New York, Museum of Modern Art, Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism, December 1936;
London, Hayward Gallery, Undercover Surrealism, May 11 - July 30, 2006.
This unusual image, which at first glance appears to represent a river landscape with bridges, hills and clouds, is in fact an anamorphic painting, meant to be viewed at an extreme angle from the left. Seen from the correct vantage point, the painting resolves into a depiction of Saint Anthony of Padua, arms outstretched to reverently embrace the Infant Christ who stands on a table (see fig. 1). The various elements of the prima facie composition are transformed into elements of this religious theme: the bridges and docks become a crucifix, bible, and table. The moths and slugs at the lower edge (symbols of earthly corruption) transmogrify into a lily - the symbol of purity and one of Anthony's distinguishing iconographic attributes. Anamorphic pictures, though rare, became popular in the late 16th through 18th Centuries, and were collected by a sophisticated clientele who were amused by their intellectual conceits. The subjects could be religious and mystical, as in the present example, or simple visual jokes.
In this sense, the present Saint Anthony - while certainly unusual- is not unprecedented. In the 20th Century, however, the painting gained lasting significance through its close association with the history and development of Surrealism. While owned by the great cubist sculptor Jacques Lipchitz, Saint Anthony was published in 1929 in the highly influential avant-garde art publication Documents, edited by George Bataille (see fig. 2). Shown alongside two paintings by the young Surrealist painter Salvador Dalí - and analyzed in an article by Carl Einstein which focused largely on the present Saint Anthony - this was the first time that a comparison of anamorphic art was made to Dalí's work. As Ades notes in her discussion of Einstein's article, the “analysis of the…[Saint Anthony] ‘puzzle picture’ must have been of extreme interest to Dalí, for it uncovers a hidden double meaning which has direct parallels with the method Dalí was beginning to explore.” The overall palette of Saint Anthony and its many objects depicted on stilts may also have influenced the young Surrealist. Eventually, the association of Saint Anthony with Surrealism became so enduring that the painting was included in the first major exhibition to introduce Surrealism to the United States - the groundbreaking 1936 exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, “Fantastic Art, Dada, Surrealism,” where Saint Anthony was presented as an early reference point for the modern artists.
Please call 1-800-555-5555 to order a print catalog for this sale.
Online Registration to Bid is Closed for this Sale. Would you like to watch the live sale?Watch Live Sale