The news that 15 works on paper by Salvador Dalí will go on sale on June 4 at Paris auction house Artcurial is certain to create a buzz among the cognoscenti. Salvador Dalí Métamorphoses, made up of ink, gouache, watercolour and collage, were commissioned between 1958 and 1976 by the Spanish pharmaceutical laboratory Hoechst Ibérica and used as company greeting cards. Subsequently, they were displayed (for 20 years) at the Dalí Foundation in Figueres, the artist’s hometown.
“Salvador Dalí accepted very few commissions with the exception of high-society portraits, cinema sets or book illustrations,” says Bruno Jaubert, director of impressionist and modern art at Artcurial. “This gouache series intended for greeting cards is unique in genre, spanning nearly two decades. Beyond their visual strength, each of these drawings also reflects the artist’s evolution and the themes of his reflection on metamorphosis and regeneration, all the while fulfilling his commission brief. They are a tour de force between marketing and artistic creation with an inventive and provocative freedom that defines great masters.”
Estimates for the collection range between €20,000-€30,000 and €70,000-€100,000 depending on the artwork. Metamorphosis is a theme that Dalí returns to time and again, even when the cards have a pronounced Christmassy aspect. It had been a frequent preoccupation as witnessed in La Métamorphose de Narcisse (Metamorphosis of Narcissus), which he created in 1937. The playful Don Quijote (Don Quixote) – a watercolour, ink and ballpoint-pen work executed in 1960 and estimated at €60,000-€90,000 – turns the Don, a similar figure to those found in Dalí’s illustrations of the Cervantes novel, into a Christmas tree. Daphne, Dalí’s take on the Ovid myth, transforms the nymph into a laurel tree adorned with drawers similar to those found in apothecary cabinets. Dating from 1965, and entitled Mujer de los Cajones (Women of the Drawers), it is estimated at €70,000-€100,000.
Another form of metamorphosis appears in works featuring butterflies and the chrysalis: these include 1967’s Mariposas with four symmetrically positioned butterflies on the rose stem-trunk (estimated at €60,000-€80,000) and Campanas de Azúcar (Sugar Bells) from 1970, estimated at €50,000-€70,000.
Nature and medicinal plants are also important themes in the work. Corazón (Heart), dating from 1968, features the caduceus, the pharmacist’s symbol, a snake wrapping itself around a cup, juxtaposed with a heart. It is estimated at €60,000-€90,000. Meanwhile, Arbol de los Pétalos (Tree of the Petals) from 1975 (estimate €20,000-€30,000), Caracol de Mar (Sea Snail) from 1976 (estimated at €30,000-€40,000) and Corail (Coral) from 1966 (estimated at €30,000-€40,000) illustrate the idea of regeneration from nature. A number of the works are also accompanied by handwritten manuscripts by Dalí himself.