With La Femme visible, La Chasse aux papillons, we are projected back to 1930 in the full swing of Surrealism’s golden age. The year before, the success doubled by the scandal, after the projection of Bunuel’s film "Un chien d’Andalou", had definitively established Salvador Dali, co-scriptwriter of the film, within Andre Breton’s group, and furthermore had precipitated his encounter with Paul and Gala Eluard. The relation with Gala would be decisive: it was with her that the young painter would presumably have his first sexual experience. She left Eluard, as she had left Max Ernst, and became Dali’s wife and muse.
In January 1930, Salvador Dali and Gala stayed for several months in a hotel at Carry-le-Rouet near Marseilles. Here Dali began his famous painting L’Homme invisible (Fig.1) and the texts that would make up La femme visible, a book he would publish in December of the same year and which be a manifesto of his "paranoiac-critical method". Inspired by Freudian and Post-Freudian theories, Dali reveals the mechanisms of this technique whose aim is to upset the frontiers between dream and reality and to break down the various certitudes that form the basis of "bourgeois values". Dali later defined it as "a spontaneous method of irrational knowledge, based on the critical and systematic objectification of delirious associations and delirious interpretations." (Dali, La Conquête de l’irrationnel, p.16, Editions surréalistes, Paris, 1935). The title La Femme visible, La Chasse aux papillons is a direct reference to La Femme Visible and also by inversion to the painting L’Homme invisible in which can be observed, at the lower right, a modified version of the group of figures that appears in the drawing.
Following the principles of his paranoiac-critical method, Dali went beyond the automatist processes of the Surrealists and turned the surface of this large work into a blank screen for the projection of the sexual and death impulses at work in his unconscious. The academic technique of this drawing begs a traditional reading, but the violent, irrational and sexual nature of the subject shocks and disrupts the viewer’s interpretative options. The title of the work refers to the dichotomies that Dali exploited between the visible and the invisible, simulacra and reality, in order to capture these double images that emerge from his paranoiac vision and deliberately upset the spectator.
La Femme visible, La Chasse aux papillons is a very accomplished example of this now famous method which announces the pictorial language and vocabulary that Dali would bring to fruition in his surrealist masterpieces of the 1930s. Veritable tribute to a decisive era both in Dali’s work and his personal life, it is fitting that La Femme visible, La Chasse aux papillons is dedicated to Paul Eluard while the book of La Femme visible is dedicated to Gala.
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