Monday, 15 April 2013

Salvador Dalí - Les Chants de Maldoror

 Fertile Eyes III, 1934

Les Chants de Maldoror (The Songs of Maldoror) is a poetic novel (or a long prose poem) consisting of six cantos. It was written between 1868 and 1869 by the Comte de Lautréamont, the pseudonym of the Uruguayan-born French writer Isidore Lucien Ducasse. Many of the surrealists (Salvador Dalí, André Breton, Antonin Artaud, Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray, Max Ernst, etc.) during the early 20th century cited the novel as a major inspiration to their own works.

Les Chants de Maldoror is considered to have been a major influence upon French Symbolism, Dada, and Surrealism. Several editions of the book have included lithographs by the French symbolist painter Odilon Redon. Surrealist painter Salvador Dalí also illustrated one edition of the book. The Italian painter Amedeo Modigliani used to carry a copy around in Montparnasse and quote from it. The outsider artist Unica Zürn was also influenced by it in writing her The Man of Jasmine. William T. Vollmann mentioned it as the work that most influenced his writing.

 Desire of Softness, 1934

In 1930 Dali was invited to illustrate Les Chants de Maldoror, an 1869 text rediscovered by the Surrealists in the 1930s that told a nightmarish tale of an unrepentantly evil protagonist. The book was filled with scenes of violence, perversion, and blasphemy. Dali, who worked in a method he called "paranoiac-critical," used a stream-of-consciousness process to access hallucinations and delusions. These personal visions, rather than scenes described in the prose poem, became the subjects of his illustrations.

The individual prints Dali executed in the 1930s, made predominately at the workshop of Roger Lacourière, were experiments in intaglio and were never published as editions. Limp Cranes and "Cranian" Harp, composed as an accumulation of sketches, juxtaposes an array of Dali's quintessential motifs—soft watches, mutating shoes, and the stretched harp and deformed skulls referred to in the title. The harp and skull were, for Dali, evocative of melancholy and death. He claimed that his particular obsession with skull imagery was rooted in a childhood memory of encountering an encephalitic whose skull had been deformed by disease.
Harper Montgomery and Sarah Suzuki 

 Outbidding the Body, 1934

'Les Chants de Maldoror was published in 1869 by the Comte de Lautréamont, the 'noble' pseudonym adopted by the Uruguayan-born Frenchman Isidore Lucien Ducasse (1846 - 1870). Ducasse died in 1870, aged 24, in the chaos of the siege of Paris during the Franca-Prussian war. His provocative ideas are presented in two books, Les Chants de Maldoror (1869) and Poésies (1870), from which the author emerges as a man apparently deranged, possessing instinctive cruelty, nihilistic humour and extraordinary sexual prowess. The romantic epic of the anti-hero Maldoror consists of six 'songs'. It is difficult to fathom. Rife with bombastic clichés, crazy Homeric epithets, absurd comparisons, unexpected banalities and pseudo-profundities, the work has a style entirely its own which is mystifying to the reader. One gets the feeling that absolutely everything is undermined, and that every passage is therefore questionable. Maldoror's overriding preoccupation is to combat God and humanity. The book is a swingeing onslaught on and total invalidation of Western society, the social system, institutions and ideologies. Often resorting to extreme parody, grotesquery and burlesque. cynicism and black humour, Ducasse brazenly takes up arms against the church, state and morals. In a letter to his Belgian publisher Verboeckhoven, Ducasse wrote: 'I have sung the praise of evil.' And indeed, his literary hero's name derives from evil: 'Mal d'Aurore' means the Dawn of Evil.
Dennis Cooper

 Remains of a Carnal Bond, 1934

In 1934, on Picasso's recommendation, the Swiss publisher Albert SKIRA commissioned Dali to illustrate the "Maldoror Songs", the famous text by Lautréamont (Isidore Ducasse). Dali engraved 42 coppers in the spirit of all the surrelist themes of his major paintings during this period. The edition size was initially planned to reach 200 but because of SKIRA's financial difficulties, only about 60 books were printed. The copper plates were confiscated and kept in private hands.

In 1970, a three-party contract was signed between DALI, SKIRA and ARGILLET for the final publication of this major graphic series. For this, DALI engraved 8 new coppers and signed all of the 50 etchings that now compose "The definitive edition of the Maldoror Songs". This Edition was printed in two forms: 100 books containing the text and the 50 subjects (signed and numbered), and 100 series of the etchings alone.

 Implements of Crossing, 1934

In 1999 the Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum, Rotterdam acquired an unusual edition of Les Chants de Maldoror. Illustrated by Salvador Dali (1904 - 1989), it was published in 1934 in Paris by Albert Skira, who was also the publisher of the surrealist magazine Minotaure (1933 - 1939). The new edition of Les Chants was a substantial volume of 207 pages, with 42 etchings by Dali: 30 full-page and 12 vignettes. The book is accompanied by a so-called 'suite': a looseleaf set of the same 42 etchings, many of whose lower margins show scribbled motifs that are missing in the book. Skira had planned 120 'suites' but due to financial problems only 40 were printed, on Vélin d'Arches paper. The book was not printed in the originally planned edition of 80 either, only 60 copies being produced. It was Pablo Picasso who proposed that Lautréamont's inspiring 'cult' book should be illustrated by his compatriot Dali, who has been introduced to it by the writer René Crevel. Dalì embarked on the task in 1932, drawing preliminary studies for some of the illustrations. He was approximately 28 years old when he made the series, about the same age as the 19th-century author of the bizarre texts who died so young. Dali deployed the entire arsenal of his characteristic imagery in his illustrations to Les Chants. The etcher's tool transformed the poet's satanic deluge of words into a paradigm of the artist's own 'criticalparanoid' method. In the like-minded artist, Les Chants evoked associations, hallucinations and deliriums which are linked with his 'personal myths'. For example, Dali quoted Jean-Francois Millet's popular painting The Angelus here for the first time. The well-known figures of the farmer and his wife sunk in prayer, standing in a potato field, appear in four etchings with items from Dal!'s typical vocabulary, such as flaccid parts of the body supported by crutches and distorted bones.
Chris Will

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