In December 2016, the iconic white Lobster Telephone, created in 1936 was auctioned at Christies in London. The £150,000-£250,000 estimate was a conservative reminder that Salvador Dalí artworks remain a hot ticket at auction; this eighty year old artwork sold for an incredible £850,000. Several exemplars were created in 1936, but only one in white.
An icon of Surrealism and one of the most instantly recognizable works of the twentieth century, Salvador Dalì ‘ s Lobster Telephone was created in collaboration with the artist’s friend and patron Edward James; the most active patron of the Surrealist artists during the 1930’s.
Other examples of this iconic artwork now reside in museums across the world, including the Tate Gallery, London, and the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam, Holland., which has a Surrealist exhibition opening in February where the telephone will be exhibited.
As recounted by Sharon-Michi Kusunoki in her book Dalí :The Centenary Retrospective, it was Edward James himself who prompted Dalí to create the Lobster Telephone. James was visiting an aristocratic lady in her home, and when she reached to answer a ringing telephone, she picked up a lobster instead. It was this humorously incongruous juxtaposition of a phone and a lobster that sparked James’s imagination, and the idea for the artwork was born. (S-M. Kusunoki in D. Ades, Dalí: The Centenary Retrospective, exh. cat., Venice & Philadelphia, 2004-5, p. 286).
As he wrote in his autobiography, The Secret Life of Salvador Dalí, ‘I do not understand why, when I ask for a grilled lobster in a restaurant, I am never served a cooked telephone; I do not understand why champagne is always chilled and why on the other hand telephones, which are habitually so frightfully warm and disagreeably sticky to the touch, are not also put in silver buckets with crushed ice around them’…… ‘Telephone frappé, mint-coloured telephone, aphrodisiac telephone, lobster-telephone, telephone sheathed in sable for the boudoirs of sirens with fingernails protected with ermine, Edgar Allen Poe telephones with a dead rat concealed within, Boecklin telephones installed inside a cypress tree…telephones on the leash which would walk about, screwed to the back of a living turtle…telephones…telephones…telephones…’ (S. Dalí, The Secret Life of Salvador Dalí, trans. H. M. Chevalier, New York, 1942, p. 271).
The lobster was an iconic symbol that Dalí often referred to in his art. He was intrigued by its hard / soft contrasts, and its erotic associations. Elsa Schiaparelli , the fashion designer who collaborated with Dalí on various projects, created an evening dress that featured a printed lobster down the front of the skirt, the tail strategically placed over the wearer’s crotch. It was famously worn by Wallis Warfield Simpson in a series of photographs by Cecil Beaton, taken shortly before Wallis’s marriage to Edward VIII.
The Lobster Telephone is one of Dalì ‘s most recognizable artworks, the juxtaposing of everyday objects in order to make them humorous or vanguard was the very premise of Surrealism, and this artwork is a prime example, the combination of the unusual Lobster, and the ordinary everyday telephone.