Salvador Dalí Masterpiece Achieves £8.1 Million at Bonhams Sale in London

Salvador Dalí's surrealist masterpiece, Couple aux têtes pleines de nuages, 1937, sold for £8,171,062 at Bonhams' Impressionist & Modern Art Sale in London today (Thursday 15 October). The work, which had never before been offered at auction, came from the collection of the Italian Modernist composer Giacinto Scelsi.

The sale made a total of £11,145,300 with 70% sold by lot and 93% sold by value.

Global Head of Bonhams Impressionist & Modern Art department, India Phillips, commented: "It has been a real privilege to bring one of Dalí's surrealist masterpieces, Couple aux têtes pleines de nuages, to auction for the first time. This was a signature work by the artist, revealing his two great obsessions – Freudian psychology, and his great muse, Gala. Dalí painted this incredible diptych at a time of intense personal discovery and expression, while the world around him erupted into conflict. I am delighted that this work gained the attention it deserved."

Dalí created Couple aux têtes pleines de nuages (1937) during the Spanish Civil War and at the height of his surrealist period (1929-1939). The work depicts Dalí and his wife Gala formed only by the outlines of the frames. Despite being a diptych, the panels feature a desert landscape that appears to merge into a single larger painting. Classic surrealist motifs – scattered rocks, a disfigured tree, indistinct human figures, a girl skipping, a giraffe on fire, and clouds that cut across the heads of the panels – populate the scene. All of these images relate to certain Freudian undercurrents often seen in Dalí's key surrealist works.

Dalí joined the Surrealist movement in Paris in 1929, the same year he met Gala, who at that time was married to Dalí's friend, the Surrealist poet and founder of the movement Paul Éluard. Dalí and Gala's 50-year relationship was controversial. Gala was ten years his senior, and many saw her as the force behind the increased commercialization of Dalí's work after his rejection of Surrealism in 1939. Such was Dalí's adoration for his partner and muse that he signed many of his most significant works, including Couple aux têtes pleines de nuages, 'Gala Salvador Dalí'.

The work was part of the collection of the Italian composer Giacinto Scelsi (1905-1988), where it remained for more than half a century. Prior to it becoming part of Scelsi's collection, it is possible Dalí gave the work to Paul Éluard. Scelsi, in turn, was an associate of the Surrealist circle from his time studying in Paris in the 1920s. Subsequently, he had spent time with Salvador and Gala Dalí in Rome, during the couple's travels in Italy with Edward James at the end of the 1930s.

The work featured in the exhibition Dalí / Duchamp at The Royal Academy in 2018. A related double portrait of the same title, executed in 1936, is now permanently exhibited in the Boijmans van Beuningen Museum in Rotterdam.

Other highlights of the sale include:

Femme allongée, Youki by Léonard Tsuguharu Foujita (1886-1968). Sold for £795,062.
Le retour des régates by Raoul Dufy (1877-1953). Sold for £287,562.
La danseuse en blanc by Léonard Tsuguharu Foujita (1886-1968). Sold for £200,062.
Jeune femme à la mandoline by Jean Souverbie (1891-1981). Sold for £143,812.
Paysage de banlieue, Malakoff by Léonard Tsuguharu Foujita (1886-1968). Sold for £131,312.
Femme endormie (Youki) by Léonard Tsuguharu Foujita (1886-1968). Sold for £118,812.

Bonhams Surreal Art sale will take place on 23 February 2021 in London.

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