SALVADOR DALÍ (1904-1989)
SALVADOR DALÍ (1904-1989)
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SALVADOR DALÍ (1904-1989)

The Birth of Liquid Anguish (Naissance des angoisses liquides)

SALVADOR DALÍ (1904-1989)
The Birth of Liquid Anguish (Naissance des angoisses liquides)
signed and dated ‘Gala Salvador. Dali 1932’ (lower left)
oil on canvas
21 ½ x 15 in. (54.5 x 38 cm.)
Painted in 1932
Galerie André-François Petit, Paris, by 1970.
Galleria Notizie, Turin.
Galerie Benador, Geneva, by 1971.
Galleria Levi, Milan, by 1973.
Davlyn Gallery, New York, by 1979.
Galerie Musashino, Tokyo, by 1989 and until at least 1994.
Dieter Scharf, Hamburg.
Private collection, Germany, a gift from the above in 2001.
C. Draeger, ed., Dalí by Dalí, Paris, 1970, no. 27, p. 12 (illustrated pl. 27; titled 'Birth of Liquid Anxieties').
A. Jouffroy, hommage à Dalí, Paris, 1980, p. 107 (illustrated).
G. Picon, Surrealism, Geneva, 1977, no. 3, p. 137 (illustrated).
M. Cervantes Saavedra, S. Dalí, Il Fantastico idalgo don Chisciotte della Mancia, Milan, 1986, p. 259.
K. von Maur, Salvador Dalí, Stuttgart, 1989, no. 82, p. 106 (illustrated).
F. Calvo Serraller, Veinte años Galeria Theo, Madrid, 1987 (illustrated).
R. Descharnes & G. Néret, Salvador Dalí: The Paintings, vol. I, 1904-1946, Cologne, 1994, no. 435, p. 751 (illustrated p. 194).
O. Tusquets Blanca, Monument a Salvador Dalí a Figueres, Figueres, 1999.
O. Tusquets Blanca, Dalí y otros amigos, Barcelona, 2003 (illustrated pl. X).
C. Grenier, Salvador Dalí: The Making of an Artist, Paris, 2011, p. 122 (illustrated).
Turin, Galleria Gissi, Linea europea, June - July 1969, no. 5 (illustrated pl. 5; titled 'La fonte').
Milan, Studio Bellini, Panorama 6, November - December 1969 (illustrated; with inverted dimensions).
Rotterdam, Museum Boymans-van Beuningen, Dalí, November 1970 - January 1971, no. 23.
Baden-Baden, Staatliche Kunsthalle, Dalí: Gemälde, Zeichnungen, Objekte, Schmuck, January - April 1971, no. 13, pp. 72 & 73 (illustrated p. 72).
Humlebaek, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Salvador Dalí, October - December 1973, no. 7 (illustrated p. 18).
Paris, Musée National d'Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Salvador Dalí: rétrospective, 1920-1980, December 1979 - April 1980, no. 131, p. 194 (illustrated).
London, Tate Gallery, Salvador Dalí, May - June 1980, no. 70, p. 25 (illustrated no. 70; titled 'The birth of liquid anxieties').
Stuttgart, Staatsgalerie, Salvador Dalí, May - July 1989, no. 82, p. 106 (illustrated p. 107); this exhibition later travelled to Zurich, Kunsthaus, August - October 1989.
Hamburg, Kunsthalle, Surreale Welten: Meisterwerke aus einer Privatsammlung, February - May 2000, no. 47, pp. 99, 242 & 243 (illustrated p. 99); this exhibition later travelled to Wuppertal, Von der Heydt-Museum, June - September 2000; and Tubingen, Kunsthalle, September - November 2000.
Venice, Palazzo Grassi, Dalí, September 2004 - January 2005, no. 95, p. 164 (illustrated p. 165; titled 'The Birth of Liquid Fears'); this exhibition later travelled to Philadelphia, Museum of Art, February - May 2005.
Cologne, Museum Ludwig, Salvador Dalí: La gare de Perpignan - Pop, Op, Yes-yes, Pompier, March - June 2006, no. 33, pp. 129 & 250 (illustrated p. 128).
Berlin, Nationalgalerie, Scharf Collection, July 2008 - March 2010.
Girona, Art Museum, Modest Urgell: Més enllà de l'horitzó, December 2019 - May 2020.
Hamburg, Kunsthalle, Toyen, September 2021 - February 2022.
Vienna, Gallery Belvedere, Dalí - Freud, January - May 2022.
Hamburg, Kunsthalle, on long term loan from 2002 until 2023.

