Salvador Dali was born shortly after the motor car, in 1904. His family did not posses a car and it was not until 1941 that he acquired one, a Cadillac
. After that time Dali remained faithful to the marque, even though he never drove.
In the artistic manner, it was the appearance of a car that attracted or repelled him, and despite his passion for science and technology he totally ignored the technicalities. Cars were never one of his major obsessions, but they did feature in some of his paintings, and would form the inspiration for some pages in his extensive writings.
Cadillac de Gala
General Motors, having launched a Cadillac de Luxe with great commercial success, decided to introduce an even more sophisticated and more expensive model. Dali was asked to launch the new Cadillac, and immediately suggested it should be called the Cadillac de Gala - an impressive name that was synonymous with the artist's obsesssions.
He followed up his idea with a ballpoint sketch on St. Regis Hotel notepaper. Dali's proposed model was full of interest, but it did not lend itself to volume production. Dali used a then current Cadillac for his basis, then draped it with a metallic violet shell which hid the roof and the body-sides, leaving only the windows visible. The result, a real gala car, and sketched in five minutes.
There was no contact from General Motors after Dali sent them the sketch, but a year or two later a new model was introduced, the Cadillac de Gala! But only the name was used - none of the other novelties that Dali had suggested. Dali assembled his lawyers and consultants, then sent GM an ultimatum - $10,000 for the name (in Dali's arithmetic, $10,000 was the unit with which you started counting), or litigation. The next morning a registered letter arrived from GM, containing a cheque for $10,000, but without any explanation.
The version of the story Dali told Robert Desschames was substantially the same, the $10,000 cheque, and so on, but with the detail: During preliminary discussions with General Motors the corporation put forward the argument that they could use the most diverse names, citing the model that carried the name of a horse. Dali then demanded that his lawyers ask GM if the horse had written!
Extract from Visages caches - 'Hidden faces' 1944-45. A novel written by Dali after buying his first Cadillac.
'Tell me, mother, did you go and look at the streamlined car you promised me?'
'Yes, but I didn't like it at all'
, replied Barbara uncompromisingly.
'Why not, mother?'
'Because it's like you... It's too naked, and really embarassing to look at. Too many curves, too many bumps, too many bottoms, too much everything! I told the salesman I would take it only if it could delivered dressed. He seemed flabbergasted, so I explained to him I found it too naked. It must be covered with a tarpaulin cut on the lines of a tartan suit!'
Barbara approached her daughter, seeming not to notice her nudity any more, and continued in exalted fashion:
'Wouldn't it be amusing - a dress shop for cars! Very elaborate evening dresses, with low-cut bosoms t show of the radiators emerging from a froth of organdy, and long satin trains for gala evenings. That would automatically reflect our fashion collections: winter, spring, summer and autumn. Convertibles in ermine with the door-handles covered in sealskin, and bison sleeves around thc radiators. Can't you just see the feet of our Cadillac would have driving across a frozen landscape near Leningrad?'
Salvador Dali's Solitude Paranoiaque Critique
painted at Port Lligat on olive wood panel (7.5 x 9 in/19 x 23 cm), 1935.
For this desolate, rocky landscape, Dali chose an Edwardian-type car, half-smothered by flowering plants, amalgamated with the cliff, both of which share a large aperture. Then, on the left, in paranoic style, the car image is faithfully repeated in silhouette, hollowed-out in the rocks. The aperture of the right-hand re-appears on the left as a separate rock slab, suspended like a cut-out. The picture's optical discomfort springs from the contradiction between the projection of the cliffs to the left, and the emptiness in the right-hand rocks.
1941 - Gala in front of her first car
Gala in front of her first car, a special Cadillac, and one of the first to have automatic transmission. It was, according to Dali, one of a very small series. Only five were made, he would tell colleagues, one for President Roosevelt, one for Clark Gable, and one for AI Capone (who by this time had been released from Alcatraz and had moved to his home in Palm Island, Florida). Dali never mentioned the recipient of the fifth special Caddy.
The Prodigious Story of Lacemaker and the Rhinoceros
Summer 1955 - a still from Rob Oescharnes' film, 'The Prodigious Story of Lacemaker and the Rhinoceros
'. Dali and Gala rive at Cadaques in their Cadillac... accompanied by the obsessional image of Vermeer's Lacema which never left them at that time.
12 August 1971 - Figueras
Dali's native town, organised an official festival in honour of its famous son. The day started with a Daliesque bullfight, the procession being in the best Goya tradition. The only exception was that, instead of open carriage filled with beautiful Seville ladies in mantillas circling the ring to the vivas of the crowd, there was a triumphant Dali in his Cadillac.
The Rainy Taxi at the 1938 Surrealist Exhibition in Paris.
Extract from Pleins et deliles, by Georges Huguet...
