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  • Writer's pictureKathy Troxler

Santiago El Grande/Dali 1957

I love this painting. I've never seen it in person, but some day I hope I do. My curious nature means that, even as I enjoy a painting like this, questions start popping up! This is Santiago El Grande (St. James the Great) and it's owned by the Beaverbrook Gallery, New Brunswick, Canada.

Santiago El Grande

Artistically, it's an amazing perspective! However, from a horseman's perspective, I think there's something really wrong about it. By that I mean that any horseman getting this particular view is in trouble! You horseman out there know what I mean!

But, Dali wasn't interested in horsemanship. At this phase of his career, (1957) he had left Surrealism behind. He was returning to traditional styles of painting as well as the Catholic church he had been raised in.

Images and statues featuring a hero on a rearing horse are countless. But this is simply a view that (as far as I know) had never been seen before. And it's very well done, from a "horsemen's point of view". Oh, if one were to be really picky that left hind hoof is questionable, but for the rest. Wow! Which begs the did he achieve this? The only information I've found (so far) is from a wikipedia entry which mentions that "At some point, Dalí had a glass floor installed in a room near his studio in Lligat. He made extensive use of it to study foreshortening, both from above and from below, incorporating dramatic perspectives of figures and objects into his paintings." While there's no way Dali could have used a live model using this viewing technique, perhaps a piece of statuary provided the view? It is said that because Dali intended it be mounted behind a church alter, the painting is best viewed from a low perspective. Which might explain why some people view it from floor level.

Santiago El Grande

During my research, the best information I found was from Paul Chimera's blog. I learned that the arching dome above St. James, was inspired by ceiling of the Church of the Jacobins in Toulouse, France, where St. James is believed to be buried.To my eyes, that white column (behind the horse) has always seemed out of place, but as shown in the photo below, is part of the cathedral.

Church of the Jacobins in Toulouse, France

As to the story behind this painting, I found 2 interesting accounts. According to Elliott King (Dali scholar and curator of a five-month-long exhibition entitled Salvador Dali: The Late Work Atlanta High Museum of Art in Atlanta), Santiago El Grande was created for the Spanish pavilion at the 1958 Brussels World's Fair. Dali hoped it eventually would become an altar piece at the Escorial palace near Madrid. But, King laughed, "I have the feeling the Spanish government didn't know this." Dali then turned to Huntington Hartford, the billionaire American businessman and art collector, who agreed to purchase the painting. However, "at the last minute Dali decided to sell it to Lady Dunn instead," King said, and it was a gift from the Sir James Dunn Foundation to the Beaverbrook Gallery. I found another reference from the Winnipeg Art Gallery web site. In 2014 WAG exhibited the painting, and the information included on their website says that "Dalí claims that he changed his mind after a ride in a Dunn & Company elevator. This inspired Dalí to sell the painting to the recently widowed Lady Dunn, who then donated it to the Beaverbrook Art Gallery just before its opening".

However Santiago El Grande came to be, is not really that important. It's one of my favorites, just because!

Santiago El Grande by Salvador Dali

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