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Salvador Dalí’s graphic work, truths and myths

Salvador Felipe Jacinto Dalí was born on May 11, 1904 in the village of Figures. His first name was previously given to a child who died in infancy, the artist was sometimes tormented by the fact that he was only the second Salvador. Three years later a sister, Ana Maria, was born. She was a difficult child who refused to conform to family and community customs.

Dalí received private art classes in Figueras and later attended the San Fernando School of Painting, Sculpture and Engraving: Fine Arts of San Fernando in Madrid. He lived in the Student Residence, where he met other apprentices. He was expelled and reinstated, but never took the final exams. He felt, with good reason, that he did not need the kind of education the school offered.

Disowned by his father, he moved to a fisherman’s cottage in the small village of Port Lligat, three kilometers from Cadaqués, on the coast where the Pyrenees flow into the Mediterranean Sea, not far from the French border.

The most important person in his life was a Russian emigrant living in Paris and married to the French poet Paul Éluard, Elena Diakonova, known as “Gala”, who ended up leaving Paul Éluard for Dalí.

Gala, in part saved Dalí from a nervous disorientation and took charge of all aspects of his life: financial, artistic and sexual, with her help, the artist established himself in Paris as a notable painter. He joined the Dadaist and Surrealist group led by André Breton, but left the group a few years later to become a more reclusive Surrealist.

He defined his paranoiac-critical activity as“a spontaneous method of original knowledge based on the interpretative-critical association of delusional phenomena“.

Aquatint,

Aquatint, “Rhinocéros”, 1971.

 

As he became better known and more financially successful, he bought several fishermen’s houses in Port Lligat adjacent to the original one and converted them into an extensive house, now a museum. He never stopped loving the area near his home in Port-Lligat, and many of his paintings reflect real scenes. The area visible from his house has been declared a national heritage site and no modifications are allowed, on the other hand, other works by the artist show his respect for the great classical painters and often deal with religious or historical themes.

He also spent time in New York City at the St. Regis Hotel. He also worked in St. Regis and Paris, where he continued to increase his fame.

A burned down opera house in Figueras was the place where Dalí, in his mature stage, had the great pleasure of creating a monument to his artistic life, turning the building into the “Fundació Teatre-Museu Gala Dalí” where a series of important paintings and drawings are included.

In early 1980, while in New York City, Gala and the artist suffered from viral pneumonia that persisted for several months. They returned to Spain, Dalí very depressed. The inappropriate medication applied to Gala caused permanent paralysis in her hand, which did not stop shaking until the end of her days.

After Gala’s death, Dalí moved to the castle of Púbol, where he suffered serious burns in a fire caused by a short circuit.

When he arrived at the hospital, it was discovered that he had almost stopped eating and was so weak that it was necessary to feed him intravenously to prepare him for the skin graft. The operation went well but his health remained poor. The artist died in 1989 in Figueras.

Dalí created his own brand of art in different areas. In addition to painting, sculpture and graphic work, he designed sets and costumes for the theater, patterns for clothing, carpets, porcelain vases and plates, exquisite jewelry, molds for numerous large statues, bas-relief plaques, illustrated a variety of books and wrote several of his own.

 

Original lithographs, excess printings and reproductions

The intention of this blog is to clarify as much as possible the reality of Salvador Dalí’s graphic work, to disprove the myth that “all the artist’s lithographs are reproductions or not genuine of the artist” and to order the events chronologically in order to understand the high current value of some of the artist’s prints.

Drypoint, embossing and color lithography, “The Conquest of the Cosmos”, 1974.

 

First of all, we must pay tribute to Salvador Dalí‘s mastery as an engraver. This alone justifies the number of catalogs published, the interest on the part of art critics, and constitutes a vital part of his mature work. The original lithographs made from stones or zinc plates on which the artist himself worked. It is difficult to determine the exact number of plates engraved entirely by his own hand or with the complicity of the engravers. But, again, his ability to draw with the burin places his graphic work among some of the best of his time, the artist embodied many fascinating and spontaneous graphic experiments that have not been equaled by all but a few artists of the twentieth century. He applied the “Dessin automatique” to the drypoint technique, made “Tachiste” plates by exploding them with explosive charges, attacking them with an axe or bombarding them with eggs containing lithographic ink, used the technique of sugar lifting, engraved plates with an ordinary board.

Dalí’s original graphic work prior to 1979 is original and these lithographs and engravings are still in the hands of non-speculative collectors. Their authenticity is not questioned even though there are no certificates of authenticity. Prior to 1979 there were few misrepresentations or mischief and no certificates were needed.

Dry point and pochoir color, “Visiones de Quevedo”, 1975.

 

Overprinting refers to a graphic work created with the artist’s original printing plate, but instead of being scratched to avoid further printing, it has unfortunately been used for that purpose. In this case, we would not find a work whose stamping characteristic is “original” since it comes from the stamping plate itself and not from a reproduction, but with a numbering and/or signature that does not correspond to the one established by contract with the publisher.

