An oneiric journey through the flames and drawers of the human body:
“WOMAN AFLAME” SCULPTURE
“Once more I thank Sigmund Freud and proclaim louder than ever his great truths […] The only difference between immortal Greece and the present time, is Sigmund Freud, who discovered that the human body, purely platonic in the Greek epoch, is full of secret drawers that only psychoanalysis is capable of opening”. Salvador Dalí
The bronze sculpture “Woman Aflame”, conceived by Salvador Dalí in 1980, perfectly embodies the Catalan artist’s exploration of the three-dimensional, and effectively summarizes “the creed” of Surrealism and Dalí's favourite themes. “Woman Aflame” can be considered a significant work, having a prominent place in Dalí’s sculptural production.
In this work in bronze Dalí combined two of his favourite motifs, fire and the image of the female figure disassembled as drawers, adding numerous symbols, presented in the form of “fetish objects”: protuberances, crutches, flames and semi-open drawers.
SHOULDER BLADES SUPPORTED BY CRUTCHES:
the symbol of death and resurrection.
In this sculpture Dalí decided to prolong some parts of the woman’s body, projecting them as protuberances. Each protuberance is supported by a crutch, which the artist sometimes refers to as “diabolo”. Right from his adolescence, the crutch had been a very important symbolic object for Dalí; the “symbol of death” and the “symbol of resurrection”, a magical element offering security and support, strength and stability.
For Dalí crutches were “terribly alive objects”, and the first time the artist saw one he found it to be quite extraordinary: “I immediately took possession of the crutch, and I felt that I should never again in my life be able to separate myself from it, such was the fetishistic fanaticism which seized me at the very first without my being able to explain it”.
In the bronze sculpture “Woman Aflame” the crutches have the role of supporting the female protuberances and seem almost to be sceptres which hint at their authority and importance, as Dalí wrote in his autobiography: “The superb crutch! Already it appeared to me as the object possessing the height of authority and solemnity.”
The symbolism of death and resurrection connected to the crutch is described in “The Secret Life of Salvador Dalí”, where Dalí narrates an episode which occurred while he was staying with the Pichot family, together with a girl called Dullita.
THE SECRETS CONTAINED IN THE DRAWERS:
Freud as seen by Dalí.
In the “Woman Aflame” sculpture the female figure is enveloped in flames, which represent a burning passion, moving upwards from the feet. Modelled in bronze, they rise towards the face, so the impression is that the whole figure is consumed by this fire.
The sculpture is partitioned into compartments by the drawers, and the crutches support the curved body. Influenced by Freudian theories, Dalí uses drawers to symbolize the unconscious.
“The human body is full of secret drawers that only psychoanalysis is capable of opening” said Dalí.
In this sculpture Dalí placed nine semi-open drawers, strewn over the female body, thus creating an allegory of Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalysis. Dalí had read “Die Traumdetung” (“The Interpretation of Dreams”), one of Freud’s most famous works, which examines the theories of the unconscious and the interpretation of dreams.
“To me this book represents one of my life’s essential insights” Dalí wrote.
The Catalan master was greatly influenced by Freudian theories, and in this work he used the drawers to illustrate the hidden sensuality of the female and the mysteries that the female body contains.
In the “Woman Aflame” sculpture the partially open drawers act as an “inlet” into the female inner world and represent the hidden sexuality of women, their obsessions, phobias, feelings, desires and deepest mysteries.
The faceless figure symbolizes all women, and its beauty originates not only from its sensual shape, but from a sense of inner mystery that seems to stem from what it chooses to hide rather than from what it wants to reveal.
FROM PAINTING TO SCULPTURE:
the works that preceded “Woman Aflame”.
The flame motif is recurrent in Twentieth century painting, and it has often been chosen by artists to metaphorically illustrate a period in history characterized by tensions experienced during the Spanish Civil War, Hitler’s rise to power, and the years that preceded the Second World War.
