Dalí & The Impressionists

Monet, Renoir, Degas – and Dalí

Through April 28
Dalí Museum, St Pete
Details here

“Every day I realize more and more how difficult art is… but also every day I rejoice and like it. I keep on admiring the great French Impressionists, Monet, Degas, Renoir. I wish they would become the strongest guiding forces in my life.”

From Salvador Dalí’s diary entry – January 8, 1920, when he was 15 years old.

Salvador Dalí’s diary from The Dalí Museum Library & Archives

This diary, in the Dalí Museum archives, is on display at the beginning of the exhibition Dalí & the Impressionists: Monet, Renoir, Degas & More.

The “& More” in the exhibition title is really a lot more – it’s an art world of who’s who in and around the Impressionist period – Henri Matisse, Georges Renault, Paul Signac, Paul Gauguin, Édouard Vuillard, Maurice de Vlaminck, Maxime Camille Lous Maufra, Paul Cézanne, Jean-François Raffaëlli, Jean Baptiste Armand Guillaumin, Alfred Sisley, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Édouard Manet, Jean-François Millet and Johan Barthold Jongkind.

Installation view

The exhibition curated by Dr. William Jeffett, the Dalí’s Chief Curator of Exhibitions, combines 22 paintings representing these artists (on loan from the Museum of Fine Arts Boston) with 18 paintings from Dalí’s formative years – creating interesting pairings in genres of portraits, still life and landscapes.

A few examples of the pairings. . .

Jean-François Millet’s Seated Nude (Les Regrets) on left – Dalí’s Study of a Nude, Studio de un desnudo femenino on right

– In portraits, a Jean-François Millet’s Seated Nude (Les Regrets) 1847-48 next to Dalí’s Study of a Nude 1925.

Installation view with Henri Matisse’s Carmelina on left, next to Dalí’s Self-Portrait (Cadaqués)

– Matisse’s Carmelina 1903 with Dalí’s Self-Portrait (Cadaqués)

Installation view with Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot’s Woman with a Pink Shawl on left – Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s Algerian Girl, center – and Dalí’s Tieta, Portrait of My Aunt, Cadaqués on right

– A grouping of three female portraits, Woman with a Pink Shaw 1865 by Corot, Algerian Girl 1881 by Renoir and Tieta, Portrait of My Aunt, Cadaqués by Dalí.

Still life with Édouard Manet’s Basket of Fruit on left – Dalí’s Still Life on right

In still life, there’s Édouard Manet’s Basket of Fruit 1864 with Dalí’s Still Life 1922 – and Dalí’s Bouquet (L’lmportant chest la rose) 1924 next to Matisse’s Vase of Flowers 1924 next to Vuillard’s Rose in a Glass Vase 1919.

Installation view with Édouard Vuillard’s Roses in a Glass Vase on left – Henri Matisse’s Vase of Flowers, center – Dalí’s Bouquet (The Important Thing is the Rose), right

In landscapes are Dalí’s Portdogué and Mount Paní from Ayuntamiento 1922 with Jean Baptiste Armand Guillaumin’s Bridge in the Mountains 1889 – and Paul Gauguin’s Entrance to the Village of Osny 1882-83 and Claude Monet’s Antibes (Afternoon Effect) 1888 with Dalí’s Cadaqués 1923 sitting between.

Quite exclusive company.

Dalí Museum Curator of Education, Peter Tush giving a press preview tour pointing out details on Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s Rocky Crags at L’Estaque. The smaller painting to the left is Dalí’s Playa Port Alguer from Rita d’en Pitxot

I first saw this exhibition at the press preview where Peter Tush, the Dalí Museum’s Curator of Education gave a tour going into details of the different pieces and of the period into which Salvador Dalí was born. Subsequently I’ve visited this exhibition a couple more times – it closes April 28.

In most exhibitions, independent of whatever premise that gathers and organizes the artworks, I simply enjoy the artworks. Sometimes I see the same artwork in other exhibitions where the curatorial ideas are quite different.

Installation view with portraits and landscapes

Good artworks are autonomous, and can lend themselves to many conversations.

In the movie The Fabelmans by Steven Spielberg, the fictional Sammy Fabelman is loosely based on Spielberg’s adolescent self. Towards the end of the movie, Sammy meets the director John Ford, played by David Lynch, who points to a painting in his office and asks him what he notices about it.

Sammy looks and looks until Ford gruffly asks him where is the horizon line (it was near the bottom creating certain drama) and then tells him the importance of framing the horizon line in movie scenes.

