–A last confidence about impotence and psychological castration–
Salvador Dalí’s father was a monster.
Salvador Dalí i Cusí, a middle-class lawyer and notary in Figueres (a Catalan city close to the French border), with a strict catholic faith and a stricter disciplinary approach toward his family, made of his second son –Salvador Domingo Felip Jacint Dalí i Domènech– a deranged person; a real paranoiac. In her effort to compensate for the father’s excess, the mother –Felipa Domènech i Ferrés– spoiled her son and made of him a narcissistic egomaniac, incapable of loving anybody aside of himself.
The couple’s first son was born on October 12th 1901 and was named Salvador after the father. The boy died of gastroenteritis less than two years later; just nine months before the birth of a second son. Since the mother had not accepted the loss of Salvador, the newborn was also named Salvador and regarded as a new incarnation of the lost baby.
At some five years old, Dalí was taken to his brother’s grave and told by his parents that he was him again, which, of course, he believed. He was treated not as himself, but as a person that did not exist anymore; as a ghost… Of his brother, Dalí said much later, “[we] resembled each other like two drops of water, but we had different reflections.” “He was probably a first version of myself but conceived too much in the absolute.”
Illusory images of his long-dead brother would reappear embedded in his later works, including Retrat del Meu Germà Mort (Portrait of My Dead Brother) (1963).
After that sinister visit to the cemetery, during Dalí’s childhood and teenage, his father forced him to look at grotesque images of advanced-stage untreated sexually transmitted diseases, and also convinced him that masturbation led to impotence, homosexuality, and insanity. This drove the young Dalí to develop a life-lasting obsession with sex, phobias related to sexual intercourse, sadism with extreme cruelty, zoophilia, morbid behaviour in several other ways, and a great fear of decay, and even castration.
This last concern became a frequent theme in various works by him, most famously in his 1929 painting El Gran Masturbador , in L’Home Invisible (The Invisible Man) (1929-33), L’Àngelus Arquitectònic de Millet (The Architectonical Millet’s ‘Angelus’) (1933) and its sequels of 1934 and 1933-35: Vestigis Atàvics després de la Pluja (Atavistic Vestiges after the Rain) and Reminiscències Arquelògiques de l’Àngelus de Millet (Archaeological Reminiscences of Millet’s ‘Angelus’). — [To these last three paintings I will dedicate a new post after this one.]
Even more explicit is a small oil from his last period that I am showing here in high resolution (just click on the image): Monstre Tou en Paisatge Angèlic (Soft Monster in Angelic Landscape) (1977):
[Source and Location: Musei Vaticani; Palazzi Apostolici Vaticani; Collezione di Arte Religiosa Moderna – Curiously, the Vatican Museums do not provide the complete title of the painting (they only say: S. Dalì; Paesaggio angelico; olio su tela; 1977 – omitting the mention of the “Soft Monster”) and do not provide its size, at least online… In fact none of the books I have about Dalí gives the size of this oil, but a most kind reader of this post has provided me this data (thank you very much!)]
We see in the image ten figures (five angels, four humans and an unhorned unicorn) besides the “soft monster”, with some part of it cut off, resting on a stony pedestal. This entity is familiar to anyone who knows Dalí’s work, since it appears in very similar forms in several important paintings and drawings (his best known ones, by the way: La Persistència de la Memòria (1931), Aranya de la Tarda, Esperança! (1940) or El Somni (1937), among others); of course, it is the painter himself –here, not only “soft” and flaccid, but eventually mutilated; looking at the image rotated 90º counter-clockwise we may appreciate better which part has been cut off – :
To the right, one of the two larger angels (the more feminine-looking one) seems to give back his horn to the unicorn (or perhaps taking it off, but I do not think so); the other, more masculine, hurries up to bring a crutch (an object almost omnipresent in Dalí’s works) to the fallen monster.
I do not have a clear idea about the meaning of the other figures and the scenes they represent –just some guesses not worthy to write down here. What intrigues me most is the white object that the bluish figure at the left in the dancing group holds in its right hand. I have never seen the actual painting, and the best photos I know of it (the one here is the best and most detailed) do not allow me to identify it.
The bluish and purplish landscape, the lemon-yellow clouds and mist, the silhouettes one may glimpse in them, the clear disregard of some basic rules of perspective, the elegance and beauty of movement of the angels, the charm of the ex-unicorn or unicorn-to-be, makes this small oil one of my favourite paintings by the artist; and arguably the very best among his last works (in a time when many of them –mostly the lithographs– were just signed by him, even before being drawn or painted by others; but this one is obviously genuine to the last brushstroke.)
Postscript [18th December 2021]
A kind reader –Nadir Adoul-Rutherfoord– has sent to me a close up of the dancing group which intrigued me. He took the picture personally at high resolution, so it allows to see every detail down to the texture of the canvas. Anyway, I cannot make up my mind about the white thing the figure at the left holds in the hand. It looks viscous, and flaccid at the top; so, it could be another allegory of weakness and impotence, or perhaps something taken from the “monster”. Who knows… You may see this excellent picture below:
You will find other posts about Salvador Dalí and his works on this same blog and on my sister’s:
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