Dali Symbols: Discovering Dali in Book Illustrations
Curated by Abigail Wunderle and Shaina Harkness
Salvador Dali, known for his paintings, drawings, and even his own writings, was also an illustrator for many books. “Dali worked in this field of creation so often because, rather than an amusement, the work was a necessity for him. Dali had to express himself and any medium that allowed him to do so was valid. That was why he never missed an opportunity to work in publishing,” (Dali, a life in books, p.344).
This series of digital exhibitions, broken up into several parts, will focus on illustrations Dali created for commercial books, some of which are rarely seen. This series will also focus on the symbols Dali inserts into the illustrations, promoting his own iconography. “Salvador Dali used symbols repeatedly in his artwork. He was influenced by Sigmund Freud’s idea that dreams can be understood symbolically – where each image has its own interpretation – Dali approached his work this way” (Dali Museum-Peter Tush, Curator of Education). Shown here in the book illustrations are the main symbols, as well as other Dali symbols. Viewers will then be given an opportunity to discover the same symbols in works from The Dali Museum Collection. The use of these specific symbols shows how Dali inserts himself throughout his artwork, even in books.
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Part 2: For the Love of Shakespeare
Salvador Dali was greatly interested in Shakespeare, and much of his work was in his personal library.
As You Like It
As You Like It subverts the traditional rules of romance. Gender roles, nature and politics are confused in a play that reflects on how bewildering yet utterly pleasurable life can be. (From the Royal Shakespeare Company). One can certainly see how the themes in the play attracted Dali, who reveled in the confusion of his audiences.
As You Like It was first printed in the collected edition of Shakespeare’s plays, known as the First Folio, during 1623. No copy of it in Quarto exists, for the play is mentioned by the printers of the First Folio among those which “are not formerly entered to other men.” By means of evidences, external and internal, the date of composition of the play has been approximately fixed at a period between the end of 1598 and the middle of 1599.
Through the years, As You Like It has been depicted in many ways and by many artists. Below are a few renditions captured by the Folger Shakespeare Library. Salvador Dali is even included in this special group of actors and artists.
When Dali returned from the United States in 1948, he met Luchino Visconti, the Italian theatre, opera and cinema director, and screenwriter. Visconti decided to stage As You Like It, and while in Rome Visconti said, “I was looking for an eccentric designer, a magician…” (Dali Shakespeare Visconti, p. 19) Then, he met Dali – the ultimate eccentric and magician. Dali became immersed for an entire month with complete artistic freedom, designing the sets and costumes for Visconti’s production, and later that year As You Like It was performed on stage with Dali’s designs. He even designed the ballet program (above).
Five years after the ballet, “In their edition of William Shakespeare’s As You Like It, the publisher, The Folio Society, London included the drawings Dali made for the staging of the play.” (description from Dali By the Book exhibition file, 1996)
About As You Like It, Dali says “I like [it] very much because it represents the most typically anti-existentialist work, the archetype of the immediate mode of existence, biologically joyous and divine, opposed to the ephemeral theory in vogue today of a sordid Debussian masochism”(Dali Shakespeare Visconti, p. 9)
Dali explained his designs made for this play as, “My sets have been inspired by an autumnal, ammoniacal, thoroughly sterilized mimeticim; my costumes are morphological and, the better to serve my viewers, even prophetic…” (Dali Shakespeare Visconti, p. 9)
In these side by side views, you see how Dali’s sets and costumes came to life on stage!
Dali Symbol…The Crutch!
“A crutch is a means of support. Dali’s use of the crutch is more for emotional support than physical support. The crutch holds up parts of the body symbolizing our handicaps and weaknesses. It also symbolizes death and snobbery,” (Dali Museum).
Notice that Rosalind is shown holding a crutch in this illustration. “While Dali felt that crutches were particularly useful as props for aristocratic snobbism, in this case the crutch refers to a fear of impotence, which has been projected onto the father. Unlike other works where the crutch is a symbol of death, impotence, or snobbery, here the crutch is used as a symbol of solemnity [“a dignity of a religious or sacred character”] or solace (Docent)” (Dali Museum).
Crutches can be seen in many of Dali’s works. For instance, in the painting Average Atmospherocephalic Bureaucrat in the Act of Milking a Cranial Harp there is a crutch that holds up one side of the skull, or cranial harp. Other crutches can be seen in the Javanese Mannequin and the Weaning of Furniture-Nutrition.
Macbeth, set primarily in Scotland, mixes witchcraft, prophecy, and murder. Three “Weïrd Sisters” appear to Macbeth and his comrade Banquo after a battle and prophesy that Macbeth will be king and that the descendants of Banquo will also reign. (From the Royal Shakespeare Company)
“A tragedy by Shakespeare and his shortest play. Macbeth has been described as a study in fear. It is thought that the play may have been written as a tribute to James I because of its emphasis on the supernatural, a subject in which the king was interested, and its flattering portrayal of the origins of the Stuart line, to which he belonged.” (description from Dali By The Book exhibition file, 1996)
Dali on BBC radio advertising his illustrations for Shakespeare’s Macbeth.
