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Salvador Dalí (1904-1989)
Property from the Estate of Eugene V. Thaw
Salvador Dalí (1904-1989)

A Trombone and a Sofa Fashioned Out of Saliva

Details
Salvador Dalí (1904-1989)
A Trombone and a Sofa Fashioned Out of Saliva
signed and dated 'Gala Salvador Dalí 1936' (lower right)
oil on panel
7 ½ x 9 ½ in. (19.1 x 24.1 cm.)
Painted in 1936
Provenance
Julien Levy Gallery, New York (acquired from the artist, 1936).
Wright Ludington, Santa Barbara (acquired from the above, April 1937).
Cole Porter, New York.
Anon. sale, Butterfield and Butterfield, San Francisco, 14 May 1992, lot 3683.
Anon. sale, Sotheby's, New York, 14 May 1997, lot 243.
Acquired at the above sale by the late owner.
Exhibited
New York, Julien Levy Gallery, SouvenirCatalogue, December 1936-January 1937, no. 11.

Brought to you by

Max Carter
Max Carter

Lot Essay

The late Robert Descharnes and Nicolas Descharnes have confirmed the authenticity of this work.

Salvador Dalí traveled with his wife Gala to New York in early December 1936, their second trip to America, to attend two exhibitions of his work. The Museum of Modern Art included eight of his paintings—among them the already famous The Persistence of Memory, from the Museum’s own collection—in the landmark, spanning-the-centuries overview Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism, which opened on 9 December. On the following day, Julien Levy opened in his Madison Avenue gallery the third Dalí solo exhibition he had assembled since late 1933, showing twenty paintings and nine drawings. Like the majority of the pictures in this show, A Trombone and a Sofa Fashioned Out of Saliva was painted in 1936 and being displayed for the first time.
In conjunction with these events, Time magazine featured Man Ray’s moody, chiaroscuro portrait photograph of Dalí, taken earlier that year, on the cover of its 14 December issue. The Fifth Avenue department store Bonwit Teller selected Dalí and a few other participants in the MoMA exhibition to provide designs for window displays. Dalí’s She Was a Surrealist Woman, she was like a figure in a dream became a sensation; the artist’s conception called for a manikin with a head of red roses, his “lobster-telephone”, and the “aphrodisiac coat”—a dinner jacket to which eighty-eight liqueur glasses had been affixed, each filled with crème de menthe and topped with a dead fly.
“My second voyage to America had just been what one may call the official beginning of ‘my glory’,” Dalí wrote in his autobiography. “I have never understood the rapidity with which I became popular. I was frequently recognized on the street, and asked to give autographs. Great quantities of flabbergasting letters came to me from the most varied and remote parts of the country. And I received a shower of extravagant offers, each more unexpected than the last” (The Secret Life of Salvador Dalí, New York, 1942, p. 344).
The success and adulation accorded Dalí’s work in New York provided the artist some distracting respite from the heart-wrenching situation in his native Spain. A fascist military coup in July had resulted in a brutal, merciless civil war. A month later in Granada, insurgents murdered the poet and playwright García Lorca, Dalí’s close, inspirational friend during the 1920s. The centerpiece of Levy’s new Dalí exhibition was Soft Construction with Boiled Beans (Premonition of Civil War)—“monstrous excrescences of arms and legs tearing at one another,” Dalí explained, “in a delirium of autostrangulation” (ibid., p. 357).
The landscape in the present painting is also a surrealist evocation of these terrible events. Dalí has depicted here the Catalunyan Costa Brava, in the vicinity of the seaside towns Cadaqués and Port Lligat, where he grew up and which remained his life-long retreat. The Ampurdán plain extends into the distance. The waters of a great wave have crashed against the sofa-like outcropping of rock at right and flooded inland, swamping the burnt-out shell of a fisherman’s vessel, its tattered sail whipping in the wind. An old mariner sits at lower right, hunched over in despair. In the storm-driven clouds overhead, one can detect two instances of Dalí’s paranoiac simulacra—whirl-wind pockets of atmospheric distress resemble a predatory visage at upper right, and slightly lower to the left, the gaping mouth of a dragon-like beast, whose lengthy form streams out behind it.
The artist made two final additions to this landscape in saliva-like white paint: a horse, seen from behind, and a tuba (or “trombone,” as explained below), an object the artist appropriated from fellow Surrealist René Magritte. The tuba appeared in the latter’s iconography as early as 1928 (e.g., Sylvester, no. 254; coincidentally titled LInondation). Dalí had in mind, however, Magritte’s first version of a tuba depicted by itself and set afire, in La découverte du feu, 1934 or 1935 (no. 359), which Levy included in his January 1936 Magritte exhibition, the artist’s first one-man show in America. With no sales to show for his efforts, Levy purchased five paintings for himself, including La découverte de feu.
Having encountered Levy’s fiery Magritte tuba upon his arrival in New York in December, Dalí quickly incorporated the instrument into his own painting, adding the horse as a counter-weight, to balance the foreground of the composition. Consistent with other water imagery in the landscape, he extinguished with “saliva” Magritte’s miraculous fire (a tuba is not flammable). The Tuba mirum in the Dies irae sequence of the Catholic requiem mass intones the summons to the Last Judgment; Mozart and Verdi employed the trombone for this purpose when orchestrating their famous choral requiems. Both the semi-transparent white horse and tuba are apparitions of hope and salvation—tenuous and insubstantial, however, as Dalí appears to infer—in a time of apocalyptic catastrophe.
An early California collector of Dalí was the wealthy owner of the estate Val Verde in Santa Barbara, a connoisseur of antiquities, Asian art, early European and American modernism whom Levy characterized as “the right honorable, right lovable Wright Ludington” (Memoir of an Art Gallery, Boston, 2003, p. 258). He purchased A Trombone and a Sofa Fashioned Out of Saliva from the New York dealer in April 1937. Four years later Ludington acquired, again from Levy, who had set up a temporary gallery in Hollywood, one of the artist’s breakthrough surrealist compositions, The Accommodations of Desire, 1929 (Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York).

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