A letter kept in the background Josep Lluís Sert of the Francis Loeb Library of Harvard solves the mystery of why Salvador Dali he did not participate in the pavilion of the Republic at the 1937 International Exhibition in Paris. The letter, filed in the undated missives folder, was written by the Empordà painter in March 1937 to architect Sert, co-author, with Luis Lacasa, of the Spanish flag.
Dalí, 32, had just returned to Paris after a triumphant stay in the United States. He had exhibited with tremendous success at the Julian Levy gallery in New York. Star of the historic exhibition on Dadaism and Surrealism of MoMA, Magazine Time he dedicated his cover to him and, in full conversion of Karl Marx's Marxism to the Marxism of the Marx Brothers, he had agreed to make a film with Harpo.
When he arrived in Paris, he found the works of the pavilion already started and with which the republican government, which did not intend to have him, had commissioned Picasso the realization of the great mural that it would end up being the Guernica. "A few days ago I arrived in Paris and I was surprised that you did not say or propose anything for the Spanish pavilion," he writes in his peculiar Catalan to Sert. This document now comes to light. And he answers the question left in the air by Ian Gibson in his monumental biography of the painter: "We invited Dalí to participate in the pavilion …? It is probable, although until now no documentation has appeared ".
The Exhibition had to open in May and two months before Dalí had not received any commission, while Picasso, whom he thought he had surpassed artistically, carried with all the honors of the leadership of Spanish art. It is quite possible that it was then when the artist broke into an angry manner in the Parisian office that the General Director of Fine Arts, Josep Renau, had in the Spanish embassy.
The anecdote was told by the young poster designer (29 years old) already in his old age, with fragile memory and numerous contradictions, in Albures (1981): "Shortly after my second interview with Picasso and while dictating something to the secretary, he broke in unexpectedly Salvador Dali in the cabinet. At first of change and without any regard, he began to shout at me: that if the Government knew nothing of what was happening in Paris; that if Picasso was already finished and he was a great reactionary …; that if the only Spanish communist painter in Paris was him …; that if we left him in the first place … The visit fell like a stone. At that time I was quite impulsive and I lacked cold blood. I jumped up from my chair to tell him that I was not used to being shouted at: that if I had something to complain about, I could do it from there -signing the phone- to my minister, the head of the Government and even the Presidency itself. of the Republic…". Renau turned her back a moment to look up her address book and, turning her head, Dalí had disappeared, without saying goodbye.
Renau, in several interviews carried out throughout his life, offered contradictory data. He said that Dalí was in the second place on his list of guest artists, after Picasso, and on other occasions, said that Miró occupied that second place. Sert always said that everything related to the organization of the pavilion was the result of constant improvisation. In fact, Miró was not entrusted with the La Facheur mural, now lost, until April 25, a day before the wild German bombing of Gernika. There is no official paper to prove it, but this is indicated by the joy of the Catalan artist when writing that day at least two letters: one to Böske, wife of the musician George Antheil, and another to his dealer Pierre Matisse. He gives them the news: "The Spanish Government just ordered me to decorate the Spanish pavilion in the exhibition of 1937. Only Picasso and I have been requested." The same haste was Calder, whom Sert commissioned his famous mercury source in May. None of them wanted to charge more than the materials: Miró, just 464 francs.
María del Mar Arnús will publish in May an extensive biography of Sert, architect (Anagram) in which he cites Dalí's letter. The fact that the historian and art critic is a member of the Sert family has facilitated access to direct testimonies and personal files: "I went to see her secretary and she gave me a box and told me that she had prepared it from Years ago and finally someone was coming to look for it ". According to the historian, both Sert and the group of friends who met almost every day at the Café de Flore (Picasso, Miró, Huidobro, Chagall, Aub, Braque, Calder, Larrea, Aragon or Zervos) did not forgive, in such a tragic moment, Dalí's frivolous drift, and above all, that he had refused to sign the manifesto of intellectuals that condemned Nazism. Neither that it exhibited without repairs next to the futurist Marinetti, his idol of youth and defender of the idea that the war was a necessary instrument for the triumph of fascism. Sert's assistant, Antonio Bonet, also told the historian Fernando Martín that the architect had vetoed Dalí.
Sert was a member of the anti-fascist committee since the invasion of Abyssinia (1935) by Mussolini, who had sent troops to fight with Franco, while bombing towns such as Barcelona and Gernika.
Dalí, on the other hand, had received with immense pain the murders of Lorca by the Falangists and of Ampurdian friends by the anarchists. At the same time the halls of the European aristocracy and American collectors reluctant to communism had been opened to him. In addition, both Renau and the Minister of Public Instruction, Jesús Hernández, were supporters of the social realism exemplified by the Mexicans Rivera or Siqueiros.
José Gaos, curator of the Pavilion, refused Sert's request that Juli González replace the sculpture Montserrat for another abstract. The struggle between those who defended a propaganda art and an innovative art was about to get the work Black aircraft, by Horacio Ferrer de Morgado, will displace the Guernica of Picasso. If this sector considered Picasso and Miró bourgeois painters who had fled Spain and practiced an art that the proletariat did not understand, Dalí's extravagances were simply too much.
According to Arnús, Sert somehow told Dalí to leave with his fascist friends and advised him not to enter the pavilion, which was finally inaugurated on July 12. In the republican press of 1937, Dalí was already branded a Francoist and traitor. "I" wrote Dalí in Secret Life, "I just kept thinking and I did not want to be called anything other than Dalí. But already the hyena of public opinion slipped around me, asking me with the slobbering threat of its expectant fangs that finally decided me, that it would make me Stalinist or Hitlerist. No, no, no, and a thousand times no! It would continue to be, as always and until death, Dalinian and uniquely Dalinian! "
Ian Gibson believes that the thesis of the veto to Dalí "is quite reasonable". Víctor Fernández, author of numerous books about the Empordà painter and about Lorca, affirms that the letter released now "is very important". "It is the first time that we have an original and contemporary document to the facts. Until now we only relied on hypotheses and rumors. "
On the passage of Dalí from communism to Francoism, he says: "Dalí has been branded as Franco before Franco, but it is not like that. During the war he wanted to collaborate with the Republic and asked his childhood friend Jaume Miravitlles, Propaganda Commissioner of the Generalitat, to give him the position of general commissioner of the public imagination, with Gaudí's Pedrera as its headquarters. Miravitlles told him to forget the subject, that they had enough trouble. "
Next, we reproduce the letter preserved in the Josep Lluís Sert fund of the Francis Loeb Library of Harvard. It was sent by Dalí in March 1937 to the architect Sert.
"Paris 101 bis Rue de la Tombe-Issoire (14) telefon Gala 86-58.
Dear friend. A few days ago I arrived in Paris and I was surprised that you did not say or propose anything for the Spanish pavilion and I would like to talk about this issue. Zervos tells me that tomorrow you are going to Barcelona. Do you want to call me in the morning to try to see us for a moment? If we did not see each other, tell Miravitlles that I'm working on what you have asked me to do.
A hug from your friend, Dalí. "