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