In addition to the original engravings, it should be noted that some of Dalí’s prints consist of reproductions of original watercolors or gouaches, which were made by specific commissions from publishers expressly for reproduction in limited editions carefully controlled and supervised by Dalí. Some were made by artisans on wood blocks, others were prepared by professional printmakers, commissioned editions made under contract and with the artist’s permission.

In the transitional period 1980 to 1981, with the artist’s health declining and his large commercial art empire beginning to crumble, the Dalí’s interest seemed to be primarily money. Gala, before his death, convinced the ailing artist to sign some certainly dubious contracts, the legal integrity of which has not been fully resolved to this day. Some of them involved Gala’s sale of rights to reproduce certain paintings by Dalí that were not his to sell.

Mr. Albert Field was very careful to identify and classify those prints that were expressly commissioned through contracts in which the painter created prints that he personally signed. Dalí knew exactly what he was doing and was scrupulous in dealing with his clients and publishers until the late 1970s.

Drypoint and etching, “Helen and the Trojan Horse”, 1974.

 

Regarding the graphic work, the era of Dalí’s chaos began around 1980, with the deterioration of Dalí’s health being an important factor. Gala’s death in June 1982 and the painter’s subsequent decision to isolate himself almost completely further confused the Dalí scene.
During the last nine years, the illicit production of Dalí prints in over-run or misrepresented editions, with non-genuine signatures of the artist, made the search for authenticity more difficult.

A great deal of research work was necessary to get a real perspective of Dalí’s overall situation. To understand the evolution of the Dalí reproductions business requires a thorough knowledge of the painter’s life, his health, his pleasure in having money, his associates and publishers. A brief summary of this history is detailed below:

After 1980, the avalanche of reproductions of the well-known surrealist Dalí paintings began, these illicit and unsupervised prints have non-genuine signatures of the artist. And in no way did they involve the then totally isolated and sick artist. Forgers of Dalí’s name fostered carefully confusing legends on blank sheets supposedly signed by the artist to be printed by lithographic methods to deceive customers.

Stages of Salvador Dalí’s graphic work

There were very few prints by Dalí before the 1950s, when Sidney and Phyllis Lucas published editions of two large images of boats and fishermen. The impact of these magnificent prints was enormous. They were exceptional images by Dalí and became affordable for the first time, as Dalí originals were already as rare as they were expensive by the mid-1960s.

And, of course, each print bore a genuine Dalí signature.

From then on, the proliferation of Dalí’s commissions was very rapid. Even Woolworth’s and Sears Roebuck quickly jumped on the new bandwagon. The first was a print of Medusa in which the figure was made from the impression of a live octopus.

Sears marketed a somewhat “sweet” Madonna of the Rose. This print was made for Vincent Price, who was in charge of Sears’ brief foray into fine art. The popularity of these pieces was enormous; prices were set fairly and the artist hand-signed each of the strictly limited prints.

In 1965, Dalí began a very prolific creative period. His production of works on paper created expressly for reproduction expanded, and the number far exceeded that of his easel paintings, which were few in number.

In the meantime, lucrative assignments were coming in. Classical Greek gods and heroes, from Jupiter to Icarus, baseball, San Francisco and Spanish-themed works, bullfighting and even the Vietnam War were projects assigned by his corporate clients.
Interspersed in this avalanche of a wild variety of subjects were series of high artistic quality, including “Carmen”, “Marquis de Sade” and “La Aliyah” along with “The Hippies” and other magnificent engravings made for Pierre Argillet.

Etching, “The hippies – Flower women at the piano”, 1969.

 

In addition, some of the illustrations commissioned were for spectacular luxury books. These ranged from Dante’s “Divine Comedy” to “The Bible,” and even Hans Christian Anderson’s “Fairy Tales” and “Alice in Wonderland,” along with suites on “Memories of Surrealism,” “Great Inventions” and many other subjects.

There were also commissions for ambitious volumes of extraordinary quality such as “The Alchemy of the Philosophers”, “Moses and Monotheism” and “Ten Recipes for Immortality”, among others.

It is worth mentioning the magnificent quality of most of the commissioned works; Dalí’s impressive engraving and lithography work is immortalized in these prints.

From 1970 to 1979, some of Dalí’s work was produced in the form of original works on paper. These were mainly commissions, all made under specific contracts and drawn or painted expressly for printing in various media, such as lithography, but with control over the number of limited editions.

The scrupulous research of Mr. Albert Field, his long presence in the Dali scene for more than three and a half decades, his personal knowledge of the artist, provide much needed and emblematic information as to which prints correspond to the correct limited edition, which are original lithographs, but with a numbering that exceeds the contract print run at the time, and which are reproductions of original lithographs.

Dalí said that the problem was society’s problem and not his. But the profits from the illicit reproductions went only to those who printed and distributed them. No one ever had an “exclusive” on Salvador Dalí. Many had a place in the retinue and played the role assigned by the artist.

If you are interested in the world of Dalí’s graphic works, you can contact us, we are specialists in buying and selling art by the Catalan artist.

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