Private Collection (by descent from the above)
Private Collection, London
Acquired from the above by the present owner
The central woman alludes to one of his most famous works in which he transformed the figure of the Venus de Milo with the addition of drawers boasting ermine covered handles (fig. 2), in a combination that is also a delightful play on words, as 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”’ (W. Jeffet, Dalí: The Centenary Retrospective (exhibition catalogue), Palazzo Grassi, Venice, 2004, p. 258). However, whilst humorous, this work also exemplifies the artist’s fascination with Freudian analysis, as Jeffet goes on to write: ‘the drawers suggest the obscure recesses of the human mind, in the sense of Freud’s conception of the unconscious’ (ibid.). The flower-headed female figure is another of the artist’s most memorable characters, appearing in a number of significant compositions from this period including Printemps nécrophilique (fig. 1) and Femmes aux têtes de fleurs retrouvant sur la plage la dépouille d’un piano à queue (1936, Private Collection). In the same year Dalí also brought this striking image to life in a collaboration with the artist Sheila Legge staged in Trafalgar Square for the International Surrealist Exhibition in London (fig. 3). It seems likely that Dalí might have had this event in mind when he produced the present work given that the background is constructed from a variety of neo-classical edifices that recall the architecture of central London.
This classicising backdrop and the almost frieze-like arrangement of the figures deliberately allude to conventional depictions of the Judgement of Paris, most notably that of Rubens. However, Dalí subverts this tradition completely, using women for his protagonists and imbuing them with the disdainful attitudes of fashion models in a subtle nod to the work’s intended owner.
Dalí and Schiaparelli had first met in the 1930s and subsequently collaborated on a number of projects. Already renowned for her outlandish designs, under Dalí’s influence her Place Vendôme boutique became increasingly surreal, with a giant birdcage for the perfume counter and a pink stuffed bear with drawers in his stomach that was designed for her by the artist. Schiaparelli owned a number of works by Dalí including both the present work – for which she apparently specified the use of pink paper – and the earlier oil Printemps nécrophilique.
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