London, Tate Gallery, Salvador Dalí, 1980, no. 47
Stuttgart, Staatsgalerie & Zurich, Kunsthaus, Salvador Dalí 1904-1989, 1989, no. 92, illustrated in the catalogue
Bureaucrate et machine à coudre is an exquisite exploration of the most important sources of inspiration in Surrealist art. The present work was used as the frontispiece to Salvador Dalí's illustrated edition of Les Chants de Maladoror by the Comte de Lautréamont (the nom-de-plume of the poet Isidore Ducasse) commissioned by Albert Skira. In discussing the present work Karin von Maur quotes the fantastical verse Ducasse composed: 'the chance meeting on a dissecting-table of a sewing-machine and an umbrella!' (K. von Maur, op. cit., p. 121). Von Maur states that this line became the dictum of the Surrealist group, suggesting that Andre Breton encouraged his fellow artist's to look upon Ducasse's example as the way of subverting the reality whilst connecting with the subconscious. Bureaucrate et machine à coudre is a sumptuous visualisation of Ducasses' words, one in which Dalí utilises an extraordinary variety of imagery, each element of which is presented in a excitingly subverted manner. The reconfiguration of words and images essential meanings and associations became the preminant aesthetic device for the Surrealist artists.
In the present work Dalí has employed an intricate and highly precise style of drawing to incorporates three distinct subjects within the heterogeneous whole of the composition. The 'russian general or philosopher' (K. von Maur, op. cit., p. 121) is a key element of his work in the early 1930s. The alien appearance of the lobster is used to pitch the image above reality, a device he used in a painting from 1933, Gala et l'Angélus de Millet précédant l'arrivée imminente de l'anamorphose coniques. The Sewing machine in the foreground is a direct reference to Ducasse and commonly used by Dalí as a sexual innuendo. The horse later featured in the atmospheric masterpiece Le Devenir géologique (fig. 2). The works that Dalí produced when inspired by Les Chants des Maladoror garnered great praise and attention, Ian Gibson quotes the critic Magí A. Cassanyes who described them as 'seismographic documents' of such implacable honesty and power that only a man of the greatest moral and artistic integrity could be capable of executing them. And that man was Salvador Dalí' (I. Gibson, The Shameful Life of Salvador Dali, London, 1997, p. 327)
Fig. 1, Salvador Dalí, Téléphone - Homard, 1936, plastic, painted plaster and mixed media, Tate gallery, London
Fig. 2, Salvador Dalí, Gala et l'Angélus de Millet précédant l'arrivée imminente de l'anamorphose coniques, 1933, oil on panel, National Gallery of Canada, Ottowa
Fig. 3, Salvador Dalí, Le Devenir géologique, 1933, oil on panel, Private Collection
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