184
184

PROPERTY FROM A PRIVATE EUROPEAN COLLECTION

Salvador Dalí
THE ANTS (LAS HORMIGAS)
Estimate
300,000400,000
LOT SOLD. 989,000 USD
JUMP TO LOT
184

PROPERTY FROM A PRIVATE EUROPEAN COLLECTION

Salvador Dalí
THE ANTS (LAS HORMIGAS)
Estimate
300,000400,000
LOT SOLD. 989,000 USD
JUMP TO LOT

Details & Cataloguing

Impressionist & Modern Art Day Sale

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New York

Salvador Dalí
1904 - 1989
THE ANTS (LAS HORMIGAS)
Signed S. Dalí (lower left)
Gouache, ink and collage on thin plywood
4 1/2 by 6 1/2 in.
11.5 by 16.4 cm
Executed in 1929.
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Nicolas Descharnes has kindly confirmed the authenticity of this work.

Provenance

Private Collection, Paris (probably acquired from Luis Buñuel)
Acquired from the above in the 1960s

Exhibited

London, Hayward Gallery; Madrid, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía & New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Salvador Dalí: The Early Years, 1994, no. 117
Venice, Palazzo Grassi & Philadelphia, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Dalí: The Centenary Retrospective, 2004-05, no. 72
London, Tate Modern; Los Angeles, Los Angeles County Museum of Art; St Petersburg, Florida, Salvador Dalí Museum & New York, Museum of Modern Art, Dalí, Painting and Film, 2007-08, no. 52
Paris, Musée national d'art moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou & Madrid, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Dalí, 2012-13, n.n.

Catalogue Note

The theme of ants recurs frequently in Dalí’s oeuvre, persistently creeping through his body of work and infecting the Dalinean landscape with its dark and menacing presence. The artist’s obsession with these insects began during his childhood when he witnessed colonies of ants devouring entire animals hundreds of times larger than themselves. At once fascinated and repulsed, he was intrigued by how these tiny creatures were able to bring about such dramatic metamorphoses, making objects disappear. Thus in his art ants came to represent decay, decomposition, destruction and change. The relentlessness with which these insects pursue and devour their prey also symbolizes obsessive sexual desire. Ants are present in Dali’s most famous work, The Persistence of Memory, where they are seen devouring a pocket watch. They also appear several times in the iconic Surrealist film Un Chien Andalou, ravaging the palm of a hand. In The Great Masturbator, painted in the same year as the present work, a swarm of ants gathers on the locust’s abdomen, associating the theme of eroticism with fear of change and death. Wherever they appear, ants are the foreboding destroyers that threaten the permanence of all things. They are thus a metaphor for our perception of reality: nothing in our world is permanent, all things erode, everything is transitory and subject to change, even time itself.

In this jewel-like collage, throngs of inky black ants swarm across the textured wood-panelled background while in the bottom right-hand corner a cut-out photograph of a half-clothed and frightened young woman seems to shy away from the clusters of grotesque looking insects. As the title makes clear, it is the ants who are the central protagonists of this composition, not the female figure. This work was produced in the same year that Dalí collaborated with Luis Buñuel on Un Chien Andalou, and the use of photography and collage is testament to the artist’s enthusiastic embrace of new mechanical media into his creative process at this time. As the recent exhibition Dalí & Film, in which this work was included, highlighted, Dalí believed that certain cinematic and photographic effects were beyond the reach of painting, notably the representation of metamorphosis. In one memorably provocative episode in Un Chien Andalou, a woman is chased through a claustrophobic room by a man and escapes through a door, trapping the man’s ant-ridden hand in the process. Close-ups of the ants emerging from a hole in the man’s hand are juxtaposed with shots of the woman’s armpit hair, linking the image of the ants with female sexuality. This connection persists in this gouache collage, which can be seen as a companion piece or preparatory sketch for the film. In Dalí and Buñuel's original script, the final scene of the film was to feature the corpses of the man and woman consumed by swarms of insects on the beach, bringing the ant theme to its logical conclusion, but budget restrictions prohibited this special effect and so instead we see the couple buried chest-deep in the sand. Nevertheless the dark mystery and erotic melancholia is all pervasive in the present work, which legend has it Dalí presented to Buñuel as a fitting souvenir of their celluloid collaboration.

Impressionist & Modern Art Day Sale

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