Brought to you by

Ottavia Marchitelli
Ottavia Marchitelli Senior Specialist, Head of The Art of The Surreal Sale

Lot Essay

In the early 1930s, Salvador Dalí embarked upon a series of dream-like landscapes, their topography based upon the barren plains and jagged outcroppings of his Catalonian homeland. Youthful remembrances provided the artist with a framework for many of these mysterious, poetic paintings, which he populated with spectral figures and phantom forms that emerge as floating mirages from the sparse terrain. Serene and disquieting, these paintings represent an important period in Dalí’s career following his official admission into the Surrealist group in 1929 and with that, his entrée into the international avant-garde.
Created in 1932, The Birth of Liquid Anguish (Naissance des angoisses liquides) presents a vast, arid expanse, a land desolate and seemingly empty. The sweeping Empordà region of Catalonia, where the artist was born, provided the setting for the work, here rendered as infinite and unknowable as an Yves Tanguy landscape. In the background of the painting, the blanched Alberes Massif is crowned by a tower visible from Port Lligat, the small village in which Dalí was then living. A single cypress stands proudly in the foreground, around which hangs a sharp-edged cloth resembling the peninsular form of Cap Creus in northeast Spain. This panoramic backdrop can be seen in other works from these years, including two of Dalí’s most iconic works – La persistance de la mémoire (Descharnes, no. 360; The Museum of Modern Art, New York) and Visage du Grand Masturbateur (Descharnes, no. 315; Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid).
As with so much of Dalí’s œuvre, elements of The Birth of Liquid Anguish can be traced to the artist’s own past. The cypress trees, for example, were derived, in part, from a childhood memory of Impressionist Ramón Pichot’s country house near Figueres, which Dalí used to visit with his family; there, a copse surrounded a small fountain: ‘The emotion aroused by the points of the cypress trees,’ he recollected, ‘was caused by the instantaneous association with another group of cypresses situated in a public place near Figueres, called ‘The Log Fountain.’ This group of ancient, dense cypresses surrounded a paved circle in the middle of which… flowed a rusty fountain’ (‘Rêverie,’ 1931; reprinted in D. Ades, Dalí: The Centenary Retrospective, exh. cat., Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, 2005, p. 166).
Yet Dalí’s cypress also has art historical origins, echoing the trees seen in Die Toteninsel or The Isle of the Dead, a series of paintings executed by the artist Arnold Böcklin. In these poignant works, a figure atop a small boat sails towards a rocky isle which appears cleaved in two by a dense grove of cypress trees. Born in Basel, Böcklin was among the most venerated Swiss artists of the nineteenth century, making a name for himself as a painter of melancholic arcadias in the vein of Caspar David Friedrich. Over the years, however, his imagery became darker, more fantastical, as Böcklin began to explore the psychological content of his landscapes. By the close of the century, he had achieved widespread acclaim and his works influenced a variety of younger artists, from the Pre-Raphaelites to Surrealists such as Max Ernst, Marcel Duchamp, and, of course, Dalí, who found great inspiration in his predecessor’s compositions.
As his article Rêverie (Daydream), published in the 1931 issue of Surréalisme au service de la Révolution makes clear, the haunting power of Böcklin’s painting, which Dalí had first come to know through his appreciation of Giorgio de Chirico’s work, had so moved him that he proposed to write a thesis on the composition. However, when the artist settled down to write on the painting, so the article claims, Dalí had begun to daydream – a daydream that inevitably led to numerous erotic encounters and their Dalínean consummation in a variety of bizarre and image-driven scenarios. Indeed, contemporaneous to The Birth of Liquid Anguish, Dalí executed, among other paintings, Le vrai tableau de «L’Île des morts» d’Arnold Böcklin à l’heure de l’Angélus (Descharnes, no. 429; Von der Heydt Museum, Wuppertal), a subtle homage to Die Toteninsel.
