A masterful portraitist since the earliest days of his career, Salvador Dalí imbued his likenesses with a distinctive lexicon and uncanny flair, creating a uniquely Surrealist strain of traditional portraiture. The subjects of Dalí’s society portraits from around 1940 onward ranged from municipal to Hollywood royalty, but most frequently featured the North American elite. Painted in 1963, Portrait de Madame Ann W. Green et de son fils Jonathan is among the most fascinating and ambitious of such commissions, the origins of which offer an unprecedented insight into the artist’s peculiar process. A unique dialogue with the artist and his patrons gave rise to the present work, resulting in a deeply personal collaboration between the family and Dalí. Montgomery M. Green was a self-styled intellectual, gentleman farmer, patron of the arts and patriarch of a burgeoning family based in Havre de Grace, Maryland, who fiercely admired Dalí and took it upon himself to make contact with the artist and request a commission.

The Green family was fascinated by the space industry, and from their vacation residence in Cape Canaveral, Florida – known as the “Space Coast” – they witnessed at close range some of the spectacular early failures and eventual successes of the still-secret missile launches off the coast. Against this backdrop Mr. Green commissioned Dalí to paint a double portrait of his wife, Ann, with their youngest son, Jonathan, who was born amidst these cosmic innovations. The Greens and Dalí became acquainted when they traveled to the artist’s home in Cadaqués, Spain, and quickly formed a cross-Atlantic friendship.

Ann W. Green, wife of Montgomery Green, and her son Jonathan sitting for their portrait which Dalí would finish in 1963. Photograph by Robert Descharnes, Port Lligat, October 1962. © Descharnes & Descharnes Sarl 2015.

Photographs and preliminary drawings of Ann and Jonathan were created in Dalí’s Spanish study over the course of an extended visit in 1962, and the portrait was unveiled to the family in 1963 in a suite at the St. Regis Hotel in New York. John Rodgers Meigs Green, son and elder brother of the two sitters, recalls: “Dalí and my father were both sparkling conversationalists who shared some eccentricities and some values. Both men liked to claim remembering their own births, and during their visits with each other in Spain and New York, they touched on the artistic themes of time, space, dreams, birth, motherhood, and love.”

Salvador Dalí, Portrait de Madame Ann W. Green et de Son Fils Jonathan, 1963. $250,000–350,000.

John Green further recollects: “In late 1963 as I tagged along with my father on a business trip to New York, I had the privilege of meeting Salvador Dalí myself at an opening of his work at a gallery in midtown Manhattan. My father and I were there when the artist strode into the gallery surrounded by a flock of aficionados. Dalí was wearing a black suit and carried a black walking stick. My father and Dalí immediately approached each other, and I was introduced and coaxed to get his autograph on my copy of the show’s catalogue, which I still have to this day over half a century later. Among other pleasantries after their greeting, my father informed Dalí that we had witnessed a night launch of a missile after the painting was created, and that by some atmospheric phenomenon, there had been a halo around the glowing missile’s flame as it ascended into the night sky, much like Dalí had depicted in our painting. Rolling his eyes wide and twirling his waxed mustache the artist replied: ‘What Dalí paints happens.’ Both men delighted in this statement of fact that doubled as a universal declaration.”

Impressionist & Modern Art Day Sale

06 November 2015 | New York