Gala Contemplating the Mediterranean Sea… demonstrates a fascination with perception and the mystery of identity. Dalí layers multiple optical scales to create two paintings in one. This painting is based on a photograph that Dalí first saw in the November, 1973 issue of Scientific American. Vol. 229. No.5.. The article, “The Recognition of Faces” by Leon D. Harmon, featured a reproduced low resolution (252 pixels) monochromatic photograph of the face of Abraham Lincoln from an American $5 bill. Harmon’s computer generated “coarse –scale” portrait demonstrated the low quantity of information needed to represent a recognizable individual face. The concept awaked Dalί’s old fascination with paranoia – specifically, how much of the reading of an image is from the viewer as distinct from the thing viewed. By squinting slightly and so flattening the depth of field, the portrait of Lincoln snaps into view displacing the figure of Gala. Once seen, the image appears at each return.
Gala’s figure is framed by the cruciform windows through which the viewer is lead to a crucifixion painted in a heavy impasto. The figure of Jesus on the cross, reminiscent of Dalí’s 1951 painting titled Christ of St. John of the Cross, (St. Mungo Museum of Religious Life and Art, Glasgow, Scotland), appears in the clouds. The earlier painting by Dalí is inspired by a 16th century drawing by the Carmelite Friar St. John of the Cross (1542-1591) where Christ is viewed from above. The top of Christ’s head glows representing the rising morning sun, a new element Dalί created as he developed this work on canvas. Yet, in spite of the masterful and expressive use of paint, Dalί plays with the ambiguity of medium. The ironic use of paint to recreate the effects of photography on one level is made more resonant by the collage of small printed reproduction of the Harmon photo onto the canvas.
Dalí titles the work Homage to Mark Rothko (1903-1970) – a leading abstract expressionist painter who had committed suicide in 1970. Early in his career, Rothko experimented with automatic drawing and surrealist techniques. He studied the writings of Freud as did Dalí. By the 1940s, Rothko abandoned all references to the figurative and painted using simplified shapes, color gradations, and value relationships. Dalí’s multiple blocks of colors in varying progression of hues ending in a dark perimeter is evocative of the meditative “color field” paintings of Rothko.
Dalí spent many years living between Spain and the United States and considered America his second home. Dalí painted this work in his room at the St. Régis Hotel in New York. As well as homage to an American painter, the painting is homage to America itself, created in the nation that gave him refuge during the turmoil of Civil and World War Europe.
1976, New York, Guggenheim Museum
1979, Paris, Musee National d'Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, “Salvador Dalí Retrospective 1920-1980”
1980, London, Tate Gallery, “Salvador Dalí, 1980”
1981 & 1982, Tokyo, Osaka, Kitakyusha and Hiroshima, Japan, “Salvador Dalí, 1981-82”
1984, San Antonio, McNay Art Museum
1985-1987, St. Petersburg, Salvador Dali Museum
2005, St. Petersburg, Salvador Dali Museum, "Pollock to Pop: America's Brush with Dali"
2019, St. Petersburg, The Dalí Museum, "Visual Magic: Dalí's Masterworks in Augmented Reality"