Dalí's windswept landscape of distant figures on a desolate beach conveys a vulnerability and menacing solitude that characterizes the artist's most poignant compositions. The painting is awash in a haze of topaz and sapphire that form the great expanse of the sandy beach and the brilliant blue sky of the Mediterranean. The setting here is the beach at Rosas on the Costa Brava, not far from Figueres. It was here that Dalí spent many summers as a child, and his recollections of this formative period were portrayed in many of his most haunting Surrealist compositions. Painted during the most important period of his career in 1935, Spectre du soir sur la plage exemplifies Dalí's genius for representing the potency of people, places and events long forgotten.
This picture belongs to a series of beach depictions that Dalí completed in the mid-1930s. In some of these compositions, his cousin Carolinetta appears as an apparition in the distance. The precision with which Dalí renders these figures as miniature details of a sweeping vista call to mind the great landscape paintings of the European old masters, whom Dalí greatly admired. The melancholic setting of the deserted Spanish beach was a scene to which he would return time and time again over the years, and would be the setting for some of his most paranoid artistic visions, including his epic Soft Construction with Boiled Beans, painted one year after the present work.
In 1934, Dalí delivered a lecture at the Museum of Modern Art in New York that outlined the major themes and preoccupations in his pictures of the time: "To understand an aesthetic picture, training in appreciation is necessary, cultural and intellectual preparation. For Surrealism the only requisite is a receptive and intuitive human being [...] The subconscious has a symbolic language that is truly a universal language for it does not depend on education or culture or intelligence but speaks with the vocabulary of the great vital constants, sexual instinct, sense of death, physical notion of the enigma of space these vital constants are universally echoed in every human being" (quoted in Salvador Dalí (exhibition catalogue), The Tate Gallery, London, 1908, pp. 15-16).
As was the case for his most important Surrealist compositions of the 1930s and afterwards, Dalí signed the present composition using a combined version of his own name and that of his lover Gala. The first appearance of the double-signature seems to be 1931, coinciding with the time immediately after Dalí's disinheritance by his father (in December 1930). By the time he painted the present work, Dalí's life and persona had become so intertwined with that of his companion that he no longer regarded his artistic production as independant from her influence.
Oil on canvas
Frankfurt-am-Main, Städtische Galerie und Städelsche Kunstinstitut, Salvador Dalí, 1974, no. 8
19 3/4 by 24 in. 50 by 61 cm
Robert Descharnes & Gilles Néret, Salvador Dalí, L'Oeuvre peint, Cologne, 1994, vol. I, no. 495, illustrated p. 220; vol. II catalogued p. 753 (as dating from 1934 and with the measurements 65 by 54 cm)
Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí, Salvador Dalí Catalogue raisonné of Paintings [1910-1939], Figueres, 2006, no. 360 (with the measurements 54 by 65 cm)
Private Collection, Europe (gift from the artist circa 1935 and thence by descent)
Private Collection, Connecticut (acquired from the above)
Acquired from the above by the present owner