Detail of Le piano surréaliste, S. Dali, 1937
Click on picture to link to Christie's Auction site for more information
In a previous post, Surrealism or Hello Dali, I explored what seems to me to have been the fairly unrequited adoration that Salvador Dali felt for the Marx Brothers, especially Harpo. Dali wanted to make a Marx Brothers movie, and wrote a screenplay called "Giraffes on Horseback Salads", which was never produced. He also made a number of sketches illustrating his concept for the film.
On June 23, 2009, The Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí purchased one of these drawings, Le piano surréaliste, at Christie's Auction in London for $392,996. According to an article in Artdaily.org, this drawing was "previously owned by the Marx Brothers," without further details of its provenance. The drawing is on display at the Casa-Museu Castell Gala Dali in Púbol, Spain for the month of September 2009.
It's a bit of a surreal experience to read the article at Artdaily.org, which is written in English which is bruised if not fractured outright. I have managed to learn a little more about Dali's encounters with Harpo from the article. Dali traveled to the U.S. in in 1936 to participate in the anthological exhibition Fantastic Art Dada and Surrealism, organized the Museum of Modern Art in New York as well as for his individual exhibition at Julien Levy’s gallery. Dali wanted to paint Harpo, and it appears he made this known through an intermediary, as indicated in this telegram from Harpo to Dali, dated January 31, 1937:
Dear Salvador Dalí: I have received a telegram from Jo Forrestal saying that you are interested in me as a victim. Fascinated by the idea. The movie I am filming will be finished in six weeks. If you come to the West, I would be happy to be painted by you. I have a counteroffer: Will you pose for me while I pose for you? Happy new year from a great admirer of the Persistence of MemoryDali hotfooted it out to California, as documented in this photo which appeared in the Los Angeles Examiner in February 1937.
Dali sketching Harpo, seated at the surrealistic harp Dali had previously sent him, possibly for Christmas 1936.
I have also learned that in his 1942 autobiography, The Secret Life of Salvdor Dali, the artist reveals this scene from the screenplay:
And on Fifth Avenue Harpo Marx has just lighted the fuse that projects from the behinds of a flock of expensive giraffes stuffed with dynamite. They run in all directions, sowing panic and obliging everyone to seek refuge pell-mell within the shops. All the fire-alarms of the city have just been turned on, but it is already too late. Boom! Boom! I salute you explosive giraffes of New York and all you fore-runners of the irrational -Mack Sennett, Harry Langdon, and you too, unforgettable Buster Keaton, tragic and delirious like my rotten and mystic donkeys, desert roses of Spain.Now, that's entertainment to rival the stateroom scene in "A Night at the Opera."