The Great Masturbator, 1929
Art,  English

Salvador Dalí: Mastering the Surreal Realm of Imagination

The text below is the excerpt from the book Salvador Dalí (ISBN: 9781783102914), written by Eric Shanes, published by Parkstone International.

Dalí received his primary and secondary education in Figueres, first at a state school where he learned nothing, and then at a private school run by French Marist friars, where he gained a good working knowledge of spoken French and some helpful instruction in taking great artistic pains. The cypress trees visible from his classroom remained in his mind and later reappeared in many of his pictures, while Jean- François Millet’s painting The Angelus, which he saw in reproduction in the school, also came back to haunt him in a very fruitful way.

But the main educational input of these years clearly derived from Dalí’s home life, for his father was a relatively cultured man, with an interest in literature and music, a well-stocked library that Dalí worked through even before he was ten years old, and with decidedly liberal opinions, being both an atheist and a Republican. This political nonconformism initially rubbed off on Dalí, who as a young man regarded himself as an Anarchist and who professed a lifelong contempt for bourgeois values.

Poetry of America, 1943, Salvador Dalí
Poetry of America, 1943. Oil on canvas, 116 x 79 cm. Teatre-Museu Dalí, Figueres.

More importantly, the young Dalí also received artistic stimulation from his father, who bought the boy several of the volumes in a popular series of artistic monographs. Dalí pored over the reproductions they contained, and those images helped form his long term attraction to 19th-century academic art, with its pronounced realism; among the painters who particularly impressed him were Manuel Benedito y Vives, Eugène Carrière, Modesto Urgell and Mariano Fortuny, one of whose works, The Battle of Tetuan, would inspire Dalí to paint a companion picture in 1962.

And Dalí also received artistic encouragement from a friend of his father’s, the Figueres lawyer Pepito Pichot whose brother, Ramon, was a fluent impressionist painter who lived in Paris and was known to Picasso. It may have been in the Pichot summer residence in an old mill tower near Figueres that the young Dalí took his first steps as a painter, for when he was about nine years old he produced a still life of cherries on the back of an old, worm-eaten door, using merely vermilion and carmine for the fruits, and white for the highlights. (Dalí also later claimed that in this work he first blurred the dividing lines between differing realities, initially by gluing the stems of the real cherries to the bases of the painted ones, and then by transferring several worms from their holes in the door – and thus in his painted cherries – to the worm holes in the real cherries.)

Wind Palace, 1972, Salvador Dalí
Wind Palace, 1972. Ceiling painting. Teatre-Museu Dalí, Figueres.

Quite naturally the young Dalí was influenced by the numerous impressionistic and pointillist canvasses of Ramon Pichot that hung in the old mill tower, and his precociousness was such that Pepito Pichot soon persuaded Dalí senior to allow his son to study drawing with Professor Juan Nuñez at the Municipal School of Drawing in Figueres, where the boy enrolled in 1917. Because Nuñez found Dalí unusually talented, he took great pains over his education. The student remained under his tuition for about two years and freely admitted that he learned much from his teacher. In December 1918 Dalí exhibited his first pictures publicly, in a show shared with two other painters that was mounted in the municipal theatre in Figueres, a building that would later become a museum devoted solely to his own works. A local art critic wrote:

The person who has inside him what the pictures at the Concerts Society reveal is already something big in the artistic sense… We have no right to talk of the boy Dalí because the said boy is already a man… We have no right to say that he shows promise. Rather, we should say that he is already giving… We salute the novel artist and are quite certain that in the future our words… will have the value of a prophecy: Salvador Dalí will be a great painter.

This was very heady praise for a boy of fourteen, and it was true: he was a great painter in the making.

Wounded Soft Watch, 1974, Salvador Dalí
Wounded Soft Watch, 1974. Oil on canvas, 40 x 51 cm. Private collection.

