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Salvador Dalí (1904-1989)
Salvador Dalí (1904-1989)
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Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more
Salvador Dalí (1904-1989)

Portrait of the Briggs Family

Salvador Dalí (1904-1989)
Portrait of the Briggs Family
signed and dated ‘Gala Salvador Dalí 1954’ (lower left)
oil on canvas
51 1/4 x 75 in. (130.3 x 190.5 cm.)
Painted in 1964
Mitzi Briggs, California, and thence by descent to Carleton L. Briggs.
Gala-Salvador Dalí Foundation, ed., Salvador Dalí, Online Catalogue raisonné of paintings (1910-1964), no. 1170 (illustrated; accessed 2015).
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Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent.
These lots have been imported from outside the EU for sale using a Temporary Import regime. Import VAT is payable (at 5%) on the Hammer price. VAT is also payable (at 20%) on the buyer’s Premium on a VAT inclusive basis. When a buyer of such a lot has registered an EU address but wishes to export the lot or complete the import into another EU country, he must advise Christie's immediately after the auction.
Sale room notice
Please note the correct dimensions for this work are: 51 1/4 x 75 in. (130.3 x 190.5 cm.), and not as stated in the printed catalogue.
Nicolas and Olivier Descharnes have confirmed the authenticity of this work.

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Ishbel Gray
Ishbel Gray

Lot Essay

In March, 1963 Gala and Dalí took the long trip by train from New York to Del Monte Lodge in Pebble Beach, California, where the painter was going to do another portrait for a woman he had painted two decades earlier. This time, however, she wanted her children in the picture, and it was judged easier to transport one painter to the West Coast than several children to New York. The woman Dalí had painted in 1948 was Mitzi Briggs, now a mother of five and the heir to the Stauffer Chemical fortune. The resulting Portrait of Mitzi Sigall Briggs, was one of the most stylistically successful of his many society portraits.

Correspondence between the Dalís and Mitzi Briggs, dated 1963 and 1964, documents the commission’s trajectory. In the earliest extant letter, Mitzi is very excited about the prospect of a portrait of her children, and tells Dalí she believes it will be a masterpiece. The signed contract, dated January 21, 1963 reveals that the price was $75,000, making it the most costly commission of his portrait career.

On arrival in California Dalí proceeded to sketch and photograph the Briggs children at the Del Monte Lodge. Linda Briggs, who was thirteen at the time, remembers the sittings well, and recalls that Dalí spent two weeks with the children. Gala was ever-present, interpreting for Dalí. The children recollect that the artist did not appear as the eccentric familiar in the public imagination, but that he was in fact quiet and reserved, although he and Gala seemed remarkably “Old World” and European in their estimation.

When the preliminary drawings and photographs were completed, Dalí painted the portrait at his home in Port Lligat, Spain. Dalí painted the children’s faces exactly as they were photographed, including that of Kenneth, who sat on the ground looking decidedly disgruntled, and Daniel, who stood squinting into the sun. Instead of his usual Cadaqués or Port Lligat setting, Dalí has set this mise-en-scène in what looks like a California desert, featuring stark white sand, a few sticks, and sundry rocky formations in the distance that evoke the coastline at Pebble Beach, albeit without the water. The shells scattered on the ground, and one sitting atop young Linda’s hand, speak of the Pebble Beach setting and, according to their mother, refer to local seashells, of which Dalí had a large collection at the Del Monte. The sky is a deep blue, and Dalí’s brilliant palette of cerulean, orange, and off-white creates a dry, sunny effect that evokes the southern climate. He has included his usual clouds, white and billowy to the left, and dark and stormy with beams of sunlight emanating to the right.

While the portrait is remarkably conventional by Dalí’s standards, it is not to say it is devoid of surrealistic elements, nor of Dalí’s personal iconology. The first of these is an angel in white, holding a white flower, a conventional symbol of purity, likely referring to the innocence of childhood. Dalí’s inclusion of an angel in the canvas, allegedly in reference to the children’s mother, also perhaps reflects upon their mother’s piety, particularly later in life, when the increasingly devout Mitzi worked as a sacristan and bridal coordinator at the Guardian Angel Cathedral in that same city.

In the background Dalí has also painted the hull of a dilapidated ship, in which only the foundation ribs have remained. This object is familiar in other works by the artist, including an illustration created for the cover of the June 8, 1939 American edition of Vogue. In it, editors give an explanation that presumably paraphrases the artist, of the “Symbols by Salvador Dalí, the fantastic Surrealist” including “a skeleton ship for the sadness of things past.” (Staff writer, Vogue, June, 1939, p. 33). Many years later, Mitzi believed that Dalí’s inclusion of the skeleton ship foresaw the bankruptcy of her company, and that the little figure next to the hull of the ship represented Mitzi herself. Likewise, members of the Briggs family note that they are often struck by the iconographic prescience of some of the imagery in the Briggs Family Portrait. It is noted for instance, that Carleton Briggs, who is the only child with a book in his lap, went on to graduate school and to become an attorney, while Daniel, who faces the opposite direction and squints into the sun, became an astrologer.

Text abridged from the forthcoming book Dali's American Portraits: From 'Classic' to Caricature, by Julia Pine and Karl Heinz Klumpner. 

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