The Birth of Liquid Anguish is one of a pair of connected works that Dalí created in 1932 that focusses on these themes. The other, Naissance des désirs liquides (Descharnes, no. 399), is held in the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice, but instead of a barren landscape various figures populate the painting, including portraits of William Tell and Gradiva, who were central characters within Dalí’s own mythology. To the artist, William Tell represented paternal assault, a theme which he took up in 1929 after his relationship with Gala Eluard began; his father did not approve of the couple. While Tell and Gradiva are locked in an embrace, the painting is far from passionate but rather suggests a prolonged decay. With its erect, somewhat phallic tree and gushing stream, The Birth of Liquid Anguish has far stronger erotic undertones than its pendant painting.
During the time that Dalí created the present work, he also devoted himself to small-scale paintings, motivated in part by an admiration for Johannes Vermeer. Vermeer was what Dalí once described as ‘the authentic painter of spectres’ and, along with de Chirico and Böcklin, was an artist who always prompted in him an ‘unconscious funereal feeling’ (quoted in H. Finkelstein, ed., The Collected Writings of Salvador Dalí, Cambridge, 1998, p. 152). Dalí’s attraction to the Dutch artist owed much to the photographic manner in which Vermeer had depicted the most minute of details, a sensation similarly evoked in the smooth, satiny surface of the present work. For several centuries, scholars have suggested that the verisimilitude of Vermeer’s paintings came from his use of a camera obscura, which he employed to study the effects of light and shadow. Dalí was not a practicing photographer, but he nevertheless collected photographs and was fascinated by film, then a novel medium; he understood the photographic eye to be key to his art. Retrospectively explaining his working process, he said, ‘In my pre-sleep, with my eyes shut, I would look at my eye, with my eye from the depth of my eye, and I began to “see” my eye and to consider it as a veritable soft photographic apparatus… I immediately reached conclusions which enabled me to affirm that one can photograph thought’ (The Secret Life of Salvador Dalí, 1942; reprinted in S. DeMaria, ‘Poetic Facts and Destabilized Reality: Dalí’s Snapshots of the Subconscious,’ in Dalí: Poetics of the Small, 1929-1936, exh. cat., Meadows Museum, Dallas, 2018, p. 36). Dalí’s paintings, as such, can be understood as photographic glimpses of an internal world.
Indeed, Dalí was intrigued by visual instability, and he endeavoured to capture a sense of flux and frustration in his canvases. Like his fellow Surrealists, he shared a belief in the power of the dreamworld as an antidote to the anesthetisation of conscious thought. His working methods were aimed at recuperating the unconscious, and he often noted down the first thing that occurred to him, which he then used as a springboard to uncover subsequent images. In doing so, Dalí aided the ‘restoration of anecdote to art… and thus helped to revive the theory of painting as an illustrative medium’ (J. Soby, Salvador Dalí: paintings, drawings, prints, exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1941, p. 14). Dalí would go on to develop what he termed the paranoic-critical technique, which he defined as the ‘spontaneous method of irrational knowledge based upon the interpretive-critical association of delirious phenomena,’ the antecedents of which can be seen in The Birth of Liquid Anguish (quoted in ibid., p. 16). Indeed, it was his beloved Catalonian landscape that first revealed to the artist the ways that images can double and fluctuate. In the craggy granite Dalí saw camels, eagles, a monk, a lion, explaining that as he ‘moved forward… all these images became transfigured’ (quoted in exh. cat., op. cit., 2018, p. 121). A tree was never simply a tree, and what appeared fixed was in fact mutable and unsettled.

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