The Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí
announce that it has acquired the work by Salvador Dalí: Étude pour Le miel est plus douce que la sang, at the auction which took place at Christies London, on February, 9th, 2011 at 10pm, for a final price of £4,073,250.
The work, lot 106 of the auction catalogue, an oil on wood from 1926-1927 representing one the first surrealist works of the artist, is a complete study for the painting of 1927 Honey is sweeter than blood today disappeared.
One of the very first of Dalí's Surreal paintings, Study for Honey is Sweeter than Blood is a landmark work that, along with Little Ashes (Museo Nacional Reina Sofia, Madrid) and Apparatus and Hand (Salvador Dalí Museum, St Petersburg, Florida) represents Dalí's first mature articulation of the neurotic dream-like imagery for which he is best known. A fully completed study for the painting that was arguably Dalí's most ambitious, complex and successful work to date - the now lost painting of 1927 Honey is Sweeter than Blood believed to be destroyed - this painting represents a fusion of important influences and the first pictorial rendering of several key and recurring Dalínean motifs. An apparent beach scene reminiscent also of the Empurdan plains where so many of Dalí's hallucinatory dream-like paintings would be set, here, motifs of rotting donkeys, 'tender amputations', sleeping heads, decapitated corpses, constructivist gadgets, needles casting long de Chirico-esque shadows, varicose veins and levitating breasts, all combine to form a manic and fascinating landscape of fetishistic mystery and imagination.
The painting was made at a time, when the twenty-three-year-old Dalí, having already worked through the influence of Picasso and De Chirico, was now enthralled with the creative and poetic potential offered by Surrealism, especially automatism, and was fast assimilating the influences of the movement's painters; Miró, Ernst and Tanguy. Dalí's paintings Honey is Sweeter than Blood and Apparatus and Hand - two works that owed most to this new combination of influences - were the two paintings he chose to represent his new direction at the 1927 Autumn Salon in Barcelona where their bizarre and disturbing imagery duly caused a scandal. In a defensive article that Dalí wrote at this time published in the October issue of L'Amic de les Arts, he acknowledged the role of the subconscious on his work and admitted admiring the work of Miró and Tanguy. He wrote that he had indeed been experimenting with an automatism in the creation of these works, but nevertheless sought to assert his distance at this time from Surrealism. Reliant on spontaneous subconscious impulse he declared that his work was positioned in an essentially 'new orbit, equidistant from Cubism and Surrealism on the one hand and a primitive art such as Brueghel's on the other' (Salvador Dalí, 'Letter to José Maira Junoy', quoted in I. Gibson, The Shameful Life of Salvador Dalí, London, 1997, p. 162). Indeed, the inclusion of a reproduction of Breughel's famous painting from the Prado, The Triumph of Death in the same issue of L'Amic de les Arts in which Dalí published his defence and an illustration of his painting Honey is Sweeter than Blood appeared gives a strong hint that Dalí recognised a visual correlation between these two works.
Aside from Parisian Surrealism and Brueghel however, the primary, overriding and determining influence on both Honey is Sweeter than Blood and Study for Honey is Sweeter than Blood was that of Dalí's closest friend and confidant at this time, the poet Frederico Garcia Lorca. Lorca had spent the month of July with Dalí in Cadaqués and it was he who gave these works their original title of 'The Wood of Gadgets' while also seeming to have inspired their later title writing to Dalí about the headless female corpse that appears in both paintings that, 'the dissected woman is the most beautiful poem about blood you can create' (Frederico Garcia Lorca, letter to Dalí quoted in F. Fanés Salvador Dalí: The Construction of the Image 1925-1930 , London, 2007, p. 67).
The phrase 'honey is sweeter than blood' is one that seems to have haunted Dalí at this time. It crops up in numerous instances in his life, its most notable appearance perhaps being in his book The Secret Life of Salvador Dalí where as Dawn Ades has pointed out, Dalí describes the solitary pleasure of masturbation as 'sweeter than honey' while Lorca is said to have regarded sexual intercourse as a fearful 'jungle of blood' (D. Ades, Dalí, The Centenary Retrospective, London, 2005, p. 90). Fear of sex and the female along with the guilt, pleasure and addiction of masturbation are constant themes running through much of Dalí's work of this period culminating in his 1929 paintings The Lugubrious Game and The Great Masturbator. Here, in Study for Honey is Sweeter than Blood such fetishistic motifs appear to be being born on the grey sandy beach-like plain cutting across the picture plain after the mutilation of a female corpse. It is Lorca's face too that appears in this work as a decapitated double-sided head split in two and dissecting its mysterious diagonal borderline of sea-bed/plain and sea/sky.
