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Salvador Dali Foundation Exhibits Recently Acquired Sketch Made for the Marx Brothers
Salvador Dalí (1904-1989), Le piano surréaliste, signed and dated 'Dalí 37' (lower left) charcoal heightened with white chalk on paper, 24 5/8 x 18¾ in. (62.5 x 47.6 cm.) Executed in 1937.

PUBOL.- The Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí has presented their latest acquisition by the Surrealist artist: a drawing made from carbon and pastels titled The Surrealist Piano, which can be seen in Púbol until September 30.

Since 1991, the Fundación Dalí has undertaken an intense axquisition program, which has added up more than 300 works of art to the collection. The acquisitions amount to more than 30 million Euros and this money has been generated from its own operations.

The Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí acquired the work in an auction held at Christie’s in London on June 23, 2009. The work was previously owned by the Marx brothers and its final prize was 310,000 Euros.

When Dalí returned to the United States in 1936 (the first time he went there two years before), he did it to participate in the anthological exhibition Fantastic Art Dada and Surrealism, organized the Museum of Modern Art in New York as well as for his individual exhibition at Julien Levy’s gallery. In his declarations, Dalí does not hide the fascination he feels towards the works by the Marx brothers and more concrete, by the figure of Harpo Marx, whom he wants to paint. Harpo Marx invites Dalí to paint him, as can be read in this telegraph message which he sent to the painter on January 31 of 1937:

«Dear Salvador Dalí: I have received a telegram from Jo Forrestal saying that you are interested in me as a victim. Fascinated by the idea. The movie I am filming will be finished in six weeks. If you come to the West, I would be happy to be painted by you. I have a counteroffer: ¿Will you pose for me while I pose for you? Happy new year from a great admirer of the Persistence of Memory».

That was how, in January of 1937, Dalí travelled to the West Coast. Previously, he had sent the actor a harp, and it was this way that both appeared —one playing the harp and the other taking notes— in the Los Angeles Examiner in February of 1937. During the breaks in the filming of the Marx brothers’ A Day at the Races, the wrote with Dalí the script of a film that would have lasted thirty minutes, and of which there are some notes, a typewritten synopsis and several skectches. The Surrealist Piano, the work presented recently is one of them.

The Surrealist Piano incorporates several typical Dalinean themes, from the phallic cypress tree reminiscent of Böcklin's Island of the Dead erupting through a piano, to the figure of a naked woman with the face of a clock. The scenario that the picture describes is the embracing of the 'Surrealist Woman' 'photographed from behind, or in circumstances where the face is hidden, in order to increase the enigmatic atmosphere of her personality' by the film's central character 'Jimmy' (Salvador Dalí, 'The Surrealist Woman': unpublished Marx brothers film scenario, 1937 reproduced in R. Descharnes, Salvador Dali, New York, 1984, p. 158). For Jimmy, as for Dalí, the Surrealist Woman personifies a 'world of fantasy, dreams and the imagination'; her friends are Harpo, Groucho and Chico Marx. In The Surrealist Piano, the Surrealist Woman is embraced at the piano which simultaneously serves a sacred spring filling a lake while at the top of the picture, in a scene that anticipates Dali's later work on the Hitchcock film Spellbound, a landscape where a lone figure and long mysterious shadows extend steeply towards a horizon.

Recalling such earlier paintings as Three Young Surrealist Women Holding in their Arms the skins of an Orchestra of 1936 and Necrophilic Fountain Flowing from a Grand Piano of 1933, The Surrealist Piano, with its embracing couple standing at the meeting point of a cello-shaped pool and a dissolving grand piano, is both a typical Dalinean dreamscape, and a rare testament to the brief but fascinating collaboration between two of the most imaginative surrealist imaginations of the Twentieth Century.

'And on Fifth Avenue Harpo Marx has just lighted the fuse that projects from the behinds of a flock of expensive giraffes stuffed with dynamite. They run in all directions, sowing panic and obliging everyone to seek refuge pell-mell within the shops. All the fire-alarms of the city have just been turned on, but it is already too late. Boom! Boom! I salute you explosive giraffes of New York and all you fore-runners of the irrational -Mack Sennett, Harry Langdon, and you too, unforgettable Buster Keaton, tragic and delirious like my rotten and mystic donkeys, desert roses of Spain' (Salvador Dalí, 'Projected Extract from 'Giraffes on Horseback Salad', in The Secret Life of Salvador Dalí, New York, 1942, p. 332).

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August 31, 2009

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