The Masterworks of Salvador Dalí:

Satirical Composition (“the Dance” By Matisse), 1923. Gouache on cardboard, 138 x 105 cm. Teatre-Museu Dalí, Figueres

For this work, Dalí the student of painting at the San Fernando Royal Academy of Fine Arts took his cue from one of the most renowned images by Matisse, The Dance of 1910, which the young Spaniard could only have seen in reproduction. In fact Dalí reinvented Matisse’s figures, rather than copied them, for at no point do they correspond closely to the dancers in the French painter’s image.

Satirical Composition (“the Dance” By Matisse), 1923

The standing man at lower-left closely resembles Picasso. If he was intended to denote that artist, then the seated guitarist could indicate Matisse, although he does not in any way resemble the French painter. As the rivalry between Picasso and Matisse had become apparent by 1923, the inclusion of both artists in a single image would have made sense, especially as Matisse’s The Dance had helped stoke up their rivalry.

The Great Masturbator, 1929. Oil on canvas, 110 x 150 cm. Gift of Dalí to the Spanish state, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid

Dalí painted this picture in the autumn of 1929 after Gala Éluard had returned to Paris. As in The Lugubrious Game, the Portrait of Paul Éluard, and The First Days of Spring discussed earlier, here too Dalí portrayed himself as a softly-rounded form with a locust attached to his mouth. Even more than before, the overall shape of the self-portrait owes much to the shape of a huge rock on Cape Creus. The coastal association of the rock, plus other, darker psychological links, is brought into play by the fish hook embedded in Dalí’s scalp, as well as by numerous molluscs dotted throughout.

According to the painter, everything terminates in the „architecture and ornamentations” of a piece of 1900s furniture, seen in the series of curves at the centre-right. The image of a woman smelling the genitals of a man derived from a cheap 19th century chromolithograph of a woman smelling a lily; now the lily has been relocated below the woman’s head. Naturally, the protruding stamen of the lily is very phallic in form. Subtly it heightens our awareness of the sexuality of the woman, as does the adjacent lion’s head with its libidinously protruding tongue. Dalí might well have derived the seamless shift from his own head into the woman’s head from the cinematic dissolves that he and Buñuel had created in Un Chien andalou, made earlier in 1929.

The Great Masturbator, 1929, Salvador Dalí

In his book The Unspeakable Confessions of Salvador Dalí, published in 1976, the painter wrote that when creating this picture:

I masturbated frequently, but with great control over my penis, mentally leading myself on to orgasm but disciplining my actions so as the better to savour my ecstasy. Masturbation at the time was the core of my eroticism and the axis of my paranoia-critical method. The prick I was hooked on, so to speak. There was me and my orgasm – and then the rest of the world… The Great Masturbator… is the expression of my heterosexual anxiety – with its mouthless character incarnated by a locust while the ants eat its belly…

Rarely, if ever, in the history of art has any painter so publicly faced his obsessions as Dalí did by giving this picture such an unequivocal title…

To get a better insight into Salvador Dalí, please continue this exciting adventure by clicking on:

EbookAmazon USAmazon UKAmazon Australia, Amazon FrenchAmazon GermanAmazon MexicoAmazon ItalyAmazon SpainAmazon Canada, Amazon JapanAmazon IndiaAmazon BrazilAmazon NetherlandsParkstone InternationalEbook GalleryKoboBarnes & NobleGoogleAppleOverdrive, 

HardcoverThe Great British Book ShopAbeBooks

Parkstone International is an international publishing house specializing in art books. Our books are published in 23 languages and distributed worldwide. In addition to printed material, Parkstone has started distributing its titles in digital format through e-book platforms all over the world as well as through applications for iOS and Android. Our titles include a large range of subjects such as: Religion in Art, Architecture, Asian Art, Fine Arts, Erotic Art, Famous Artists, Fashion, Photography, Art Movements, Art for Children.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Share via
Copy link
Powered by Social Snap
%d bloggers like this: