1904-1989 | Spanish
Le voile de Pénélope
Signed and dated “Dali 1970” (lower right)
Gouache, watercolour, and brush and ink on paper
Representing a unique blend of classicism and Surrealism, this gouache hails from Salvador Dalí’s fascinating and highly inventive series paying homage to Homer’s Odyssey. This epic provided the artist with the perfect framework to explore his lifelong fascination with myth, and reimagine classical iconography in the context of his eccentric, otherworldly point-of-view.
Homer’s epic poem follows the hero Odysseus’ strenuous journey home after the Trojan War, a voyage that takes ten years to complete. During his absence, his beloved wife Penelope is pursued by a throng of hopeful and persistent suitors. Penelope, however, is unwavering in her loyalty to Odysseus and conceives of a plan to deceive this congregation of men. She insists that before she marries again, she must complete a funeral shroud for her father-in-law, Laertes. She weaves the shroud before an audience of suitors each day, and each night, she secretly unravels her work only to begin anew in the morning. In this way, the shroud becomes a symbol of both her cunning and her marital fidelity — the thing that connects her and her husband despite their distance.
In this work, entitled Le voile de Penelope, Dalí interprets Penelope’s act of deception in a highly imaginative, stylized fashion. Lines burst forth from her hands, alluding both to the threads of her weaving and her righteous deceit. The other female figures, clad in armor and floating in the heavens, likely represent Athena, the goddess of wisdom and war who guides Odysseus and his family through their trials. Each figure is in a trance-like state, transcending any physical form and instead embodying a world of myth, divinity and heroism. Overall, the work possesses a mirage-like quality that mirrors the atmosphere of much of Homer's epic.
The series came about through a private commission, and, unlike Dalí‘s other works inspired by classic literature, including Don Quixote, The Divine Comedy and Macbeth, the Odyssey series was not published, underscoring their rarity.
Born in Catalonia in 1904, Dalí was formally educated in the fine arts in Madrid, particularly falling under the influence of the Impressionists and the Renaissance masters. He became associated with the Madrid avant-garde group Ultrae at a young age, though he eventually grew more acquainted with avant-garde movements such as Cubism, Dada and Futurism. By the late 1920s, his mature Surrealist style had already begun to emerge, and in 1929 he officially burst onto the avant-garde art scene with his Un Chien Andalou, a short film he made with Spanish director Luis Buñuel. Today, he is remembered as one of the most legendary and significant contributors to Surrealism. His Persistence of Memory, with its melting clocks, is arguably the most recognizable painting of the movement. Two museums — one in St. Petersburg, Florida and another in Catalonia — are entirely devoted to his oeuvre; other important works by the artist can be found in the Museum of Modern Art (New York), the Art Institute of Chicago, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the National Gallery of Art (Washington, D.C.), among many others.
Paper: 17 3/4" high x 15" wide
Frame: 28 1/2" high x 26" wide
Acquired directly from the artist, and thence by descent
Private collection, Netherlands
Augsburg, Römisches Museum, Dalí, Mara e Beppe: Bilder einer Freundschaft, September - November 2000, p. 113 (illustrated).