Salvador Dalí 1904–1989
Oil on mahogany panel
220 x 265 mm
Inscribed ‘Gala Salvador Dalí 1936’ lower left
Bequeathed by the Hon. Mrs A.E. Pleydell-Bouverie through the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1968
Purchased from the artist through the Lefevre Gallery, London by The Hon. Mrs A.E. Pleydell-Bouverie, London in 1936.
Forgotten Horizon belongs to a series of beach scenes which Dalí painted between 1934 and 1936. It depicts the beach at Rosas on the Costa Brava in Spain, a place Dalí had visited with his family in his youth. The painting is distinctive for its pale, crepuscular ambiance and for the detail with which Dalí captured its strange array of subjects – a troupe of ballet dancers allegedly copied from a vintage postcard (now lost), the remains of a decrepit boat, a man reclining on the sand, and a mysterious figure striding across the landscape in the background – all on a minute scale. The woman in the background is identifiable as the artist’s cousin, Carolinetta, who appears in several other works from this series, such as Paranoiac Astral Image 1934 (Wadsworth Athenaeum, Connecticut) and Morphological Echo 1936 (The Salvador Dalí Museum, Florida); the latter painting also features the same reclining man included in Forgotten Horizon. The artist depicted his childhood nurse and himself as a child and in several paintings from the same series. Dalí described the figures in these beach paintings as ‘instantaneous’, by which he meant that he intended them to have a near-hallucinatory appearance, as though projected onto a prepared background or theatrical set.
When Forgotten Horizon was exposed to infra red light during examination by conservators at Tate, it became apparent that Dalí had transferred the image of the dancers directly to the painted landscape by outlining their contours and facial features.1 According to Tate conservator Patricia Smithen, Dalí had almost certainly employed this technique in 1935, when the same dance troupe was included in the painting Autumn Puzzle 1935 (The Salvador Dalí Museum, Florida); here, the dancers are the same size as in Forgotten Horizon, but their image is reversed. According to Smithen’s research, it appears that Dalí began by painting the sky, water and sand with all-over white priming. Smithen’s conservation report notes the uniquely fluid paint quality, adding, ‘Dalí either used natural resin on its own or mixed with linseed oil paint to create a more liquid media which could be laid down easily and fluidly with a very small brush.’2 In fact, Dalí had confirmed Smithen’s conclusion in his painting handbook, Fifty Secrets of Magic Craftsmanship (1948):
You will have a third brush, which is the long, thin brush, the best of which are an inch and a half long, with which you will be able to use only mixtures of an extremely liquid consistency. Remember this, for it is already almost a secret: it is only toward the end of the painting that such brushes are to be used, and they are the only ones that may be dipped in opulent media and that can be used to apply the ultimate shadings of those final touches, which must be made with ‘Venetian turpentine’. The movement of this brush is rapid, rhythmical and, as I like to call it, ‘wing-like’.3
‘Wing-like’ is an apt description for the brush movement in Forgotten Horizon, despite the apparent photographic quality of the work’s surface. Viewing Forgotten Horizon under intense magnification reveals a dynamism that might readily be compared to action painting if it were not on such a miniscule scale. The result is loosely reminiscent of the realism of works by Diego Velázquez (1599–1660), which employ similarly quick brushstrokes to create dazzling effects. Dalí was quite aware of this technique and purportedly showed the artist Willem de Kooning (1904–97) some enlarged details of a painting by Velázquez, to which Dalí claimed de Kooning responded, ‘That’s Action Painting raised to the sublime!’4
Elliott H. King
Supported by The AHRC Research Centre for the Study of Surrealism and its Legacies.