THE DALI WORKS YOU SHOULDN’T MISS WHEN VISITING THE THEATER MUSEUM
The other day I read an article about the Dali Museum in a magazine aimed at Russian tourists coming to Barcelona. To my surprise, they said there weren’t any Salvador Dali famous paintings there, and it wasn’t too worth it. Whaaaat? After doing some research I realized the Magazine was connected to some tour agencies that don’t use licensed guides, and therefore, they aren’t allowed to skip lines nor to explain inside the museum – unlike our guides do.
But I was totally revolted to read that, as it does have masterpieces that no one should miss. However, it’s so easy to miss everything that is hidden behind what you see there at a first sight, as Salvador Dali’s works are so full of symbolism.
As you probably know, Dali was one of the most important artists of the Surrealist movement, and as a token of his own genius and desire to confuse and amuse, when he created the Dali Museum in his hometown Figueres, he decided to make it hard to understand and forbid the Administration to provide guided tours that would give the museum some sense.
And up to date, there are only guided tours available for visiting schools or occasionally when the open at night in the Summer time, there are no audioguides and you’ll only find a couple of oldfashioned vintage phones that will give you information on certain works after entering a coin. So your only chances to really understand the museum in depth are either buying a museum guidebook… or bringing your own guide!
We do organize Dali Museum Tours (they are a favorite of mine), but I understand not everyone might be able to hire a private guide. You might want to take the train or the bus. That’s why today I want to give you a quick overview of the best artwork in the Dali Museum of Figueres, so you know what to look for if you ever visit. They are not the only ones worth paying attention to: I’m sure you’ll find lots of other pieces that will catch your attention and make you smile or leave you wondering what was that about. Welcome to Dali’s world. Have fun!
That’s our favorite Salvador Dali artwork:
The Rainy Cadillac
As you enter the building of the museum you get into a patio that was once the stalls of the local theater (until it burnt: you can still see the burnt ends of the beams that supported the balconies in the upper floors). Right in the middle stands a curious structure consisting of a Cadillac (a real one, that Dali and his wife Gala used to cross the USA from Coast to Coast), a column made of black tires and a small boat (real too: Gala used it to row in the bay of Portlligat).
Put a coin in the machine next to it to see how it starts raining inside the car, as a black umbrella opens over the boat. It’s not clear where Dali got the idea for the piece, but it is said it could possibly be his car had so many leaks they got wet every time they rode in the rain.
The Spectre of Sex Appeal
This painting also exhibited in the Treasure Room is easy to miss: it’s so small! And yet it is worth paying attention to all the many details on it. A disturbing giant female kneels in the middle of a beach, her body decomposing, partially turning into pillows and her head melting into the rocks of the nearby cliffs (clearly inspired in the rocky landscapes of Dali’s beloved nature of Cadaques).
A little boy dressed in the sailor dress that kids of the early 1900’s would wear to attend Sunday mass contemplates her, holding a bone as if it was a hula hop stick. No other painting expresses better how attracted and repelled at the same time Dali felt about sex. By the way, it was painted using a very thin brush that had only 2 pine marten hairs.
One door opens to the left of the old stage of the theater into a room with velvetted walls: the Treasure Room, where Dali placed his most beloved paintings. Did you know the artist was a fan of the classic mythology? One of his favorite stories was that of Queen Leda, seduced by Zeus who disguised himself as a swan. The Queen laid two eggs, each of them containing a couple of twins: two males and two females, two of which were mortal and children of Zeus, and the other two were mortal and children of King Tindario, spouse of Leda.
Salvador Dali was always obsessed about Death, ever since he learned he was named after a dead brother. So in his tortured mind, he pictured that he’d be the immortal son of Leda, while his brother would be represented by the dead elder brother. And what about the female children? Of course, the immortal one had to be his wife Gala. And the mortal one… his sister Ana Maria! (she probably wasn’t too happy to hear that).
La persistencia de la memoria (tapestry)
The original painting of The Persistence of Memory is kept in the MOMA in New York City, but it’s so small that it evokes a totally different feeling when you see this tapestry reproduction hanging over a baroque bed that makes part of an installation designed to make people think it was Dali’s bedroom (but it wasn’t).
The Persistence of Memory is the first time that the famous Salvador Dali clocks appear in his works. Inspired in a French cheese that melted on a hot night while Dali waited for his love to come back, and the clock ticking the seconds away, they are a way to ask time to be soft and gentle for him: him, so scared of death, that is always closer as time goes by. You’ll see how actually the only not-soft clock is covered in ants: one of Dali’s favorite symbols to express his anxiousness.
The Cosmic Athletes (Poetry of America)
Hidden at the bottom of a tiny room in a side of the corridor the upper floor, that’s another easy to miss painting, and yet it is so fascinating. Dali spent the early 1940’s in the US, trying to escape from the horrors of World War 2 in France, where he arrived escaping the precedent Spanish Civil War.
While the country of Freedoms gave him the opportunity to achieve fame and wealth, there were aspects of the local culture that shocked and saddened someone like him, impregnated of the Old Continent style.
This painting is a criticism of the priority given to sport in front of intellectual knowledge, of the atrocious scourge of racism (can you spot a map of Africa crying?), of a society strongly divided between rich and poor (look at the bare foot), as well as an acknowledgement of the development of technology (represented here by a black telephone). By the way, did you know this is the first time a bottle of Coke appears in a piece of artwork even before Andy Warhol made it an icon?
AND BONUS! Discover a spectacular Dali work that is two paintings in one:
Portrait of Abraham Lincoln
What has Abraham Lincoln have to do with Gala naked looking at the sun setting over the Mediterranean? This Dali painting is a double image that becomes one thing or the other depending on from what distance you are looking at it. When you look at it from the former stage of the Theater, you see a large portrait of a nude Gala looking at the sunset through a window.
But surprise! When seen from 20 meters away, the painting turns magically (well, it’s not magic: it’s an optical effect) into a portrait of Abraham Lincoln inspired in the one that illustrates the 5 dollar American bills. The stage room isn’t big enough to let you watch from that far, but a couple of lenses have been installed to reproduce the same effect (or you can spare the euro it costs to use them and just look through your camera or phone).
What are your favorite Salvador Dali paintings?
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