This picture belongs to a series of beach depictions that Dalí completed in the mid-1930s. In some of these compositions, his cousin Carolinetta appears as an apparition in the distance. The precision with which Dalí renders these figures as miniature details of a sweeping vista calls to mind the landscape paintings of the European old masters, whom Dalí greatly admired. The melancholic setting of the deserted Spanish beach was a scene to which he would return time and time again over the years and would be the setting for some of his most paranoid artistic visions, including his epic Soft Construction with Boiled Beans, painted one year after the present work.
In 1934, Dalí delivered a lecture at the Museum of Modern Art in New York that outlined the major themes and preoccupations in his pictures of the time: "To understand an aesthetic picture, training in appreciation is necessary, cultural and intellectual preparation. For Surrealism the only requisite is a receptive and intuitive human being... The subconscious has a symbolic language that is truly a universal language for it does not depend on education or culture or intelligence but speaks with the vocabulary of the great vital constants, sexual instinct, sense of death, physical notion of the enigma of space these vital constants are universally echoed in every human being" (quoted in Salvador Dalí (exhibition catalogue), The Tate Gallery, London, 1908, pp. 15-16).
As was the case for his most important Surrealist compositions of the 1930s and afterwards, Dalí signed the present composition using a combined version of his own name and that of his lover Gala. The first appearance of the double-signature seems to be 1931, coinciding with the time immediately after Dalí's disinheritance by his father (in December 1930). By the time he painted the present work, Dalí's life and persona had become so intertwined with that of his companion that he no longer regarded his artistic production as independent from her influence.
Throughout this period, the artist was championing his 'paranoiac-critical' method - his term for the controlled use of freely-associated imagery and subjects derived from self-induced hallucinations. There is a distinction to be drawn between this method and the automatism of many of his fellow Surrealists. Whereas automatism relies on unreflecting response to stimuli and chance occurrence, Dalí's approach to the irrational was highly planned and manipulated to fulfill a pre-established conception.
Dawn Ades writes of the artist's unique iconography: "...Dalí increasingly persuaded himself of the imperative to make his paintings as convincing, deceptive and illusionistic as possible. His aim, put crudely, was to give form to the formless and invisible, to dreams, reveries, delusions, desires and fears. His ambition, both in what he was aware of depicting and what remained fortuitous and concealed was to make the world of the imagination 'as objectively evident, consistent, durable, as persuasively, cognoscitively, and communicably thick as the exterior world of phenomenal reality.' His desire to give substance to the phantoms destined always to remain virtual led to one of the most sustained investigations into the relationship between vision, perception and representation of the century" (Dalí's Optical Illusions (exhibition catalogue), Hartford, Wadsworth Atheneum; Washington, D.C., Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden & Edinburgh, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, 2000, p. 10).
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