Artist: Salvador Dalí Domenech (1904-1989) Title: Study for the Portrait for Mrs. Jack Warner Medium: Drawing Authenticity: Frank Hunter, The Salvador Dali Archives Size: 11 in x 14-1/4 in Provenance: Private American Collection
Preparatory studies for oil paintings allow us a fascinating and instructive view into the artist's thoughts and soul as he was developing his work in progress - from an initial concept to what would eventually become the finished work of art. In the case of this marvelous original pen and sepia ink drawing on paper - Salvador Dali's study for the stunning oil portrait of the wife of Jack Warner, one of the four founding brothers of Warner Bros Studios in California - we see how Dali began to envision the manner in which he would depict Ann Warner. While he leaves facial details for a later time, he sketches out the basic contours of the sitter, including a fairly detailed treatment of her almost Medusa-like hair. Her dress with single strap was in fact what she must have posed in at this stage in the commission, since the same dress - in lush red with the same gemstone broach at the bust - appears in the subsequent 1951 oil.
Mrs. Jack Warner Original Oil
Study for the Portrait of Mrs. Jack Warner is part of a key chapter in Dali's long and prodigious story as surely as the 20th century's most inventive painter. At the time, 1944, the Spanish Surrealist and his wife, Gala, were living in the United States, exiled due to World War II. The Dali's were, in fact, residing in California, and it didn't take long for Dali's talent to be recognized and leveraged by the Hollywood film scene. He was, of course, already a leading artistic figure in Europe, and now he was about to take America by storm as well. Dali began working with both Alfred Hitchcock and Walt Disney - creating the famous dream sequence for Hitchcock's classic Spellbound, and working on the animated short, Destino, for the Disney Studios.
Dali met and hit it off famously with Jack Warner, in the course of the artist's assimilation into the world of the social elite and Hollywood tastemakers. In fact, Mr. Warner was the one who introduced Dali to Russ Saunders, the acrobatic Hollywood stand-in who posed for Dali's most celebrated religious masterpiece, "Christ of St. John of the Cross."
Salvador Dali's Portrait of Mrs. Jack Warner is obviously unconventional, but typical of Dali's chic, precise, yet irrepressibly surrealistic portraits of this period, including, for example, those of Helen Rubinstein and Laurence Olivier. In this charming study, Mrs. Warner's arm rests upon stone structure that is not yet fully defined, but upon examining the finished painting might be a sarcophagus in its classical depiction, including two horses seemingly etched onto the front wall. Elements in a study like this - especially those in the background - are not necessarily found in the final work. Here, in this preparatory drawing, we find a sort of anguished figure in the middle distance, her arms crossed and her long tresses appearing wild and disheveled. That portion of the study's background detail translates into a strange admixture of classical buildings rising from a vast, barren plain, alongside the ruins of a bridge in the completed painting. Just to the right of Mrs. Warner's head in this 11 in x 14-1/4 in. study, we see a delightful cluster of three angelic figures, casting a typical long shadow that is widely seen as a kind of stylistic trademark of Dali's, where such shadows often look lunar-like and make us wonder just what direction the sun is coming from, and sometimes contribute to an overall ethereal effect. In the finished painting (dated 1951), these angelic figures do not appear - but, in addition to Mrs. Warner, the canvas does reveal one other human element: a pair of posing figures, holding a tall staff. All such elements are dwarfed by the towering foreground presence of Mrs. Warner.
Various inscriptions appear on the study, in Dali's handwriting in French: "Photograph of chapeau," which translates to "photograph of hat"; "Coifure," (hairstyle) and another French notation that presumably means "earring." An additional notation reads, "Sainte Espanole/morte de passion/' litel.' There is also a note and arrow next to the broach at the front of the dress. And, finally, "Bon Jour! Bon Jour" and some illegible inscription above the signature and date: "Salvador Dali 1944."
Such handwritten notations add to the sense of authenticity of such a work. That is, they make it clear that this was a study, a working effort meant to lead to a future piece, yet obviously well executed and historically important in its own right. Frank Hunter, President of the Salvador Dali Archives in New York City, who has authenticated this study in writing, states that "the essential aspects of this earlier study are evident in the finished portrait of Mrs. Warner (dated 1951), now in a private collection. In it, Mrs. Warner is in very much the same pose; she sports the same hairdo, and wears a similar dress and broach.
Based on my forty-year experience with Salvador Dali and his works, it is my opinion that this is an authentic work by the hand of Salvador Dali." It is interesting to note that, after seeing and truly admiring the portrait Dali did of Ann, Mr. Warner then commissioned Dali to paint him - a portrait assignment that spanned an astonishing five years.
It is well documented that Warner described the resulting work as "an excellent portrait of my dog." The work actually even hung in Warner's kennels. It seems Warner was a bit of a surrealist himself!
Salvador Dali, the Surrealist Master was, at this period in his career living in the United States, shuttling on occasion from the St. Regis Hotel in New York City to Del Monte Lodge in Carmel, California. Much of his work that both paid the bills and endeared him to movie moguls and other power brokers was portraiture - a genre that this study and its resultant canvas demonstrate was one in which Dali greatly excelled. The Portrait of Mrs. Jack Warner is one of the very best of Dali's catalog, and typified his unique, sometimes controversial approach of putting his sitter in strange settings, then capturing a faithful, impressively painstaking likeness of him or her.
Thus, studies such as the present one allow collectors and scholars alike to marvel at his spontaneous and development best, while his ideas were incubating and evolving. Many who admire paintings by Dali often ask what it took to produce such works: what sorts of preliminary planning, drawing, sketching, research and so forth, went into them.
The Study for the Portrait of Mrs. Jack Warner is one such unique piece that offers the opportunity to see Dali's inspiration and initial draftsmanship in its more raw form, ultimately leading to the finished product - in this case a veritable masterpiece of 20th century portraiture.
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