Lean in and look closely: Salvador Dalí in small format
Salvador Dalí’s Gala and the Angelus of Millet Immediately Preceding the Arrival of the Conic Anamorphoses (1933) is "one of the jewels" in a unique exhibition showcasing a lesser known side of the artist’s oeuvre. “From 1929 to 1936 when he was part of the Surrealist movement, Dalí (1904–89) really embraced small format paintings,” says Mark Roglán, curator and director of the Meadows Museum in Dallas. “Approximately half of his paintings in those years are 13 inches [33 cm] or smaller. Some are as small as 3 inches by 2 inches [7 x 5 cm]. That really intrigued us.”
The Gala is on loan from the National Gallery of Canada to the Meadows Museum as part of the exhibition Dalí: Poetics of the Small, 1929–1936. Measuring 24.2 x 19.2 cm, the work is among roughly 200 small paintings by the artist during the period that is considered the apex of his career. The Gala combines two of Dalí’s obsessions: Jean-François Millet's famous painting Angelus and an image of his wife, Gala. Typical of Dalí, there are both numerous bizarre and noteworthy associations. The figure in the foreground resembles the Russian Communist revolutionary Vladimir Lenin, while one of the busts on a ledge may be André Breton, the poet and leader of the Surrealist movement. At the door, Russian writer Maxim Gorky is shown wearing a lobster, one of Dalí's favourite props.
“It’s an extraordinary picture,” Roglán says. “It illustrates how painting small allowed Dalí to capture what for him was reality, these snapshots of his own subconscious, of that endless imagination that he had. Then he reproduced them almost like Polaroids, before Polaroids were invented.” The Gala also demonstrates Dalí’s love for Dutch paintings, in particular the work of Johannes Vermeer (1632–75) who also worked in small format. Dalí considered the Delft painter the “Master of all Masters” and admired both his meticulous technique and his use of light.
The genesis of this exhibition dedicated to exploring and celebrating Dalí’s small paintings began three years ago when the Meadows Museum purchased Dalí’s The Fish Man (L’Homme Poisson) of 1930. An analysis of the painting revealed a number of previously undiscovered underdrawings. “One would think that working in such a small format he would already have had a very sound idea of how to go about the composition, but he made changes,” Roglán says. “He took out shadows that he didn’t include in the final painting. He decided to leave out a couple of figures. So, we learned a lot about the process of the painter himself.”
Roglán points out that the exhibition is also an opportunity for visitors to learn more about this iconic artist, his poetry and his other writings about small things. “With Dalí we know so many of his images, but most of the time we see his work as reproductions in books, so we may have a misconception of what the real size is,” he says. In these small jewel-like works "he makes you look closer and maybe go back to see new things.”
To complement the exhibition, the museum is concurrently showing Dalí’s Aliyah: A Moment in Jewish History. This rare, complete set of lithographs celebrates 1968 as the 20th anniversary of the founding of the State of Israel. These images, in contrast with Dalí’s small format paintings, are large in scale and painted in a loose, expressionistic style.
Roglán emphasizes that despite Salvador Dalí’s global reputation, there is still much to discover about his artistic development and output. “Gallery goers will discover how you can be modern but still part of a tradition,” he says. “They will discover an endless world of imagination that Dalí shared with us.”
Dalí: Poetics of the Small, 1929–1936 and Dalí's Aliyah: A Moment in Jewish History are on view at the Meadows Museum in Dallas until 13 January 2019. Share this article and subscribe to our newsletters to stay up-to-date on the latest Gallery news, and to learn more about art in Canada.