Dali’s genius draftsmanship is most evident with his 13 illustrations (1 is the lettering on the title page above) for Macbeth. As A. Reynolds Morse wrote, ” The point is often missed that Salvador Dali’s skill with pen and pencil demonstrates a great deal more than a mere technical competence. Dali’s draftsmanship reveals with utmost clarity the initial phases of this intimate creative process.” (The Draftsmanship of Salvador Dali, 1970, p.7)
Here in this NY Times article from 1946, Dali’s illustrated Macbeth is approached with caution and some cynicism – an approach that was generally taken by Americans in reference to Salvador Dali. In the following quote, the author Wolcott Gibbs, is referring to the image above on the far right: “The great picture is one of the season’s most provocative works of art, and in a sense it establishes the tone of the book, though what that is I would scarcely care to say.”
See the full PDF view here: Dali Interprets Macbeth
Dali Symbol… The Key!
This illustration is found in Act IV, Scene I of the play. Macbeth approaches the witches while they are around their cauldrons, and they call for three apparitions that hint at what awaits Macbeth’s future. Within the scene is one of Dali’s most famous symbols – the key.
Keys can be seen in many of Dali’s works. The key symbolizes unlocking the unconscious and exploring the mind. The key is a symbol adapted from Sigmund Freud, and also has sexual connotations.(Dali Museum). Keys can also be seen in the Surrealist Poster (1934), The Font (1930) and Memory of the Child-Woman (1931).
Part 1: The First Part of the Life and Achievements of the Renowned Don Quixote de la Mancha
Written by Miguel Cervantes
(Description from Dali By The Book exhibition file, 1996): “Don Quixote, written by Miguel de Cervantes is considered to be Spain’s most import[ant] work of literature and the first truly modern novel. The story takes place in sixteenth – century Spain and details the exploits of the self-proclaimed knight Don Quixote of La Mancha and his faithful squire Sancho Panza.”
Dali created “thirty-eight drawings and watercolors” for this book – the English edition of 1946 (Don Quixote de la Mancha: Ilustrado Por Salvador Dali, p. 77). Below are drawings and watercolors created especially for this edition. The original 38 works are now at the Fundacion Gala Salvador Dali in Figueres, Spain.
Don Quixote – other commercial editions
There were other popular commercial editions that used some of the same images from the English 1946 edition, but included extra drawings and watercolors. One was a 1965 Italian TEMPO edition that included new watercolors.
The two volume Spanish edition was published in Barcelona. “It is a hodgepodge of his earlier illustrations, starting with the original English edition . It includes reproductions of Foret’s plates and also of the watercolors done for the Tempo edition in Italy…There are many new illustrations, especially in the second volume. (A Dalí Journal, VI p.205, September 21, 1967)
The famous windmill scene of Don Quixote is depicted differently in the English and the Italian edition. The 1946 version uses Dali’s famous paranoiac-critical method, where the windmill is seen inside Don Quixote’s head (or imagination) as a knight. In the right hand top corner, Dali brings a windmill to life as a knight who is being jousted by another (presumably Don Quixote) on an elaborately drawn horse. The Italian edition’s watercolor is more of a realistic version with the windmills seen at a distance by Don Quixote and his sidekick Sancho Panza. The muted blues and yellows of the sky dominate the work in a realistic fashion.
Dali Symbol…The Eggs!
“Dali connects the egg to the prenatal and intra-uterine in his Surrealist works. He believed he had memories of being inside of his mother’s womb with which he called an “intra-uterine memory.” He uses eggs throughout his artwork to symbolize hope and love. He relates the yolk of eggs to the intense gaze of his wife Gala. In Christianity the egg is a symbol of the resurrection of Christ and the emblem of purity and perfection. Eggs in Dali’s later works, such as Geopoliticus Child Watching the Birth of the New Man, 1943, became a symbol of purity and perfection. Not only did he use eggs in his artwork, they adorn the top of his home and museum in Spain,” (Dali Museum).
Dali inserts eggs into the illustration of the Curate and Barber, pictured here.
These eggs look like the eggs in Oeufs sur le Plat sans le Plat [Eggs on the Plate Without the Plate], 1932, where there are two fried eggs on a plate.
Though not a symbol, Dali’s muse and wife Gala is represented in one of the Italian illustrations with her iconic Chanel bow.
One common element in all these books illustrated by Dali, and in many of Dali’s paintings as well, is the use of landscape. This can be in the far distance, or more towards the foreground. “As with all his work, the landscape is geographically specific to Dali’s native region…,” (The Dali Museum Collection, 2012, p. 150), and in The First Part of the Life and Achievements of the Renowned Don Quixote de la Mancha Dali makes no exception. Below is one such example from Don Quixote of Dali’s iconographic landscape.