Someone, however, at the last moment before the private viewing, managed to astound the world of art and politics, and that someone was of course Salvador Dali, from whom, experience has amply proved, you can expect anything. He had suddenly suggested the creation, in his mind of primary importance, of a General Commission for Public Imagination! Dali suggested that under the auspices of the Commission he would arrange the most spectacular exhibition of the first half of the century, combined with surrealism.
To mark the innovation he proposed to erect a huge object which would be superbly finished. In order to achieve the proposed act of bravado, he would require an old taxi to be extracted from a breakers yard...it should rain inside the car, and on the rear seat there should be a dripping apparition, clothed by Dali and covered with the celebrated snails of Burgundy.
Dali's requirements didn't stop there. He continued with typical eloquence and an explanation which explained nothing. The ease with which he developed, straight faced, a project of the most bizarre nature, nevertheless held his audience. His superlatives, which never failed to mystify, certainly had an effect upon the committee who were visibly under the spell of an individual whose ideas are unlike anyone else's.
In view of the size of the project, and because of the fact that the leaking water might create damage within the building, it was decided the 'object' should be housed in the courtyard, at the entrance to the exhibition. Humour won the day, particularly when the title 'Rainy Day Taxi' was adopted!
The taxi having been found and transported to the middle of the courtyard, a plumber, under Dali's orders, fitted a trough on the roof of the car, suitably perforated to supply a continuous supply of rain. It remained only for Dali to carpet the interior with lichen and moss and to wait for the ensemble to settle down and take root. A chauffeur was put at the wheel, then into the humid interior were let loose two hundred Burgundy snails...
The Rainy Taxi from the Dali Museum, Figueras
In the inner courtyard, Dali poses (as only he could!) in front of a reconstruction of the famous taxi of the 1938 exhibition. Queen Esther, a bronze statue presented by the Austrian painter Ernst Fuchs, plays a new role as radiator mascot. As a shadow to the queen, Dali has positioned the Venus de Fuego, celebrated music hall dancer from Barcelona. And very nice too.
The Automobile Clothed
In 1941, Dali's special Cadillac was used to form a collage, evolved from General Motors catalogues, and oils, on the panels. The work resulted in two versions, the Automobile Clothed, and The Special Automobile (below).
The Special Automobile
Remains of an automobile giving birth to a blind horse chewing a telephone (1939)
At the time Dali painted 'Automobile Giving Birth', industrialisation revolted Dali which was why he preferred to replace inanimate obhects with living organisms. The horse, surging from the car, triumphs over the remains of industrialisation, destroying the Munich Conference telephone.
The Fossil Automobile of Cape Creus
(1936 - Oil on Wood)
Cape Creus, with irresistible force, dominates and absorbs everything around it. Objects made by man, and even human beings, are fossilized and identify themselves with the eternal rock. "Everything that mineralises itself is a uranium of life".
Pictured above is a 1972 poster for Datsun (USA). At the time the poster was published Dali participated in a television advertisement...
Extracts from Le Minotaure - No. 6 - 1935
Aerodynamic appearance of object beings
Blackheads of space
The mysterious vertigo of foreign bodies...Naturally, it's good and extremely satisfying, above all after several clumsy and fruitless pinchings, to come to one that, adequately and finally, gives rise to the smooth exit of a foreign body, contained in the skin of your own nose... All streamlined cars, jellied, flattered, bulging, with super slippery curves and vertigo, of a massive salivary anatomy, with bulging thighs and flabby bellies, breed 'Modern Style Mae West'. All these cars I repeat, aerodynamic and atmospheric, with greasy guts, compressed, exuberant and sticky, are nothing else, and it is Salvador Dali who tells you and guarantees it, but veritable 'blackheads' that have slid out solemnly, and atmospherically from the actual nose of space - from the actual meat of space...
Blackheads! Blackheads! We're sliding!
'Mechanicals', after a period of stupifying rigidity and missed functionalism, now know all the ignominious and sublime stickiness of internal secretions; floating kidneys correspond to floating engines, soft engines; for the 'soft period', the 'soft watch' period, 'soft cars', 'soft night tables', cut out of the super-soft and Hitlerian backs of tender and Atavistic nurses, is the period that has been proclaimed by the Modern Style 'mediums', creators of the celebrated soft cathedral existing in Barcelona... Make way for a perverse, glandular, high quality streamliner.
Julian Green (from his diary, 25th March, 1942)
'Suddenly Dali arrived - he discussed several ideas: In America, he told us, there are no landscapes, so he should put colored windows in his car, and cover them paintings (birds etc) so as to no longer see Coca-Cola advertisements.'
Dali in 'The Declaraion of the independence of the imagination and the rights of man to how own folly (1939)
...coloured windows with Persian designs will figure in automobile design as a protection from the crude and ugly light of everyday landscapes.