SALVADOR DALI (1904 – 1989)
Original pen and ink drawing on paper, c 1951
31 x 23cm
The thunderous horseman is one of Dali’s most attractive and well-loved motifs, and we are thrilled to have this excellent example in the gallery. This ink on paper original drawing, 31 x 23cm, is dedicated to his beloved cousin Montserrat and is drawn with Dali’s expert draftsmanship, in the height of his career, c.1951.
Salvador Dali had exceptional technical skills, which he developed early on in his career as a student. His painting of a bread basket (‘Basket of Bread’, 1926), done in his early twenties, is in the hyper-real style, and looks so realistic that you feel could take the bread out of the painting and eat it! This raw talent is what makes free-hand sketches, like this one of the horse and rider, so instantly moving. The elegance of the horse and rider pair, with the composed rider, balanced against the constrained potential of the horse, bursts with energy and movement, which is portrayed with just a few strokes of Dali’s skilled and adept pen.
The use of the horse in his paintings started in the 1930’s (‘Invisible Sleeping Woman, Horse, Lion’, 1930 and ‘The Horseman of Death’, 1935) when he was part of Andre Breton’s Surrealist group. There are many pen and ink drawings of the horse and rider pair done in this period, one of which is in the famous MoMA (Museum of Modern Art) in New York (‘Cavalier of Death’, 1934)
There are several repeating features in a “Dali Horse”, and we are thrilled that the sketch in the gallery contains many them. One is the upright curling tail of the horse held high and proud.
Another is the circular segmenting of the horse’ s body giving it shape and movement.
The rider characteristically has flowing curly hair and holds a lance.
Have a look at the work above, and spot these features in the work.
At the heart of the surrealist movement, after the horrors of WWI was the desire to rebel from the disorder, and to shock. Dali grabbed hold of this ethos and continued it his whole life, always looking for the unconventional, and seeking attention through bizarre and outlandish activities and statements. For his relatively conservative and traditional Spanish Catholic family, this was rather hard to understand and accept, and through some of the more dramatically shocking acts, Dali often pushed the people he loved the most away. It is hard to grasp who Salvador Dali really was, underneath all the show and bravado. This artwork, dedicated to his cousin, is particularly touching because she was one of the only members of his family that he remained close to throughout his life. He painted her when he was a student, and she was the only relative at his funeral. He certainly cared for her very much, and this is reflected in the inscription (in Spanish) ‘For my cousin Montserrat, with a kiss and greeting’.
Despite the fraught relations with his family, Dali was proud of his Spanish heritage and even tried (rather dubiously) to link his family tree back to the Spanish literary legend, Miguel de Cervantes. Cervantes masterpiece, ‘Don Quixote’ (1605), was illustrated by Dali in 1946 (Random House), and it remains Dali’s most celebrated and sought after publication. Full of the horse and rider figures seen in the sketch here at the gallery, Dali’s surrealist tone was perfect for the muddle-headed anti-hero of the book, who confuses windmills for giants, and humble inns for castles. Don Quixote, roams Spain on his beloved horse, Rocinante, and armed with his lance, fights the world in defence of honour and valour. In Don Quixote’s mind, he looks just like the proud young horse and rider in Dali’s sketch here at the gallery, although in a delightfully Surrealist manner, Don Quixote is very much in the autumn years of his life, and Rocinante is too – being rather elderly and boney. It is remarkable that Cervantes humour has lasted so brilliantly over the years. When I read the book recently, I was laughing out loud at the farcical events told with perfect comic timing and amazed to find that even 400 years ago, enthusiastic young students were arguing over every last detail to the point of distraction, as wryly observed by the teasing narrator. It is pleasing that the sketch we have here at the gallery was drawn after Dali’s celebrated illustrations of the hapless and time-immortalised duo, as the sketch we have is clearly recognisable in the 1946 illustrations, and comes from a hand practised at depicting a horse and rider. Don Quixote’s influence continues to live on through the passages of time.
Saddle up, and come and be amazed by the technically excellent and surreally magnificent horse and rider, with it’s touching dedication.
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