The Art of Love by Ovid, an introduction to the art of seduction and love, illustrated by Salvador Dali, was published in 1979. Using examples from everyday life and mythology, Ovid set out to teach men how to seduce women. It was also aimed at women, providing advice on seduction and how to deepen a relationship. Dali painted most of the illustrations for The Art of Love by Ovid circa 1976.
Some of them were not ultimately selected by Dali to illustrate the book, as is the case for these four pieces. Thus, two of these watercolours were eventually chosen by the artist to illustrate the set of lithographs Les Amoureux, 1979: one depicting Lancelot and Guinevere, or forbidden love, the other, Adam and Eve, or original sin. The third watercolour, titled The Harbinger (Mystische Hochzeit), the “mystical marriage”, was selected for the New Jerusalem Suite, 1980.
The last watercolour, also not selected for inclusion in The Art of Love by Ovid, has a more illustrative, symbolic style, depicting two crutches, inkwells, feathers, eggs on a plate and several figures from the Grand Masturbateur (The Great Masturbator), as a reference to his famous 1929 painting. The crutch, a symbol cherished by Dali, represents the support that is necessary for self-assurance. In the 1938 Dictionnaire abrégé du Surréalisme (Abridged Dictionary of Surrealism), Dali gave it the following definition: “Wooden prop deriving from Cartesian philosophy. Generally used to support the tenderness of soft structures." The egg was also frequently used by Dali. For the artist, the egg, as an emblem of purity and perfection, evoked the symbolism of past lives, life in utero, and rebirth.
In each of these pieces, Dali’s uniquely meticulous work can be found. These highly detailed watercolours bear witness to their powerful yet painstaking execution. The detailing of the flowers, the leaves, and the entangled branches, and the powerful movement of the bodies, are elements that serve not only as a reminder of his talent as an illustrator and miniaturist painter. Finally, the vivid, contrasting colours add to the powerful force exuded from these works.