfed by biomorphic rock formations, which emerge from the Ampurdán plain like a desert mirage. It most closely resembles a smaller composition entitled Monument hypnhagogique (circa 1934, Private Collection) that was shown at Dalí's first solo exhibition at the Zwemmer Gallery, London, in October-November 1934. Yet the present work displays a greater virtuosity in the play of light on land and sky, with its long shadows more closely approximating the cool atmosphere of dusk. Another difference between the two paintings can be found in the interlocking 'rocks' that the child and father gaze upon in awe as though on ancient monuments. Monument hyphagogique depicts only two bean-shaped stones, while Yin et yang ampurdanais has three, as if the coupling of the stones has delivered an offspring. Elements of Yin et yang ampurdanais can again be found in Vestiges ataviques après la pluie (Atavistic Vestiges after the Rain) (circa 1934, Private Collection), Enigmatic Elements in a Landscape (1934, Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí), Vision of Eternity (circa 1937, The Art Institute of Chicago), and El Angelus arquitectónico de Millet (Millet's Architectonic Angelus) (1933, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid).
The title of the latter work gives the clue to this preponderance of paired rock formations in Dalí's paintings at this time. In 1932, he developed an all-consuming obsession for Jean-Francois Millet's pious painting The Angelus (1858-9, Musée d'Orsay, Paris). This solemn scene of a peasant couple stopping their field work to pray was familiar to Dalí from childhood and its image suddenly returned to his imagination, carrying such a profound meaning that it would become for him the 'most troubling, enigmatic, dense, richest in unconscious thoughts' he had yet known (S. Dalí quoted in D. Ades, Dalí, New York, 1995, p. 140). The Angelus was, he explained, 'the only painting in the world that permits the immobile presence, the expectant meeting of two beings in a solitary, crepuscular and mortal landscape' (S. Dalí quoted in ibid., p. 146). Just as his fixation on the tale of William Tell had spawned numerous paintings based on menacing male authority, the 'tragic myth' of The Angelus would reappear in several forms, playing on the idea of the female as an aggressor akin to the praying mantis, who notoriously devours her mate after sex. Dalí would subject this image to a 'delirium of interpretation' in which various phenomena are spontaneously connected in his mind's eye to The Angelus. One of the chief associations took place when he was playing with pebbles, stacking one upon the other with the aim of 'making their concavities and convexities coincide with the evocative poses of the coupling of love' (S. Dalí quoted in H. Finkelstein, Salvador Dalí's Art and Writing, 1927-1942. The Metamorphoses of Narcissus, Cambridge, 1996, p.213). An impromptu placement of these pebbles suddenly evoked the Angelus couple and also recalled to him the rocks above Cape Creus and a pair of prehistoric menhirs in Brittany. In Yin et yang ampurdanais, Dalí appears to conflate the dauntingly monumental form of the erotically symbolic rocks with a personal neurotic sexual fear that reaches back to childhood. The composition also implies that his own coupling with Gala signified a fundamental break with his past and his adolescent self. In this way, Dalí presents us with a subjective, psychoanalytic image of a peculiarly Surrealist kind.
Yin et yang ampurdanais is a highly significant work that subtly explores the magical atmosphere of Dalí's home landscape, his personal yearnings, and his anxieties. It also represents a period of growth and burgeoning success. The painting initially belonged to the Marquis George Cuevas, the Chilean son of a Spanish father, and Mary Rockefeller de Cuevas, the granddaughter of John D. Rockefeller. The couple were flamboyant patrons of the arts who hosted some of the most glittering parties in Paris before the war. They were also members of the Zodiac Group, an informal club of friends who united at the end of 1932 to help Dalí financially by committing to make regular purchases of his work. From January 1933, each month one of the twelve members selected one large painting or one small painting plus two drawings, thereby providing Dalí with a steady source of income. The Zodiac disbanded at the outset of the Second World War but the Marquis and Marquesa remained loyal patrons by purchasing Dalí's paintings and appointing him as set designer on several lavish productions by the Grand Ballet du Marquis de Cuevas.