The Male Form / Salvador Dalí (1904-1989) Le jugement de Paris 59 1/8 x 39 11/16 in. (150.2 x 100.8 cm.) (Executed in 1966.)
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The authenticity of this work has kindly been confirmed by Monsieur Nicolas Descharnes.
Private collection (acquired from the artist on January 23, 1989).
Private collection, Spain.
Private collection, Barcelona; their sale, Bonhams London, June 24, 2015, lot 37.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
Executed on a grand scale, the present work illustrates the Judgment of Paris, a story from Greek mythology which opens with the marriage celebration of Peleus and Thetis. The banquet was held in their honor by Zeus, who chose not to invite Eris, the goddess of discord; angered by this decision she arrived unannounced and threw a golden apple into the gathering, upon which was the inscription 'for the fairest one'. Three goddesses made to claim the prize – Hera, Athena and Aphrodite. Asked to mediate, Zeus declined to judge the women and instead nominated Paris, a prince of Troy, to choose the fairest maiden. Each woman appeared before him and attempted to lure him with gifts of favor – Paris finally awarded the golden apple to Aphrodite based on her promise to him of the world's most beautiful woman, Helen of Troy. His subsequent abduction of her led to the infamous Trojan War.
The present work depicts the three goddesses ringed together and filling much of the composition, the golden apple in their midst, whilst the young Paris stands to one side with a hand clasped to his chest. Executed in 1966, Salvador Dalí had previously explored this myth at several points in the 1960s in both print form and pencil – in each of these variants however Paris was a more minor figure, appearing only in the corner of the composition. In his exploration of this Greek myth Dalí joined an illustrious historical lineage of its representation in art, whether by Peter Paul Rubens, Lucas Cranach the Elder or Pierre-Auguste Renoir.
The perhaps surprising choice of subject for the notoriously controversial and surreal artist has been viewed by some as a natural reaction to the changing art market after the Second World War. By the 1960s, when the present work was executed, Dalí found that American collectors in particular were turning away from the earlier popular Surrealism: 'My surrealist glory was worthless. I must incorporate surrealism in tradition. My imagination must become classic again' (S. Dalí quoted in M. A. Caws, Salvador Dalí, London, 2008, p. 144). Many artists looked to legends, whether classical or newly invented, for inspiration, and in the post-war landscape 'myths of the classical world had provided a rich source of images and narratives. Ancient Greece in particular was viewed in Arcadian terms as a place of light, love, sensuality, harmony and reason' (D. Ades & F. Bradley, Salvador Dalí: A Mythology, exh. cat., Liverpool, 1998, p. 120).
Indeed Dalí turned time and time again to the classical world for inspiration. From the 1940s onwards he executed a number of monumental compositions including Leda Atomica from 1949, Hercule soulevant la peau de la mer demande à Vénus d'attendre un instant avant d'éveiller l'Amour from 1963 and an unfinished work from 1979 which repeats the grouping of the three goddesses, Trois grâces de Canova. The artist felt a personal affinity with the Greek romantic myths, regarding himself and his beloved wife Gala as 'the incarnations of the Dioscuri, the heavenly twins born of Leda's divine egg' (R. Descharnes & G. Néret, Salvador Dalí 1904 - 1989, The Paintings, Volume II, 1946 – 1989, Cologne, 2007, pp. 432 - 433). In Leda Atomica Gala is elevated through Dalí's eyes to the mythological queen of Sparta, seated regally on a pedestal with the swan suspended behind her.
In Le jugement de Paris Dalí confirms his skill as a draughtsman and demonstrates that virtuosity which was praised by Jean-Louis Ferrier after viewing Leda Atomica: 'The artist's painstaking craftsmanship goes hand in hand with a polymorphous grasp of culture which includes traditional disciplines of knowledge as well as contemporary science' (J. L. Ferrier quoted in R. Descharnes & G. Néret, op. cit., 2007, p. 427). The present work shows just this contrast of traditional and modern techniques: the goddesses and prince are drawn with confident, loose spirals of pencil, breathing a sense of life and vitality into the figures. These graphite loops then break free from the women's feet and unfurl down the composition, joining curls of white crayon and contrasting to the adjacent pink and blue color fields. These bold pigments have been sprayed onto the card, and the delicate blue mist leads our eye back up to the sea and sky which form the backdrop to the classical tableau.
Dalí's use of differing techniques was typical of the experimental artist, who constantly sought new and innovative methods and media. In his 6th November 1957 entry in Diary of a Genius he wrote of a picture he had painted without physically touching the canvas with the brush, and of his joy at the apparently accidental results: 'Standing at a distance of more than three feet from my easel, I projected the colors which splattered onto the canvas. The extraordinary thing was that not a spot was out of place. Each splatter was immaculate' (S. Dalí quoted in R. Descharnes & G. Néret, op. cit., 2007, p. 527).
The setting for Le jugement de Paris is more delicately rendered in detailed watercolor with a tight focus on the sea, fishermen and mountains. This familiar background evokes Port Lligat, the artist's Spanish hometown where he lived on and off from 1930 to 1984. A small, little-known fishing village located on a bay, it was his and Gala's only stable residence and formed the backdrop for much of his oeuvre. Appearing in masterpieces such as Leda Atomica from 1949, Corpus Hypercubus of 1954 and La cène from 1955, Dalí often imbued Port Lligat with mythical status in compositions such as the present work, or celestial, where he populates the cove with angels in various views of the port in 1958 and 1959. In Le jugement de Paris Dalí thus contemporizes and makes the Greek myth his own, situating the legend in the place closest to his heart: 'I am home only here; everywhere else I am camping out' (S. Dalí quoted in I. Gibson, The Shameful Life of Salvador Dalí, London, 1997, p. 444).