Dalí’s Buste à tiroir
is an exquisite example of his breath-taking technical virtuosity and vivid imagination. The ‘drawer’ motif was initially associated with a plaster cast of the Venus de Milo sculpture in the Louvre. Dalí, with the probable assistance of Marcel Duchamp, had transformed it into a supremely surrealist object containing many sets of drawers, the handles of which were covered in ermine (fig. 3). This motif evolved further whilst Dalí was staying in England with Edward James, the first owner of the present work. William Jeffet explains: ‘At that time his English was practically non-existent, which could account for the misunderstanding that arose upon hearing someone talk of a “chest of drawers”. In interpreting this quite literally, Dalí in the The Anthropomorphic Cabinet
[fig. 2], as well as a number of drawings, was to show a reclining woman out of whose chest appeared numerous half-opened drawers’. This humorous aspect of Dalí’s work was nonetheless also founded on his fascination with Freudian analysis and exemplified by the present work – as William Jeffet notes: ‘the drawers suggest the obscure recesses of the human mind’, in the sense of Freud’s conception of the unconscious’ (W. Jeffet, Dalí: The Centenary Retrospective
(exhibition catalogue), Palazzo Grassi, Venice, 2004, p. 258).
The first owner of the present work was the renowned English collector Edward James who diverted much of his considerable inherited fortune into one of the most important collections of Surrealist art. James befriended many of the Surrealists, including Magritte and Dalí, and was a driving force behind the pivotal 1936 International Surrealist Exhibition held at the Burlington Galleries in London. In the summer of 1936 a contract was drawn up between Edward James and Salvador Dalí. James would receive virtually all of Dalí’s artistic output in exchange for a generous allowance, a deal which lasted until the end of 1938. James did this in the belief that if Dalí was made financially comfortable he would be at liberty to fulfil his creative potential, unhurried and without the demands of the commercial market. Edward James’s Surrealist collection grew to become one of the most impressive in Europe. However it was not gathered because of a pre-determined ambition to do so, rather it grew from his friendship with artists whom he admired and to whom he could afford to offer financial support. Aside from Dalí, René Magritte, Pavel Tchelitchew and Leonora Carrington counted on James’ generosity resulting in some outstanding additions to his collection. During the last decade of his life, James lent many works from his collection to major retrospective exhibitions of Dalí’s work - in some of which Buste à tiroir
was included - such as at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris and the Tate in London.