Rare Salvador Dalí illustrations on display at SCSU after surviving a flood

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The Spanish surrealist artist Salvador Dalí stands out for his technical skills, his precise drawing and the striking and bizarre images of his work.

Now, for the first time, a set of illustrations from the 1974 German edition of “The Divine Comedy” – of which only 382 copies were produced – will be on display at Southern Connecticut State University. Buley Gallery in New Haven. The set of drawings was purchased in the early 1970s by former SCSU art professor Olafs Zeidenbergs for the university’s art collection, but so far has not been shown.

“We always knew we had a bunch of Salvador Dalí prints in the collection, but no one really thought we had the breadth of what we had,” said Cort Sierpinski, art professor at the university and curator of the exhibition. “Most things have been in storage for years, and now they’re starting to come out.”

But an unlucky fortuitous event nearly ruined these illustrations forever.

“Salvador Dalí Illustrates The Divine Comedy” will be on view until April 7 at SCSU.

Isabel Chenoweth/ SCSU/ Contributing Photo

In 2007, when the Buley Library was being renovated, there was a flood on Thanksgiving weekend and the gallery was on the lowest level at the time. Even though the 1,300-piece art collection was stored five feet higher than the ground floor, it still sustained significant damage.

“The university was pretty proactive and hired the Chicago Conservation Center, and they went out with big tractor-trailers and brought all the artwork back to their facility so they could figure out what needed immediate attention. and what could be saved,” Sierpinski said. . “Fortunately for us, because these images of Salvador Dalí came in a book – in three separate binders from hell, purgatory or heaven – the paper sleeves acted as a filter, they were not damaged .”

All 100 images remained in near perfect condition.

The story of how Dalí came to draw these images is also fascinating.

“In 1949 Dalí requested an audience with the pope because he wanted to paint a picture of the immaculate [conception], and he wanted the Pope’s blessing,” Sierpinski said. “There were high-ranking people in the Italian government who then hired Dalí to illustrate ‘The Divine Comedy’.”

“Salvador Dalí Illustrates The Divine Comedy” will be on view until April 7 at SCSU.

Isabel Chenoweth/ SCSU/ Contributing Photo

Once people found out they had hired a Spaniard and not an Italian, there was an uproar. It got so hot that they canceled the project. But Dalí had already started the work, and continued. After five years the artist completed his collection and it took another five years for the engraver to come up with the separate woodcuts needed to recreate the images.

“Images are like watercolors, and you can only get one paint color each time you run it through the press, so it was a long process,” Sierpinski said. “They produced about 3,500 of these books and there was an exhibition in Paris in 1961.”


Almost a decade later, they decided to make a German edition, containing more text, and that’s where the illustrations for the series come from.

“It’s very difficult to find the complete set intact,” Sierpinski said. “People who got the books tended to sell the pictures one by one.”

Dalí considered this one of the most important projects of his artistic life, and being so rare to see all of these images in one place, the exhibition is a must for art lovers and Dalí aficionados.

“It really is an amazing exhibit to see Dalí exemplify the journey of history,” Sierpinski said.

“Salvador Dalí Illustrates The Divine Comedy” will be on view until April 7 during gallery opening hours: Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

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