A tender portrait by Salvador Dalí of his sister, Ana Maria – painted a few years before the devoted siblings fell out so badly that an attempted deathbed reconciliation ended in her being thrown out of his room – is coming up for sale for the first time since he presented it to her.
Dalí was 21 when he painted Figura de Perfil – figure in profile – and chose to include it in his first solo exhibition in Spain in 1925. Ana Maria, three years his junior, kept the picture for years, despite the permafrost of their later relationship, before giving it to friends whose family have kept it ever since. Bonhams estimates that it will fetch up to £1.2m when it is auctioned in London this week.
India Phillips, the head of impressionist and modern art at Bonhams, described the picture as “laden with meaning and utterly enigmatic”.
She said the sale was exceptionally rare, as almost all his work from the period is in public collections She added: “It is one of the most beautiful works I have had the pleasure of handling.”
Ana Maria was Dalí’s favourite model when he was beginning his career as an artist and she was a teenager. He repeatedly drew and painted her from behind, often gazing out at the view from their seaside holiday home in Cadaqués. She recalled that she did not mind how long she sat for him, and that the experience gave her a lifelong love for the landscape of the view, but the angle he chose has led some of his biographers to claim that he had incestuous feelings for her.
Their relationship began to disintegrate a few years later, when Dalí met the formidable Gala, 10 years his senior and married to the surrealist poet Paul Éluard. She became his model, muse, wife and business manager, and both Ana Maria and their father detested her.
During the Spanish civil war, Ana Maria was briefly arrested and imprisoned by the Republican forces and believed Gala had denounced her falsely as having fascist sympathies. The same suspicion hung over Dalí, possibly with more justification, since in one of his notoriously unreliable autobiographies he wrote: “Hitler turned me on in the highest.”
His sister hated the impression he gave in his writing of a troubled childhood and tormented relationship with their father and he in turn loathed her more idealised version in her memoir, Salvador Dalí As Seen By His Sister. He responded with a brutally explicit version of another portrait of her, this time inspired by an image in a pornographic magazine, showing her bending naked over the window sill, assaulted by flying phalluses, titled Young Virgin Autosodomized by Her Own Chastity.
In 1984, after Gala’s death, Dalí was taken to hospital after a fire at his home, which some suspected to be a suicide attempt. Although the siblings had not met for decades, she attempted a reconciliation. Both believed he was on his deathbed, but he shouted abuse at her and had her turned away from the room. They never met again, though he recovered sufficiently to return home, and died of heart failure in 1989 in his home at Figueres, which became his burial place and is now a museum. Ana Maria outlived him by five months, dying at their old home less than hour’s drive away.
The painting will lead the Bonhams impressionist and modern art sale on Thursday.
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