125
125
Salvador Dalí
GRADIVA
Estimate
500,000700,000
LOT SOLD. 1,210,000 USD
JUMP TO LOT
125
Salvador Dalí
GRADIVA
Estimate
500,000700,000
LOT SOLD. 1,210,000 USD
JUMP TO LOT

Details & Cataloguing

The Collection of A. Alfred Taubman: Modern & Contemporary Art

|
New York

Salvador Dalí
1904 - 1989
GRADIVA
Signed Gala Salvador Dali and dated 1933 (lower right)
Pen and ink on sandpaper
25 7/8 by 16 1/2 in.
65.7 by 41.9 cm
Executed in 1933.

Please note that in the print catalogue for this sale, this lot appears as number 125T.


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Provenance

Anna Laetitia Pecci-Blunt (acquired directly from the artist)
Private Collection (by descent from the above and sold: Sotheby's, New York, May 15, 1985, lot 228)
Acquired at the above sale by A. Alfred Taubman

Literature

Robert Descharnes & Gilles Néret, Salvador Dalí, 1904-1989, The Paintings, vol. I, Cologne & Paris, 1993, no. 382, illustrated p. 171

Catalogue Note

To evoke the name Gradiva is to evoke an idiom capturing the essence of the Surrealist movement. Encapsulating the fascination of artists and 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. For Salvador Dalí, this name is particularly resonant. In the seminal text by Wilhelm Jensen, Gradiva: A Pompeian Fantasy of 1903, Gradiva is the name given by a young archeologist 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. The archeologist 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 archeologist’s personification of unrequited love. Subsequently examined by Freud as a study into the complexities of the idealization of beauty, projected and real love, the subject to Gradiva has provided the basis for seminal texts of psychoanalysis and postmodern philosophy. It is the polarization of the themes of strength, power, beauty and female fragility that fascinated the Surrealists and their ongoing preoccupation with the subject of women.

For the Surrealists, the figure of Gradiva embodies their continued fascination with beauty, sexuality, physical presence and remoteness, further highlighted by Dalí’s choice of the word as a nickname for his wife, the femme fatale Gala, whom he met in 1929 and who would play a central role in Dalí’s development of key surrealist themes. Dalí wrote: "She was destined to be my Gradiva, 'she who advances,' my victory, my wife. This cure was accomplished solely through the heterogeneous, indomitable and unfathomable power of the love of a woman" (in The Secret Life of Salvador Dalí, New York, 1942, p. 233). The artist dedicated a series of paintings from 1931-32, known as the Gradiva paintings, and as in the present work he depicts Gala in scaling rock formations inspired by their surroundings in Port Lligat, thus heavily reflecting his own life in his art.

Perhaps as an homage to Gala, Dalí depicts a sinuous young woman set in an iconic surreal landscape. She is naked, and whilst some elements of her body are flesh-like, she seems to slowly shrivel into a skeleton, her hands almost bone-like. Elegantly captured from behind, her back to the viewers, she is seen holding the ultimate sign of the memento mori—the skull. Creating a dialogue between the observer and the work, Dalí places the skull directly in front of our eyes, symbolically reflecting the face and thus the fate of the young girl and figuratively evoking the theme of death and time. It is the contrast of young and old, life and death, and the exploration of themes of sexuality and idolatry that so preoccupied Dalí that he evokes in Gradiva. The texture of the work, executed over sandpaper, gives it an element of physical presence and marks this as a particularly complex example of Dalí’s oeuvre.

The provenance of this work is uniquely distinguished. Countess Anna Laetitia Pecci-Blunt was the first illustrious owner of this work, acquiring it directly from Dalí for her own esteemed collection. Following World War I, the future countess settled in Paris and immediately became an integral part in the avant-garde artistic and intellectual circles of the time, striking up friendships with artists such as Georges Braque and Jean Cocteau. She was introduced to the wealthy and cultured American banker, Cécil Blunt, son of the collector Ferdinand Blumenthal, and their marriage was celebrated in 1919. With the benediction of Pope Benedict XV, he bestowed Cécil Blunt with the title of Count Pecci-Blunt. Anna Laetitia and Cécil took up residence in Paris where they opened their home to writers, poets, artists and musicians including Dalí, Cocteau, Paul Valéry, Francis Poulenc and Paul Claudel.

The Collection of A. Alfred Taubman: Modern & Contemporary Art

|
New York