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Salvador Dalí
1904 - 1989
GRADIVA
signed Salvador Dalí (upper right)
oil on copper
20.6 by 15.5cm.
8 1/8 by 6 1/8 in.
Painted in 1931.
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Provenance

Maria Adela 'Tota' Atucha, Condesa de Cuevas de Vera, Buenos Aires (acquired from the artist)

Thence by descent to the present owners

Exhibited

Paris, Galerie Pierre Colle, Salvador Dalí, 1931, no. 21

Lausanne, Musée Cantonal des Beaux-Arts, La Femme et le Surréalisme, 1987-88, no. 30, illustrated in the catalogue

Literature

René Crevel, Dalí ou l'anti-obscurantisme, Paris, 1931, fig. VIII, illustrated

Arte, Madrid, 1933, illustrated p. 35

Dictionnaire abrégé du Surréalisme, Paris, 1938, illustrated p. 60

Salvador Dalí, Vida secreta de Salvador Dalí, Buenos Aires, 1944, fig. 7, illustrated

Salvador Dalí (exhibition catalogue), Staatsgalerie, Stuttgart, 1989, illustrated p. 90

Robert Descharnes & Gilles Néret, Salvador Dalí. The Paintings, Cologne, 1994, vol. I, no. 383, illustrated p. 171; vol. II, no. 383, catalogued p. 750

Dalí: Gradiva (exhibition catalogue), Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid, 2002, illustrated p. 15

Salvador Dalí, catalogue raisonné de peintures, no. 279, illustrated (www.salvador-dalí.org)

 

Catalogue Note

Painted in 1931, Gradiva is a jewel-like composition uniting Dalí’s unique painterly vision with technical virtuosity characteristic of his early Surrealist art. Depicted with minute, painstakingly executed details, the iconography of the present work combines several major motifs of Dalí’s early – and the most innovative – stage of Surrealism. A semi-nude woman, acknowledged by the title as the mythological figure Gradiva, appears to be chained to a rock that forms part of a typical Dalíesque landscape. Strongly reminiscent of the image of Saint Sebastian (fig. 1), the woman’s figure, at once elegant and tortured, evokes all the complexities that Dalí associated with erotic attraction – the contrast between pleasure and suffering and, ultimately, life and death.

The identification of the woman as the mythical Gradiva deepens the wealth of associations surrounding the composition and captures the essence of the Surrealist paradigm. Encapsulating the fascination of artists with their muses as objects of desire, it is a continuation of the romantic tradition of ideal beauty as guiding the choices and artistic manifestations of the male artist. In the 1903 novel by Wilhelm Jensen, Gradiva: A Pompeian Fantasy, Gradiva is the name given by a young archaeologist to a female figure in a fictional Roman bas-relief found in an antiques collection. The relief depicts a young woman elegantly walking, her name appropriated from the Roman god of war, Mars Gradivas, depicted the moment he enters into battle. In the novel, the archaeologist becomes obsessed with this figure to the point in which he falls in love with her and imagines the young female as real, triggering a continuous search for this fictional presence. Gradiva thus also stands as the young archaeologist’s personification of unrequited love.

Subsequently examined by Freud as a study of the idealisation of beauty and notions of projected and real love, the subject of Gradiva has provided the basis for seminal texts of psychoanalysis and postmodern philosophy. André Breton chose the name Gradiva for the gallery he opened in Paris in 1937. It is the polarisation of the themes of strength, power, beauty, sexuality and female fragility that fascinated the Surrealists in their incessant preoccupation with the subject of women. The name Gradiva was particularly resonant with Dalí, who adopted it as a nickname for his wife Gala. The two met in 1929 when Gala and her husband Paul Eluard came to Cadaqués to stay with Dalí; it was love at first sight and Gala would soon assume a central role in Dalí’s private and artistic life. He wrote: ‘She was destined to be my Gradiva, “she who advances”, my victory, my wife. But for this she had to cure me, and she did cure me! Here now is the story of this cure, which was accomplished solely through the heterogeneous, indomitable and unfathomable power of the love of a woman’ (S. Dalí, The Secret Life of Salvador Dalí, New York, 1942, p. 233). Explaining Gradiva’s role in the novel, Dalí explains: ‘Gradiva is the heroine of this novel, and she effects the psychological cure of the other, the male protagonist. When I began to read this novel, even before coming upon Freud’s interpretation, I exclaimed, “Gala, my wife, is essentially a Gradiva”’ (ibid., p. 233).

In 1931-32 Dalí executed a series of oils and sketches on the subject of Gradiva, who is depicted either as an isolated figure or as part of a larger composition. Two versions of this image can be seen in the monumental oil L’homme invisible (fig. 4), one of his first major ‘paranoiac’ compositions. Dalí’s Gradiva is always a sinuous young woman with rich flowing hair, rendered in a pose suggestive of both ecstasy and torture. She is also depicted with bright red roses on her torso, an image that recalls an episode from Dalí’s early days with Gala: ‘I went to Paris. The first thing I did upon arriving was to go and buy flowers for Gala. I naturally went to one of the best florists, and asked for the best they had. They recommended red roses, which it seems were unusually fine. […] I told him to give me 250 francs’ worth, which was all I had on me’ (ibid.). Roses also feature in Federico García Lorca’s Ode to Salvador Dalí, as a symbol of the unity of love and suffering, of beauty and blood. It is the exploration of the pivotal themes of sexuality and idolatry, and the complexity of the myth of Gradiva that Dalí so vividly evokes and through which he is able to give a stunning visual expression to the intangible images of the subconscious, that make Gradiva a quintessential image of Surrealism.

 

 

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