SALVADOR DALI (1904-1989)
SALVADOR DALI (1904-1989)
SALVADOR DALI (1904-1989)
SALVADOR DALI (1904-1989)
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On occasion, Christie's has a direct financial int… Read more Visionary: The Paul G. Allen Collection
SALVADOR DALI (1904-1989)

Le spectre de Vermeer

SALVADOR DALI (1904-1989)
Le spectre de Vermeer
signed and indistinctly dated ‘Salvador Dalí’ (on the stretcher)
oil on canvas
8 7/8 x 6 3/8 in. (22.3 x 16.1 cm.)
Painted circa 1934
Julien Levy Gallery, New York (1934).
Josephine Boardman Crane, New York.
Louise Crane, New York (by descent from the above); Estate sale, Christie's, New York, 13 May 1998, lot 306.
Private collection (acquired at the above sale); sale, Sotheby's, New York, 7 November 2007, lot 53.
Acquired at the above sale by the late owner.
Ninety-Three Oils by Salvador Dalí: 1917-1970, Cleveland, 1973, p. 157 (illustrated).
Salvador Dalí... A Panorama of his Art, Cleveland, 1974, p. 157.
R. Descharnes and G. Néret, Salvador Dalí, The Paintings, Cologne, 1994, vol. I, p. 223, no. 500 (illustrated).
R. Hughes, The Portable Dalí, Amsterdam, 2003, p. 140 (illustrated in color; illustrated in color again on the frontispiece).
M.A. Roglán and S. DeMaria, eds., Dalí: Poetics of the Small, 1929-1936, Dallas, 2018, p. 46 (illustrated in color, p. 47, fig. 37).
M. Aguer, Salvador Dalí: Catalogue Raisonné of Paintings (, no. 365 (illustrated in color).
New York, Julien Levy Gallery, Paintings by Salvador Dalí, November-December 1934, no. 13 (titled Masquerader, Intoxicated by the Limpid Atmosphere).
Venice, Palazzo Grassi and Philadelphia Museum of Art, Dalí, September 2004-May 2005, p. 237, no. 142 (illustrated in color).
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Max Carter
Max Carter Vice Chairman, 20th and 21st Century Art, Americas

Lot Essay

Alain Bosquet once asked Salvador Dalí, “If all mankind were to disappear within an hour and you had the right to rescue one single painting, not by you, which would you select?” (Conversations with Dalí, New York, 1969, p. 31). The surrealist titan responded directly, forgoing half-measures and playful misdirection. The answer was clear: Johannes Vermeer’s The Art of Painting (1666-1668; Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna). Between 1934 and 1935, during a period of immense critical and popular acclaim, Dalí produced a series of four oil paintings—two on canvas, two on panel—titled Le spectre de Vermeer de Delft. A loving, intensely personal ode to the old master of Delft, these works mark an important moment of quiet reflection amid Dalí’s meteoric rise to fame. The present work, dutifully rendered in an intimate scale, provides a glimpse not only into the psyche of the artist, but into the nature of artistic influence itself.
In 1934, Dalí found himself on top of the artworld; during his first trip to the US, he held six solo exhibitions in New York alone. Triumphantly, he penned a statement titled “New York Salutes Me.” He wrote, “New York: why, why did you erect my statue long ago, long before I was born, higher than another, more desperate than another ("New York Salutes Me," 1939, In the stunning fidelity of Vermeer’s fine brushwork and masterful composition, in works such as The Art of Painting, Dalí found rich strategies to sublimate his unconscious intuitions into hyperreal masterpieces. In both the present work and Vermeer’s, the principal figure is seen with his back to the viewer, looking deeper into the pictorial plane—the surrounding scenes seem to spill out from these figures’ kenotic gaze. In Le spectre de Vermeer de Delft, the figure bears a distinctive Vermeer-esque frock and hat, but his setting is transfigured. The painter’s mahlstick has become the specter’s crutch, and as he kneels, his right leg resembles that of a table. As the specter gazes over the walled midground and towards a distant ridgeline, light spills across the scene from right to left, perpendicular to the viewer—a trace of Vermeer’s studio remains in this new world.
Dalí’s painting evokes something beyond his clear admiration for the Dutch master. Dalí brings himself to the fore, evoking a sense of simultaneous kinship with and distance from this disembodied Vermeer. The specter’s kneeling seems to reference Dalí’s 1933 self-portrait, Moi-même à 10 ans quand j'étais l'enfant-sauterelle (complexe de castration) (Salvador Dalí Museum, Saint Petersburg, Florida). The rolling hills in the distance resemble the numerous Port Lligat landscapes Dalí painted throughout his career. Yet the specter remains shrouded in mystery, residing in the shadowy foreground of the piece. He is elongated, footless, and otherworldly. These disparate visual elements come together to yield a wistful and undeniably personal tableau, but the tone is ultimately ambiguous by design.
An early success of Dalí’s “paranoic-critical method,” the present work is the result of a spontaneous outpouring of Dalí’s associative powers to create what the artist called “hand painted dream photographs” (quoted in M.A. Roglán, “In Pursuit of the ‘Specter of Vermeer’: Dalí and the Painter of Delft,” in Poetics of the Small 1929-1936, Dallas, 2018, p. 48). Vermeer’s paintings would continue to haunt and inspire Dalí in the years to come, with works such as: Apparition de la ville de Delft, 1936 (Private collection); L’image disparaît, 1938 (Dalí Theatre-Museum, Figueres); Copie classique de ‘La Dentillière’, circa 1955 (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York); and Peintre paranoïaque-critique de la ‘Dentellière’ de Vermeer,’ circa 1955 (The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York). Through the figure and works of Vermeer, Dalí brings the act of painting itself into his surreal world.

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