At the heart of Lorca's influence on these paintings however, stands his and Dalí's shared obsession with Saint Sebastian. Already having informed much of Dalí's work, the poet and the painter had developed a kind of coded language of association about the Saint, both recognising a part of themselves and each other in the story of this agonised martyr. Here, the cold, geometric machine-like needles or eye tacks puncturing the skin-like surface of the plain echo the nature of Sebastian's martyrdom, while the split head seems to indicate a notion of a one-person duality in the form of Dalí and Lorca. In the final painting Dalí's own visage appears on the head lying near the headless female corpse, while here, the sleeping head simultaneously bordering land and sky seems to anticipate the later soft sleeping heads able to transcend different realms and realities that Dalí frequently depicted in his work of the late 1920s and early '30s. The veins and blood vessels visible in the top half of this head are echoed elsewhere in the picture on other truncated limbs, sprouting like a forest and also in what appears to be a small shoal of red fish swimming in the sky-like sea. This predisposition towards diagrammatic tree-like veins appears, like most the elements of this painting, in different but extended form in Apparatus and Hand and are derived from Dalí's fascination with an illustration in an advertisement for a cure for varicose veins. With their coral-like forms, they also echo the use of red coral as a symbol of Christ's blood in much Spanish religious painting.
Continuing the pervasive theme of a painful collusion between cold hard-edged mechanical form and soft, blood giving flesh, the central image of this picture is a decapitated female corpse with truncated arms and legs pouring blood into the soil which elsewhere seems to sprout into vein-like trees. This, along with the fetishistic image of a pair of disembodied breasts, perhaps another symbol of martyrdom referring to that of Saint Agatha, is also seemingly attacked by metallic needles and shown floating in the sky, while the arms of the corpse are seemingly depicted in a dual state of growth and decay on the beach. Reminiscent of a number of 'headless women' created by Max Ernst at this time, the mutilation of the female nude is a clear anti-art act and symbol, but also one celebrated here as an apparent source of life-blood and creativity. Nearby and in direct contrast, lies another anti-art symbol: one of the quintessential Dalínean images of putrefaction: the rotting donkey.
Perhaps most familiar now from its appearance in Dalí and Buñuel's shocking first feature film Le Chien andalou, the image of the rotting donkey carcass surrounded by flies was a staple of many of Dalí's pictures in the 1920s. A symbol of horror and repulsion and of the ugliness of reality with which avant-garde artists wished to challenge the complacency and bourgeois values of the traditional society they abhorred, the rotting donkey invokes a rich seam of satire known as 'the putrefact', that, as Dawn Ades has pointed out, was 'mined in numerous drawings by the group in the Residencia de Estudiantes in Madrid which included Dalí, Lorca and Pepin Bello who was credited with inventing the term... The origin of the 'putrefying' donkey itself lies in a sentimental tale by the 'arch putrefact' as Dalí called him, the poet Juan Ramon Jimenez (whose) Platero y Yo recounts the life and death of a beloved donkey' (ibid, p. 92). Here, as it was to appear in numerous other Dalí works, the artist has depicted this donkey decomposing into the soil of the painting surrounded by flies - another hard and horrifying anti-artistic symbol of the dark, nightmarish side of life, not usually associated with fine art.
As Dalí was also at pains to point out in an article he wrote about these works in 1928 however, all this horror takes place not in the real world, but within the magical realm of the picture plane. 'We can verify,' he wrote, 'that the decapitated figures live their perfect, organic life, they rest in the shadow of the bloodiest vegetation without getting bloodstained, and they go on stretching out naked on the sharpest, spikiest surfaces of very special marble, without risk of death' (Salvador Dalí, 'Nous limits de la pintura', 1928, quoted in Feliz Fanés Salvador Dalí: The Construction of the Image 1925-1930, London, 2007, p. 67).
He also goes on to point out that, within this poetical realm, like that of the subconscious, such haunting and powerful images exist autonomously and for their own sake. 'Do we still have to recall' he asks, 'that the life of creatures populating the surface of canvases and the world of poetry obeys conditions of life different from creatures populating the surface of the earth? That plastic and poetic physiology is not the physiology of living beings? That the plastic or poetic of life of a painting or of a poem obeys other laws than those of the circulation of the blood? That in the plastic or poetic world, a decapitated figure is not a figure without a head?' (Salvador Dalí, quoted in ibid., p. 67).