Eccentric icon who pushed back the boundaries of art

A new exhibition featuring the work of surrealist artist Salvador Dali has gone on display in Yorkshire. Chris Bond reports.

LIKE his work, Salvador Dali wasn’t shy and retiring. “At the age of six I wanted to be a cook. At seven I wanted to be Napoleon. And my ambition has been growing steadily ever since,” he once quipped.

He may have been dead for more than 20 years, but Dali remains one of the world’s most famous artists and now a new exhibition featuring 60 of his works, including sculptures, original prints and photographs has gone on show at Nunnington Hall, near Helmsley in North Yorkshire.

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Dali is best known for his strange, surreal landscapes featuring lobster telephones and melting clocks and visitors to Nunnington will be able to get an insight into the work of one of the most colourful and controversial artists of modern times.

The display includes works such as Cosmic Rhino, a bronze sculpture with the iconic “stretched legs” motif which Dali is famous for and Helen of Troy, a beguiling print where Helen is looking over the city walls out onto the incoming Trojan horse, but instead of being filled with men, its stomach is a gaping hole.

The exhibition, which runs until March 18, is the result of a collaboration with London-based Fairhead Fine Arts and the latest in a string of big-name exhibitions at Nunnington Hall that have featured work by the likes of Matisse, Picasso and Beatrix Potter.

Dali, of course, has become an iconic figure and his work remains hugely popular – from his masterpieces in major art galleries to the posters of his paintings that adorn the walls of student houses up and down the land.

His enduring appeal has as much to do with the man himself as the body of work he left behind. An eccentric exhibitionist (he once gave a lecture wearing a deep-sea diving suit and helmet), his appearance was no less bizarre than his work, featuring a long cape, walking stick, haughty expression, and upturned waxed moustache. For all his bombast, he was a skilled draughtsman and the paintings he produced at the peak of his powers during the 1930s and 40s stand comparison with that of his great rival Picasso.

However, not everyone was impressed and much of his later work was dismissed by his detractors, like the man himself, as a fraud.

Towards the end of his life he used to sign blank sheets of lithograph paper which were then sold for vast sums of money, but despite such antics, his popularity endures.

“He was a bizarre and eccentric man and the work itself was nothing anyone had seen before,” Nunnington Hall property operations manager, Clare Fletcher.

“Along with Picasso and Miro he was part of that amazing group of Spanish artists who pushed back the boundaries of art and he still fascinates people today.”

Salvador Dali: The Surrealist Master, Nunnington Hall, to March 18.

Dali: Master surrealist

Dali was born in 1904 in Figueres, Catalonia.

He had his first one-man show in Barcelona in 1925.

Among his most famous works are The Persistence of Memory (1931), Metamorphosis of Narcissus (1937) and Christ of Saint John of the Cross (1951)

He became the de facto leader of the surrealist movement but was later thrown out of the Paris Surrealist group following a clash with the poet Andre Breton. Afterwards he proclaimed: “I myself am surrealism.”

As well as more than 1,500 paintings, he also made films, sculptures, and photographs.

Dali died in Figueres in January 1989 .