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Le visage de la guerre

Le visage de la guerre

Salvador Dalí (in 1940)

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Dalí made several sketches for this painting. One of them was a sketch with an eye filled with a honeycomb and bees, and there was a version with two merry drunks - their eye sockets become heads, the teeth a table and they raise their glasses in the shape of triangular nostrils. This face of the war did not come from Edward James’s estate, it had already been purchased from a French collector in 1971 on the initiative of curator Renilde Hammacher.

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Collection book

Collection book Order


Title Le visage de la guerre
Material and technique Oil on canvas
Object type
Painting > Painting > Two-dimensional object > Art object
Location This object is in storage
Dimensions Width 79 cm
Height 64 cm
Artists Kunstenaar: Salvador Dalí
Accession number 2766 (MK)
Credits Aankoop met gelden uit de nalatenschap van / Purchase with funds from the estate of: G.J. Verijssel 1971
Department Modern Art
Acquisition date 1971
Age artist About 36 years old
Exhibitions Een prikkelcollectie (2000)
De collectie als tijdmachine (2017)
Een paraplu, een naaimachine en een ontleedtafel. Surrealisme à la Dalí in Rotterdam. (2013)
Collectie - surrealisme (2017)
External exhibitions Dal nulla al sogno (2018)
Dalí (2012)
Dalì & Magritte (2019)
Dalí - All of the poetic suggestions and all of the plastic possibilities (2013)
Geographical origin Spain > Southern Europe > Europe

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Author: Marijke Peyser

In his Metamorphoses, the Roman poet Ovid recounted the myth of Perseus, the son of Danaë and Zeus, the ruler of the gods. He was ordered to kill Medusa, one of the three terrifying Gorgons. Medusa’s wild eyes, tusks, protruding tongue and snakes instead of hair made her face so hideous that anyone who looked at her was turned to stone. By using his shield as a mirror Perseus managed to behead her, but her head maintained its petrifying power even after her death.[1] In 1940 Salvador Dalí depicted the horrors of the Second World War in the painting Le visage de la guerre with this image in mind.

During a lengthy stay in Rome with Lord Gerald Berners, a good friend of his patron Edward James, Dalí wrote a letter dated 21 March 1938 to his confidential advisor Prince Jean-Louis de Faucigny-Lucinge. Shortly before that, on the twelfth of March, German troops had marched into Austria. The Anschluss of Austria with the Third Reich was the first move towards the Second World War. In his writings Dalí expressed his feelings as follows: ‘One evening at sunset (very fiery and red) … in the Forum I met a ‘Margulies’, which is as we know an Austrian bird with feathers that lives in the mountains; his arms and legs were cut off, he was wearing a very flashy tie; his eyes were filled with tears when he looked at me; but I also saw a display of a will to triumph at all costs (of course I pretended that I didn’t know him).’[2]

When the war broke out on 1 September 1939, Dalí and his lover Gala wanted to leave their home in Paris as quickly as possible. They went to live not far from Bordeaux, in the seaside town of Arcachon.[3] German troops marched into Paris on 14 June 1940, and it was not long before the war reached Bordeaux: Arcachon was no longer safe. The interior designer Jean-Michel Frank managed to persuade Dalí and Gala to flee to the United States. In the summer of 1940 Gala went to Lisbon to arrange their passage. Dalí travelled through Northern Spain to say goodbye to his family.[4] The devastation that he saw there made a deep impression on him.[5] When Dalí arrived in Port Lligat, he found his house completely ransacked and daubed with fascist slogans.[6] Not much later, in mid-July, he reached Lisbon. In his autobiography he described the atmosphere in the Portuguese capital, where thousands of refugees were trying to obtain documents that would enable them to escape the war: ‘The last act of the European drama was being performed in Lisbon. A forlorn drama, without fuss, which was played out in packed hotels, shared dormitories and ended in toilets where people had to go and stand in the queue before they could open a vein.’[7] Dalí and Gala crossed the Atlantic on board the SS Excambion. They arrived in New York on 16 August 1940.[8] It was not until eight years later that their exile came to an end and they returned to Europe.



[1] Hall 1992, p. 276.

[2] Peyser-Verhaar 2008, p. 291. Unpublished letter dated 21 March1938, from Dalí to Prince Jean-Louis de Faucigny-Lucinge, Z. de Ravenel Archives. The figure that Dalí described is the personification of the arms of Austria: an eagle with a red and white crosspiece on its breast.

[3] Ibid., p. 297, unpublished letter (autumn 1939) from Gala to Prince Jean-Louis de Faucigny-Lucinge, Z. de Ravenel Archives: ‘After the start of the war we were plunged into the slightly melancholy peace and quiet of Arcachon.’

[4] Ibid., p. 299.

[5] Dalí 1952, p. 422.

[6] Ibid., p. 425.

[7] Ibid., p. 427.

[8] Secrest 1986, p. 179.

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