Dali oil painting declared as his first surrealist work

An oil painting that was bought for approximately €150 (£120) over a quarter of a century ago from an antique shop in Spain has officially been verified and named as Salvador Dali’s first surrealist painting.
Composed while the artist was still an unknown 17-year-old teenager in 1921, the authenticity of Intrauterine Birth of Salvador Dali has long been contested.
While the work, which shows angels floating in the sky above a volcano, was signed by the surrealist master. It also bore a short dedication. However, it was strangely dated 1896, eight years before he was born. That peculiar displacement has puzzled experts over the years.
The work was acquired by the artist Tomeu L’Amo in 1988 when he was in Girona, a city based in the north-east of Spain. Browsing various canvasses, he came across the painting and immediately knew he had chanced upon something significant.
“I was very happy. I felt like a kid in a candy store,” the artist told a news conference in Madrid. “When I saw its colours I suspected it was a Dali. That was my opinion but I did not have proof. I investigated and little by little I realised it was a Dali.”
Years and years of testing, analysis and research concluded as much. Using techniques such as ultraviolet radiation and x-rays, experts could find no evidence to the contrary. And so, just like that, a pivotal moment in history had emerged.
Carmen Linares, head of the conservation department at Barcelona’s Frederic Mares Museum, which contributed to investigation, said that the blue and black thick brushstrokes used to compose the figures were characteristic of some of the techniques used by Dali.
Additionally, in the short dedication made by the artist, who is considered to be one of the most important figures of the twentieth century, parallels could be found in his unique handwriting and phrasing – it includes a spelling mistake he commonly made.
“Not only is this discovery hugely important because it is considered the first surrealist work of Salvador Dali, but because of the meaning and context it can bring to many of his subsequent works,” said Nicolas Descharmes, an authority on the artist who studied the painting.
“It is the only pictorial representation of a recurring theme in the writings of Salvador Dali, something the artist called his intrauterine birth in his autobiography.”
One idea proffered as to the meaning of the painting is that it concerns Dali’s namesake brother, who passed away nine months earlier when he was still a toddler.
He would later recount a story, the truth of which we can never be sure, of his parents taking him to visit his brother’s grave when he was five. They told Dali that he was his reincarnation. He would reflect on this peculiar statement – he also said that it was a “crime” made by his mum and dad in their despair – in some of his later work.
“My brother and I resembled each other like two drops of water, but we had different reflections,” he once said. “Like myself, he had the unmistakable facial morphology of a genius …. My brother was probably a first version of myself, but conceived too much in the absolute.”
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Cadogan Tate can ship works of art to your chosen destination anywhere in the world.