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Salvador Dalí (1904-1989)
Salvador Dalí (1904-1989)

Printemps nécrophilique

Salvador Dalí (1904-1989)
Printemps nécrophilique
signed, inscribed and dated 'Gala Salvador Dalí 1936' (lower left)
oil on canvas
21 1/4 x 25 5/8in. (54 x 65cm.)
Painted in 1936
Mme Elsa Schiaparelli, Paris
Galería Theo, Madrid
Private Collection, Amsterdam
ed. M. Gérard, Dalí por Dalí, de Draeger, Barcelona 1973, no. 5, pp. 68, 78 and 79 (illustrated).
R. Descharnes, Salvador Dalí: The Work, The Man, New York 1984, p. 184 (illustrated in colour).
R. Descharnes & G. Néret, Salvador Dalí 1904-1989, The Paintings, vol. I, 1904-1946, Cologne 1994, no. 575, p. 257 (illustrated in colour).
Knokke-le-Zoute, Albert Plage Casino, IXe Festival Communal Belge d'Été: Salvador Dalí, July-September 1956, no. 27 (illustrated in the catalogue and titled 'Peinture 1936').
Mexico, Museo de Monterrey, Vanguardia Española Siglo XX, August 1980 (mentioned in the catalogue p. 62).
Madrid, Museo Espanol de Arte Contemporáneo, 400 Obras de 1914-1983 Salvador Dalí, April-May 1983, no. 157, p. 120 (illustrated p. 118). This exhibition later travelled to Barcelona, Palau Reial de Pedralbes.

Lot Essay

Formerly in the collection of the couturier, Elsa Schiaparelli, whom Dalí collaborated in the mid 1930s for the realisation of a range of outrageous Dalinean fashion accessories (fig. 1), Printemps nécrophilique was executed in the Spring of 1936 while the artist and his wife, Gala, were enjoying a brief stay in Port Lligat. It is the first of a number of highly important works from this year to subtly explore the magical atmosphere of Dalí's home landscape.

In 1936, having finally broken from the Surrealist group and having refined his paranoic-critical method of painting over the last three years, the paintings Dalí produced in the spring and summer of 1936 can in many ways be seen as representing something of a home-coming for the Spanish artist. Developing themes of apparitions on the beach that he had explored in 1934, the present painting is one of the first of a number of highly important works from 1936 that depict the coastal landscape as a misty and expansive void where hallucinatory images and phantom figures emerge from a vast emptiness like a desert mirage.

The setting for Printemps nécrophilique is the beach of Rosas that lies at the fringe of the plain of Ampurdàn. 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. It is these hills that can be seen to the far left of the picture while in front of them is a street view of the fisherman's barracas of Port Lligat. Reclining in front of this sleepy scene with its long afternoon shadows is a local fisherman wearing a red Catalan hat that has been pulled down over his face. In front of him a carefully arranged pile of broken stones forms a sort of still-life in the bottom left hand corner of the painting. Immediately to the right, dividing the picture along the lines of the golden section, is a tall cypress tree in the shade of which stands a phantom-like woman clothed in a long sheet-like gown and her face hidden by a bouquet of roses. Behind her a scarf blows in the dusty wind like a cloud towards the startling emptiness of the right of the picture.

A haunting silence pervades the picture that unlike so many of Dalí's earlier paintings, is not over-populated by images of the weird and the wonderful. The mystery of this painting is conveyed primarily by the still atmosphere and the awkward spatial relationships between the images. In this way, the present work relates to the atmosphere of paintings like White Calm, Mediumistic Paranoiac and Sun Table that he executed later in the year. It is only the hidden faces of Printemps nécrophilique and in particular the 'Phantom' woman with a head of roses, which identifies the painting as a 'surreal' image.

This female figure is one that Dalí used on numerous occasions. It makes its first fully-fledged appearance in his 'Woman with a head of Roses' of 1935 (Kunsthaus, Zurich) (fig. 4) and also appears in The Dream places a hand on a Man's Shoulder and Three Young Surrealistic Women Holding in their arms the Skins of an Orchestra of 1936 (fig. 3) and in the photograph The Phantom of sex appeal which was used for the cover of the International Surrealist bulletin also in 1936 (fig. 5).

The positioning of this Surrealist/phantom woman in the shade of a cypress tree also relates this image closely to the earlier painting Apparition of my cousin Carolinetta on the Beach at Rosas of 1934 (fig. 2) and to a photograph of Gala in similar proximity to a cypress that Dalí photomontaged onto a photographic portrait of himself that had been taken by Bunuel two years earlier.

The startling anonymity of the figures and the emptiness of the desert-like scene suggest a dead landscape and a ghost-town atmosphere amidst which the only living things appear to be the cypress and the bouquet that covers the woman's face. The figures themselves with their covered faces and their motionless poses do not seem alive; the woman's ghost-like form suggests she is the phantom of her title in other Dalí images and the fisherman seems more like the one of Dalí's soft constructions than a living presence. In this they are perhaps the necrophiliacs of the title, shortly to be awakened with the coming of Spring.

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