This work is sold with a photo-certificate from Robert and Nicolas Descharnes dated Jeudi 26 juin 1997.
L'ange musicien epitomises Dalí's interest in classical and biblical figures, which became important features of his surrealist landscapes in the late 1940s and early 1950s, as he was working on two major public commissions: the illustrations for the Bible and Dante's Divina Commedia, completed in 1951 for the Italian government. Dante dedicated the 28th canto of the Commedia to the description of angels, or 'intelligenze angeliche' ('angelic intelligences'). The divine creatures move incessantly with the most perfect and harmonious rotations, thus generating the motion of celestial spheres: this rotation is dictated by the laws of divine consonance and produces the most exquisite sound. In Dante's vision, the angels convey his very ideal of cosmic harmony and rational order.
Nothing could be more at odds with Dalí's use of the original iconography: by casting the celestial creature against one of his trademark surrealist landscapes, characterised by absurd rocky formations and disquieting deserts complete with the rusting machinery of war, the Surrealist artist deeply challenges the original meaning of the image. The angel is no longer the emanation of God's mind, in a perfectly ordered universe, but the protagonist of the world of the surreal, dominated by the laws of the unconscious and of hazard.
Dalí, while at the same time re-appropriating the pivotal figures of Christian imagery, is subtly, yet radically subversive. Typically, though, his provocation comes through a homage to a traditional stylistical syntax: his Ange musicien is clearly indebted to the mediaeval representation of angels as ethereal musicians, perfected by the masters of the Italian Quattrocento, particularly Piero della Francesca, Melozzo da Forlì, Perugino and Pinturicchio. Even the colours chosen by Dalí evoke the palette of Renaissance frescoes: elegant combinations of earthy hues, against which the brilliant blue of the angel's drapery stands out - a reminiscence of the most precious mediaeval pigment, derived from lapis lazuli, traditionally used for the Virgin's veil.
Such cultivated quotes from the pillars of Western art undoubtedly appealed to the first owner of this gouache, Sir James Dunn, the founder of the Canadian company Algoma Steel. An eager collector of Dalí's work, Dunn and his wife met the artist and Gala in the 1940s and developed a close friendship, marked by some very interesting artistic commissions. Dalí was convinced of Dunn's resemblance to Emperor Augustus and executed several portraits of him (among them Descharnes, no. 1122), all quirkily fusing classical references and surrealist settings - a stylistic device of which the present gouache is a particularly successful example.