Chapter 40. The Case of the Developing Dalí
The promotional activities of unscrupulous and uninformed art dealers and their associates when it comes to selling authentic graphic works of Salvador Dalí have been well documented. So have the ethically questionable activities of Dalí himself in promoting his brand and celebrity. Art historians and investigative journalists have long suggested that Dalí, especially in his later years, signed whether knowingly or unknowingly blank sheets of paper, effectively giving control to others of imagery purporting to be his.
Several weeks ago, I was asked to appraise a lithograph for purposes of donation. The artwork was signed and dated Dalí 1957 in the plate, editioned and numbered 210/300 in pencil outside the image, and signed Dalí in pencil outside the image lower right. My client indicated that he and his wife had purchased the item while on their honeymoon in Vienna, Austria, in the mid-1980s.
The image appears to be based on an oil painting by Raphael, entitled The Sistine Madonna, and is the same painting from which those two annoyingly adorable putti have so often been appropriated and reproduced on everything from coffee cups to mouse pads.
The lithograph that my client purchased is not found in the official catalogue raisonné of Dalís graphic work and is probably a first or second state of a lithograph known as Madonne, from a series of 12 lithographs reproduced in the book Don Quichotte de la Mancha by Cervantes.
Since this is a first or second state of the finished lithograph, this piece is, I believe, considered unfinished and is not part of the official edition. The lower part of the image does not exhibit imagery depicted in the final version. If we look closely, we can see that the circular billowing motifs in the lower part of the image do not similarly appear as in the final version. This suggests that the image was further reworked, which is a process typical in the making of lithographs. The colour in the two versions is also very different.
The question arises as to the nature of the Dalí graphic my client was led to believe he was purchasing. Generally speaking, artists do not sign, edition and number first or second states of their work because these are interim states of the final product. Typically, these pieces are destroyed to ensure the aesthetic autonomy of the final edition, after the edition has been printed.
So, while the lithograph in question has all the signatures and edition and printing numbers required to give it the appearance of authenticity and legitimacy, it does not have the official seal of approval, usually achieved by inclusion in the official catalogue raisonné.
The possible scenarios leading to the production of a signed, editioned and numbered first- or second-state lithograph are the subject of conjecture and speculation as are the reasons for its sale as a recognized Dalí work.
Next: The Case of the Irish Surrealist