Thursday, January 18, 2018
Arts

Paintings on loan bring more to St. Petersburg's Dalí Museum

ST. PETERSBURG

If you haven't revisited the Dalí Museum in a while, the next few months are a good time to do so. Through September, a heroically sized and conceived painting is on loan from the Beaverbrook Art Gallery in Canada.

Santiago El Grande is indeed grand, measuring about 10 by 13 feet. In it Saint James, the patron saint of Spain, emerges from the sea riding a white horse and brandishing a large crucifix instead of a sword. Behind him, a Gothic architectural construction bursts with flashes of light and misty figures. In the foreground is the artist's wife and muse Gala as witness, staring pensively from a dense, shroud-like garment.

That background resonates at the Dalí Museum. It resembles the Glass Enigma, architect Yann Weymouth's cascading glass construction that pays homage to the geodesic dome Dalí built onto the roof of his museum in Figueras, Spain.

But it's only a resemblance. Dalí modeled it on a logarithmic version of the jasmine flower, his favorite fragrance, and he also positions a jasmine blossom in the center of the atomic maelstrom created by the horse's hooves. (Dalí was intensely interested in atomic theory.) The animal's harness is clasped with a scallop shell, Saint James' emblem.

The proportions and scale add to the painting's grandeur. Compared to the figure of Gala and the boulders, Santiago and his steed appear larger than life, poised on what looks like the edge of the world. The struts of the architectural element, which is also immense, converge at the spot behind Santiago's head, and he's illuminated by light emanating from the crucifix. Though the sea is calm, the sky roils with activity. The painting's near-monochromatic blue palette adds to the drama that seems to prefigure Saint James' ascent to heaven led by Christ.

It was painted in 1957, one of the early works in a group known as masterworks because of their size. Except for the double image of angels on the horse's neck — the optical illusion was a visual trick at which Dalí was a master — it's a painting in the grand tradition of 15th and 16th century High Renaissance art with its luminous colors and classically rendered subjects.

Dalí sold the painting to Lady Dunn, widow of Sir James Dunn; the couple had been among his patrons for more than a decade before Lord Dunn died in 1956. The story might be apocryphal, but the two men were said to have met in the 1940s while dining at the same restaurant. Dalí reportedly stared for a long time at Lord Dunn and finally approached him, declaring him to be the incarnation of a Roman Caesar. And that's how Dalí eventually painted him in a portrait that's also on loan at the museum. Its pendant (or companion painting) is a portrait of Lady Dunn.

Few of Dalí's commissioned portraits rise to the same aesthetic level as his other work, and these are not among them. Dalí never seemed able to translate his surrealist vision into that genre. Those of Gala were always the exceptions. Good portraiture requires the artist to be aesthetically passive-aggressive: Go for a mind-meld empathy with the subject while holding fast to the egotism necessary to staying true to one's own vision. Dalí was probably far too self-absorbed for such psychological probes and sympathetic depth on another's behalf. With Gala, emotional bridges were unnecessary; they were already of one mind.

Dalí subtitled Lord Dunn's painting La Turbie, referencing the city in southwest France where Emperor Augustus, founder of the Roman Empire, built a famous monument to his conquests. Though possessed of technical virtuosity, it borders on caricature. Dunn, wearing a noble expression, also wears what is surely intended to be a majestic garment. Instead, it resembles a gold lamé bathrobe more suited to Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas than the Roman Forum. He lounges, with soigné nonchalance, impervious to the occasional conceptual giggle. He loved it.

Lady Dunn's portrait is not quite the mashup of solemnity and kitsch. She sits side-saddle, holding a falcon, in a forest clearing from which woodland animals — a rabbit, deer, frog and squirrel — peek. But look at the horse! Is there not a merry, even ironic, twinkle in its eye? I hear steed whispering: "Ain't she grand?"

Perhaps telling is that Dalí Museum founders Reynolds and Eleanor Morse never commissioned portraits from him. They preferred to collect paintings that came from his imagination. And so we have some of his best work in the St. Petersburg museum. Number Santiago El Grande, though here only temporarily, in that category, too.

Lennie Bennett can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8293.

 
Comments
‘Woke’ artists return to Tampa, explore Steven Kenny’s surrealist landscapes

‘Woke’ artists return to Tampa, explore Steven Kenny’s surrealist landscapes

TWO-FER: UTOPIAS AND UNFILTEREDMark Thomas Gibson and William Villalongo are New York-based artists whose individual work explores the black experience in America, in both historical and personal contexts. Their work was showcased in the powerful but...
Published: 01/17/18
The Ringling’s ‘Aftermath’ photography exhibit shows horrors after war

The Ringling’s ‘Aftermath’ photography exhibit shows horrors after war

SARASOTAThere’s no question that war is hell, but as a civilian living in a country that hasn’t had a war on its soil in many, many years, images of the horrors of war can easily be avoided.Not only the act of war itself, but the consequences of it, ...
Published: 01/10/18
Cuba/US relations are explored at CAM and Cass gets Naughty by Nature at the Epicurean

Cuba/US relations are explored at CAM and Cass gets Naughty by Nature at the Epicurean

Societal Shifts: Climate ChangeThe new exhibition opening Friday at USF’s Contemporary Art Museum is not concerned with the hot button issue you’re thinking of. Instead, in "Climate Change: Cuba/USA," Cuban and Cuban-American artists explore the rece...
Published: 01/05/18
Updated: 01/10/18
Best of 2017: 10 phenomenal art exhibits from this year

Best of 2017: 10 phenomenal art exhibits from this year

At the close of a year that many are referring to as a dumpster fire, it’s actually refreshing to look back at the great visual art exhibitions shown in Tampa Bay in 2017. While a few were political in nature or included pieces that were, the e...
Published: 01/03/18
Updated: 01/04/18
Find your favorite author’s portrait at the library, and donate your art to make room for new ones in Downtown Dunedin

Find your favorite author’s portrait at the library, and donate your art to make room for new ones in Downtown Dunedin

WELL READ: LITERARY HEROESEvery artists needs a muse, and Sarasota artist Mike Hanlon’s are the world’s great authors. So it’s fitting that Hanlon’s exhibition of large-scale portraits, "Literary Heroes,e_SDRq is on display in Kotler Art Gallery at t...
Updated one month ago
Six local art exhibits you were too busy to see during the holidays

Six local art exhibits you were too busy to see during the holidays

The threshold of a new year is a good time to catch the art exhibitions you may have been too busy to check out. Here are few suggestions. TAMPA MUSEUM OF ART 120 W Gasparilla Plaza, Tampa; (813)421-8380; tampamuseum.org. TMA has several exhibits ...
Updated one month ago
New Port Richey gallery exhibit features local photography

New Port Richey gallery exhibit features local photography

NEW PORT RICHEY — The Gateway Gallery and Emporium on Grand Boulevard starts off the new year with a new exhibit featuring the digital photography of David J. Wright. An opening reception will be held Jan. 5 at the studio. The varied works of 24 gal...
Updated one month ago
Established and emerging photographers at FMoPA and new exhibits open at the Polk Museum

Established and emerging photographers at FMoPA and new exhibits open at the Polk Museum

PHOTO OP: FOURTH FRIDAY AT FMOPAThe Florida Museum of Photographic Arts in Tampa is a great asset to the arts community. Not only do they show important works from established photographers, but they also give their members the opportunity to show an...
Updated one month ago