In 1934 Dalí illustrated the new edition of the Chants de Maldoror. This was proved to be one of the highlights of his career as an illustrator.
Chants de Maldoror (Songs of Maldoror) is a poetic novel created around 1868 by the French writer Isidore Lucien Ducasse. Surrealists like Dalí , Man Ray, Max Ernst amongst others, claimed the poem-/novel as an inspiration for their art. The genre is ‘gothic’, the main character a satanic evil personage, mirroring Goethe’s ‘Faust’ or Byron’s ‘Manfred’.
Rene Magritte, as well as Dalí, illustrated editions of the book.
It is significant as it was the first book that Dalí was asked to illustrate,marking the beginning of a long career as an artist who designed for famous literary works.
The work began in 1933, and continued into 1934 when Dalí was thirty. He started in Portlligat and the book was printed in Paris at the Lacouriere workshop.
The book is filled with nightmare scenarios, and an evil main character; Dalí used his paranoiac -critical method / stream of consciousness technique, to illustrated the text with 30 full page drawings and 12 vignettes. Being his first illustrated book, the graphics are considered rare and therefore particularly valuable.
It is clear for the reader from the first paragraph, that the book is going to be gruesome in tone and content,
‘God grant that the reader, emboldened and having become at present as fierce as what he is reading, find, without loss of bearings, his way, his wild and treacherous passage through the desolate swamps of these sombre, poison-soaked pages; for, unless he should bring to his reading a rigorous logic and a sustained mental effort at least as strong as his distrust, the lethal fumes of this book shall dissolve his soul as water does sugar.’
The Chants de Maldoror is testament, to Dalí ’s superb and unique draughtsman ship. He created thousands of graphics during his artistic lifetime; they form a vital part of his oeuvre.
The black and white illustrations are incredible in their variety, their fantasy, their mixing of the absurd, the surreal and the mundane, often erotic and whimsical.
Salvador Dalí expressed his own surrealist vision of the universal themes of poetry and literature through this collection of images, characters and allegories.
Dalí revealed himself as a consummate master of the graphic arts, constantly developing his technique, his drawing and his colors.
The Chants de Maldoror remains perhaps his greatest graphic masterpiece in the illustrated books sector.