SALVADOR DALÍ (1904-1989)
SALVADOR DALÍ (1904-1989)
SALVADOR DALÍ (1904-1989)
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SALVADOR DALÍ (1904-1989)

Leda Atomica, primer dibujo (first drawing)

22 3/8 x 18 ½ in. (56.7 x 46.9 cm.)
Valentina 'Vala' Byfield, New York; sold by her estate, Parke-Bernet Galleries, New York, 16 December 1970, lot 58.
Private collection, United States, by whom acquired at the above sale.
S. Dalí & M. Gérard, Dalí de Draeger, Paris, 1968, no. 40 (illustrated).
New York, Gallery of Modern Art, Huntington Hartford Collection, Salvador Dalí, 1910-1965, December 1965 - February 1966, p. 5.
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The authenticity of this work has been confirmed by Nicolas Descharnes.


Olivier Camu
Olivier Camu Deputy Chairman, Senior International Director


In November 1947, the exhibition ‘New Paintings by Salvador Dalí’ opened at the Bignou Gallery in New York. In the catalogue for the show Dalí proclaimed that, at the age of forty-four, he now believed it was his duty to start painting masterpieces, the first of which would be his grand composition Leda Atomica, then making its public debut at the exhibition in a draft stage. The artist executed a number of precise sketches and studies in preparation for the final painting, exploring the divine proportions conceived by Luca Paccioli in the 15th century and the theories of the Romanian mathematician Matila Ghyka, in order to create a work that was rooted in compositional harmony. As is clear from the inscription in the lower right corner of the present drawing, Leda Atomica, primer dibujo (first drawing) is the first of these studies the artist completed for the painting, focusing on the lithe form of the central figure, here shown floating against the open space of the page.

Casting his wife and muse, Gala, in the title role, Dalí creates an ethereal vision of Leda who, according to legend, was seduced by Zeus in the form of a swan. While her nude form is shown seated, she appears completely weightless, as she twists her body to the left, gazing at her outstretched hand where, in the final painting, the swan’s head rests. Eschewing the more carnal vision of the story favoured by painters such as Paolo Veronese and Peter Paul Rubens, Dalí instead focuses on a more serene rendering of the spiritual connection between the pair in Leda Atomica. The myth occupied an important position in the artist’s imagination – Dalí felt a deep affinity to Leda’s offspring, believing that he and Gala were twin souls in a similar manner to the twins that resulted from her passionate interaction with Zeus. In the present drawing, Dalí alludes to this by prominently positioning Gala’s wedding band, a symbol of their union, on her left hand as it curves around towards the viewer.

Using a mixture of sanguine, pen and ink in the present composition, Dalí displays his remarkable skills as a draughtsman, portraying the sinuous curves of Gala’s body with a classic purity that harks back to the drawings of Leonardo Da Vinci and Jean-Dominique Ingres. While classically-inspired motifs and subjects had first begun to make their presence felt in Dali’s work following a sojourn in Italy during the late 1930s, they gained a new prominence in the wake of the Second World War, as news of the atomic bomb forced the artist to reconsider his understanding of the world. Indeed, the dawning of the Nuclear age had prompted in Dalí a new awareness of the innate immateriality of matter, its ability to be in constant flux and disintegration at the same time, a revelation which led him to believe in an inherent mysticism at the heart of all existence. This ‘Nuclear Metaphysics’ manifests itself in Leda Atomica and its studies in the manner in which everything appears to be held in a strange state of suspension, floating independently from one another, never touching, the space between their forms charged with an unknown energy.

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