For information about Goddard and Brigitta Liberson please see lot 207.
In early 1939 Dalí dressed the windows of the department store Bonwit Teller in Manhattan. His bizarre installation literally stopped traffic on Fifth Avenue, and the store staff decided to remove parts of it. An angry Dalí climbed into the window, upset a water-filled bathtub, broke the window and drenched passersbys, and was arrested as he crawled away. This notoriety, and the propensity for attracting publicity in whatever project he undertook, attracted the attention of the organizers of the 1939 New York World's Fair, who commissioned the artist to design a pavilion on the theme of the Dream of Venus. The site was relegated to an amusement area on the fair grounds, and Dalí's wishes were continually obstructed. In protest he fired off his Declaration of the Imagination and of the Rights of Man to His Own Madness. The pavilion opened in June without him, for he had returned to Europe, arriving in Paris only weeks before Germany invaded Poland, igniting the Second World War.
Dalí left Paris to spend the duration in Arcachon, on the coast near Bordeaux, and then presciently departed for Spain shortly before the Germans invaded France in June 1940. He stayed in Cadaques in the house of his father, whom he had not seen for ten years. Dalí then decided the only place where he could make money was America, and he and his wife Gala took ship at Lisbon and returned to New York in the fall of 1940.
Le triomphe de Nautilus refers to Dali's recent crisscrossing of the Atlantic. The word "nautilus" is from the Greek nautilos, meaning sailor. It was the name of the submersible, fish-like vessel captained by the pacifist Nemo in Jules Verne's well-known 1870 novel 20,000 Leagues under the Sea. The imagery in the present painting refers to Trois femmes imitant les mouvements d'un voilier (Descharnes, 1994, no. 748), painted in 1940 shortly after Dalí's arrival in America, in which women hold up fragments of cloth that act as sails in the wind. The imagery in the present painting and the idea of a sea-going odyssey were repeated in the 1943 watercolor Apotheosis of Homer.
Dalí's previous celebrity in America served him well on his return. In 1941 the artist held exhibitions at Julien Levy's gallery in New York, The Art Club of Chicago and the Dalzell Hatfield Gallery in Los Angeles. He was given his first major retrospective the following year at The Museum of Modern Art in New York. Around the time that he painted the present work, he completed writing his early autobiography, The Secret Life of Salvador Dalí, which was published in New York in 1942.