Nicolas and the late Robert Descharnes have confirmed the authenticity of this work.
Only recently rediscovered, this exquisite and almost microscopically detailed painting from 1932 introduces one of Salvador Dalí’s most frequently rendered obsessions of the early 1930s. It depicts a red pole, possibly a staff or a fisherman’s mast, protruding from the small, rectangular window of a Catalan fisherman’s shack similar to the one in Port Lligat where, in 1930, Dalí and his new love Gala Eluard had, despite much local scandal, chosen to live.
Here rendered against the motif of the red pole extending from a small window or orifice in either a tower, a fisherman’s shack or even a cypress tree is one that appears repeatedly in many Dalí paintings of the early 1930s. From pictures such as his Surrealist Essay (1932), Enigmatic Elements of the Landscape (1934), Morning Ossification of the Cypress (1934) and Masochistic Instrument (1933-4) to The Alert (1934), Dreams on the Beach (1934) and Morphological Echo (1934-6), the motif of a red pole, usually appended with a limp white cloth dripping from its end, appears alongside other pictorial fixations and fetishized images with a near-obsessional regularity.
In this untitled painting, signed and dated ‘Gala Salvador Dalí 1932’, this motif, (making its first appearance in Dalí’s work), is the sole subject of the painting. Illuminated in harsh sunlight and casting a deep shadow, the red pole extends into the foreground of the picture, its accompanying black shadow dissecting an amorphous but also radiant, sunlit patch of stucco or plaster which, like a cloud, covers part of the house-wall wherein the window is set. The colour, surface and texture of this banal, dilapidated, backdrop, however, has been rendered in such microscopic, obsessive and loving detail, using only the smallest of brushes, as to become almost disturbing in its fanaticism. Disappearing into a horizon line around the middle of the painting, the hyper-realism of this stone wall is shown to suddenly vanish in the middle of the painting and become an empty landscape of green at the bottom of the picture. Seamlessly rendered, the effect of this sudden metamorphosis is such that it bestows upon the image of the pole and the window the qualities of an apparition or a hallucination. The window now becomes a portal in the sky, its dark interior filled with mystery.
In March 1930, Dalí had bought a tiny fisherman’s shack in the remote fishing village of Port Lligat on the North Catalan coast. Almost inaccessible by land, the village was twenty minutes walk on a small coastal path around the bay from his family home in Cadaqués. Dalí, with his new, contentious, but from this point on, inseparable, companion Gala, had moved into this humble dwelling in deliberate defiance of his powerful father who, still living in neighbouring Cadaqués had attempted to turn the town against Dalí. Dalí’s father was, and would for many years remain, furious with his wayward son’s increasingly outrageous behaviour and continued presence in the neighbourhood, and most of all by his taking up with the predatory, promiscuous and already-married, Russian-born, femme-fatale, Gala.
Over time, Dalí’s small dwelling in Port Lligat would come to serve as more than a place of solace, refuge and spiritual grounding for Dali, and become his primary home. Port Lligat was, Dalí repeatedly said, the place that he loved best in all the world, his Ithaca and his Omphalos. 'I am home only here. Everywhere else I am camping out.' (Salvador Dalí, quoted in I. Gibson, The Shameful Life of Salvador Dalí, London, 1997, p. 444)
There is an early 1932 panting bearing the strange title of ‘The Invisible Man’ that was made not long after Dalí moved into the simple fisherman’s cottage, and which is often thought to depict the interior of the couple’s new, idyllic, but humble abode. This picture portrays a window similar to the one in the present painting, here looking outwards into the same kind of exterior sunlight. In the foreground of The Invisible Man, on a table and a chair, lie three baguettes, one sliced into pieces and pointing towards the window.
These phallic-looking bread-sticks are often assumed to be a reference to the story of William Tell, which, during these years, Dalí frequently adopted as a repeated theme in his work, seeing in its story, and the image of Tell, a vehicle through which he could represent his own struggles with his father. Implicit within Dalí’s interpretation of the Tell story were also, typically, a number of complexes that included a fear of impotence, of castration and of his own sexuality. These were complexes that were to plague Dalí for years, informing and underwriting some of his most bizarre and famous imagery. In the early 1930s Dalí was beginning a self-exploration of these inner anxieties in close conjunction with a reading of Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams. Another obsession from the period was with the art of Arnold Böcklin and in particular the Swiss artist’s masterpiece The Isle of the Dead which often manifested itself in Dalí’s art through a sequence of mysterious phallic-shaped cypress trees often sporting a red pole protruding from an aperture inside them.
Along with the cypresses and the red poles, other phallic imagery such as the bread sticks, the tower and a single disembodied finger, proliferate in Dalí’s work of this period. Dalí even admitted to his becoming fixated upon the ‘disturbing and unusual’ image of his thumb protruding from the hole in his palette while he painted. (Salvador Dalí, ‘L’alliberaments dels dits’ in L’Amic de les Arts, 1929, quoted in H. Finkelstein The Collected Writings of Salvador Dalí, Cambridge, 1998, p. 101). The image of a red pole protruding from a dark and empty window in this painting therefore probably owes something to all these fixations. The pole and the window appear as opposites, surprisingly unified. Perhaps, in this respect, they also represent something of Dalí’s theory of the soft and the hard, here somehow conjoined in a way that symbolizes the similar sense of surprise and of interdependence that he had so recently found with Gala.