Same way I look at paintings and study the artists’ compositions, the placement of shapes and objects in relation to the horizon – or maybe no horizon – textures, brush techniques, the color palette. And this exhibition’s paintings, as Peter Tush points out, speak to the innovation of the pigments and paints, of new paint brush types, that made much of the Impressionists’s accomplishments possible.

Georges Rouault’s Pierrot, left – Dalí’s Saltimbanques, right. From the label, “A self-portrait in disguise, Dalí presents himself as a harlequin in a harlequin costume, bathed in a blue tone reminiscent of Picasso’s ‘blue period.’ The portrayal of saltimbanques, the lowest order of acrobats, reflects Dalí’s possible identification with them as he grappled with extreme shyness.”

Even the frames used to protect the canvases add to their finish, which also indicate the period’s sensibilities and aesthetic values. In the case of this exhibition, the frames are an art in and of themselves.

Quotes from Dalí and other artists on the walls headline many of the pairings. Above Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s Rocky Crags at L’Estaque 1882 and Dalí’s Playa Port Alguer from Rita d’en Pitxot 1918 is this Dalí quote, pointing to his early understandings –

“I now know what you have to do to be an Impressionist. You have to use cadmium for the spots where the sun touches. For the shadow, mauve and blue, without using turpentine and with a thick layer of paint; the brushstrokes should be up and down, and sideways for the sky; It’s also important to paint the sun glancing on the sand and, above all not to use black because black isn’t a color.”

The precocious Dalí was only 17 when he made that comment. He was exploring art making, copying past masters, styles and techniques, whilst defining and refining his own identity and direction.

View of self portraits with Dalí’s Self-Portrait (Figueres), left – Paul Cézanne’s Self-Portrait with a Beret, center – Edgar Degas’s Portrait of a Man, right

Of his identity, there’s Dalí’s Self-Portrait (Figueres) 1921, next to Paul Cézanne’s Self-Portrait with a Beret 1898-1900, next to an un-dated Portrait of a Man by Degas.

Dalí’s self-portrait frames his turning profile under a wide brim hat with a casual glancing eye, a pipe pressed between his lips, a shot of red peeking out from under a dark jacket, all emerging out from a dark undefined background creating an overall effect of a mysterious debonair stranger.

This dramatic self introduction contrasts the elder Cézanne in his floppy beret, a world-weary gaze at landscapes he has studied and painted dozens of times and Degas’s Portrait of a Man, a likeness very much that of himself, in between these two extremes in both social and artistic standings.

Installation view of Dali’s earlier paintings

Dalí’s paintings in the exhibition were all done between 1917 to 1925, from the age of 13 to 21 – and the exhibition follows his progression as an artist in both facility and philosophy.

These few short years, as his paintings became more precise, lead him to ultimately question the whole premise of the Impressionist ideals that his younger self adored, and will eventually ponder.

In 1927, Dalí abruptly moved away from Impressionism, writing in the magazine L’Amic de les Arts that “Impressionism is a pictorial trend that is completely dead. That is to say, it has passed, like all ancient art, into history.” From that point forward, he embarked on a new style of dream-like painting invested with psychological symbolism, joining the surrealist group started by André Breton.

Installation view of one of the many Post-Impressionism movements, Fauvism which Dalí also followed – on left is Maurice de Vlaminck’s Suburban Landscape – Dalí’s Orchard at Es Llaner, Cadaqués on right

Surrealism was to define both Dalí’s identity and art practice – so much so that even when he was expelled from the surrealist group for straying from its tenets, he declared, “I am surrealism.”

Thus he permanently ensconced his vision of surrealism into both academic hierarchy and popular culture. My Catholic parents had a framed copy of Dalí’s The Sacrament of the Last Supper hanging in the kitchen-dining room for as long as I can remember – a very different interpretation than Leonardo da Vinci’s.

Throughout, Dalí has never hesitate to experiment and was not afraid to look to others for ideas as he once said – “Those who do not want to imitate anything produce nothing.”

Installation view with Paul Signac’s View of the Seine at Herblay, left – Maxime Camille Louis Maura’s Departure of Fishing Boats, Yport, center – Dalí’s View of Cadaqués from Playa Poal, right

Dalí admired and learned from masters, from Raphael to Velázquez to Goya – and as this exhibition demonstrates, from his immediate Impressionist predecessors.

It is always a discovery whenever visiting the Dalí Museum, that this one person has polished such intriguing facets of this prismatic life.

This exhibition fills another gap in the ever-expanding library of exhibitions the Dalí Museum has developed, telling Dalí stories – from those who influenced him, to his own practice, innovations and collaborations, to those influenced by him, and finally to how he is perceived today by the majority of people visiting the Dalí Museum.




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