The “Woman Aflame” sculpture recalls the painting “Burning Giraffe”, which Dalí created in 1936, the same year the artist painted “Soft construction with boiled beans: premonition of civil war”, just after he had returned to Paris, following the “monstrous” and tormented journey he made while escaping from Spain because of the Civil War.
The “Burning Giraffe” painting could be judged as the one most influenced by Freudian theories of all Dalí’s artworks. You can detect three figures in a desolate landscape which denotes in every detail omens of death. In the foreground, right in the centre, there is a faceless bent female figure leaning on crutches, and lacerated in the region of her bosom and left leg to reveal her semi-open drawers. On her left there is a terrifying image of another woman, deformed by innumerable protuberances supported by crutches, who raises her right arm, the gaunt hand of which clutches a red drape (blood). To the right of the woman, in the distance, Dalí painted a burning giraffe, thus illustrating his personal view of war and the terrifying destruction that it brings in its wake.
In the “Woman Aflame” sculpture Dalí uses bronze to express all the tension and anguish depicted in the painting “Burning Giraffe”, joining the three figures into one body disassembled in drawers, deformed by flames which spread from the feet upwards, and by protuberances supported on crutches.
The drawer motif recurs in varied ways in Dalí's artworks: in the painting “Spain”, the drawer is in the foreground and induces the observer to think of the horrors of the Spanish Civil War, represented as a female body leaning on a chest of drawers, and painted with an optical illusion (the “double image”). The violence of the scene is accentuated by the appearance of a red drape (blood) hanging from the drawer.
In the drawing “Figure of drawers” (1937), a female body, strewn with drawers, is kneeling on the ground with both hands covering the face. Beside the body, which is curved backwards, other hands appear which seem to have come out of a drawer resting on a stool, which hides rhinoceros horns between its legs.
The drawer motif appears also on the cover of the 8th number of the journal “Minotaure. Revue artistique et littéraire”, created by Dalí in 1936.
Originally, the figure in the “Woman Aflame” sculptural work was completely curved backwards, in a shape very similar to that of the drawing “Hysterical arch”, which Dalí created in 1937. Mr. Beniamino Levi, President of the Dalí Universe, remembers the episode in which Dalí, in a moment of anger, threw the wax model of the sculpture on the floor, while he was suggesting to straighten the torso just a little. Without the action of Gala, to convince Dalí, the sculpture would not be the one we can admire today, with the body leaning backwards and a sublime shape full of deep feeling.
“DALI’ UNIVERSE” AND “WOMAN AFLAME”:
world exhibitions of the monumental sculpture.
“Woman Aflame” is central to Dalí’s sculptural oeuvre and an exceptional example of his three-dimensional use of bronze.
The 7-metre high sculpture has been exhibited all over the world in various locations, including: Paris, on the occasion of the epic “Dalí Monumental Sculpture” exhibition in 1995; Singapore in 2006; New York, at the “The Vision of a Genius” exhibition in 2011; Beverly Hills, at the ”Open Air Exhibition” of Dalí Sculptures in 2016; Courchevel, at the open air Exhibition “10 Ans l'Art au Sommet” in 2018 and, more recently, Stockholm, at the Antique and Arts Fair “ANTIKMÄSSAN 2019”.
The “Woman Aflame” monumental sculpture is currently on show at the main port of Capri, the Porto Turistico, where ferries connect the island to Molo Beverello in Naples, on the occasion of the exhibition “Salvador Dalí Capri – L’eleganza del Surrealismo (The Elegance of Surrealism)”, inaugurated in June 2019.
Diary of a Genius, Salvador Dalí, 1963.
The Secret Life of Salvador Dalí, Salvador Dalí, 1942.
Dalí, The Hard and the Soft, Sculptures & Objets, Robert and Nicolas Descharnes, 2004.
Salvador Dalí: The Museum of Modern Art, JT Soby, 1946.
Catalogue Raisonné of Salvador Dalí Paintings (https://www.salvador-dali.org).