By Sam Heller
For Salvador Dali, 1934 was an important year. In that year he turned 30; married his companion, Gala; had six solo exhibitions; made his first visit to the US, was lionized by New York society; and met, and befriended, a young journalist and photographer named Pierre Argillet.
Ten years before, Andre Breton had introduced a new cultural and artistic movement, Surrealism. Influenced by the writings of Freud, Breton saw Surrealism’s artistic purpose to be the depiction of imagery and ideas springing spontaneously from the subconscious, unfettered by logic or reason. Les Chants de Maldoror, a long prose-poem written in the 1860s by Isidore Ducasse, had become a major Surrealist influence; and a new special edition of the six-canto work was released, paired with 42 etchings by Dali.
Argillet, just 24, was an avid fan, and burgeoning collector, of Dada, Surrealist, and Futurist art. He had already come to know many of the artists and writers connected to the new movements, including Tristan Tzara, Juan Arp, Marinetti, de Chirico, Cocteau, and others. Then, at an exhibit of the new Les Chants de Maldoror Tzara introduced Argillet to Dali. That meeting began a friendship that lasted until Dali’s death in 1989. Neither man could know then that 25 years later, at the dawn of the 1960s, they would collaborate to create the most significant body of etchings in Dali’s oeuvre.
By 1959, Argillet, had become a noted collector, publisher, and dealer. Earlier that year he had begun to assemble a limited-edition of poetry by Rimbaud, for which he had already commissioned fine-prints by Jean Cocteau, Hans Bellmer, Leonora Fini, and others. For the first time, he asked his now world-famous friend if he would make an etching to include. Dali gave him two. First, a moving, and dynamically drawn, Pieta, and, l’Incantation, an entirely unique image of a humanoid figure and female nude.
From 1959 through 1974, Dali, the artist, and Argillet, the publisher, facilitator, and enthusiast, discussed literature in order to find poetry and prose to pair with new etchings by Dali. It was understood that the resulting imagery would be Dali’s visual reactions to the work; and not necessarily literal references to it. Argillet encouraged Dali’s desire to experiment with using “purposeful accidents,” a technique referred to in Surrealism as Hasard Objectif. Several etchings were developed by the artist from random smudges, created by striking the plate with a chisel; scratching with nails; and even exploding small bags of hardware. For his etching, Medusa, from the Mythology suite, Dali pressed an acid-drenched, dead octopus into the copper plate. The artist’s trust in Argillet, motivated him to do some of his finest work, and created an atmosphere that encouraged him to push the boundaries of the medium and his imagination. Argillet then arranged for hand-printing of the copperplates; in signed and numbered editions on Arches paper and on Japanese rice paper; after which one or more editions were hand-colored under Dali’s direction.
Although Dali’s friendship with the Argillet family lasted until the artist’s death in 1989, his last etching for the publisher was released in 1974. Dali had, for some time, been deluged with offers from other publishers and dealers to create photo-based lithographs, often taken from existing paintings by the artist. Argillet disapproved of reproductive prints; as they often called for little artist involvement, other than proofing and signing the completed sheets. The Pierre Argillet Collection demonstrates high standards of quality, and the impassioned collaboration between an artist and his publisher. All works in the collection come with complete documentation, including provenance, as follows: Pierre Argillet to the Argillet family to SHFA to the purchaser.
All images and text shown on this site are copyright © Sam Heller Fine Art. Ltd., and may not be reproduced or distributed for any commercial purpose without express written permission under penalty of law. All rights reserved. Images displayed on this site of etchings by Salvador Dali are copyright Argillet/GSDF for imagery; and Sam Heller Fine Art, Ltd. for the actual digitally-framed, accuracy-adjusted, sample photographs displayed.