Known for his snub mustaches and sensational paintings, Salvador Dalí was one of the most famous artists of the 20th century. And he knew it.
“Compared to Velázquez, I am nothing”, he said in 1960, “but compared to contemporary painters, I am the greatest genius of modern times”.
But although his work has been obsessively cataloged by curators and historians, one of his sculptures, a rare CChrist of Saint John of the Cross made of wax – was considered lost.
Now it is found. On Wednesday, a Hawaiian gallery exhibited the rediscovered artwork on what would have been the artist’s 118th birthday.
At only 14 years old when his works were exhibited for the first time, the surrealist created throughout his long life dreamlike works with various themes ranging from religiosity to memory. The sculpture commemorates his mid-life return in 1948 to the Catholic faith.
The work had been stored in its original plexiglass box for more than four decades in the vault of a private collector in the United States. Although the seller asked to remain anonymous, a spokesperson for Harte International Galleries confirmed they had a “close relationship” with the artist, writes the art diaryis Kabir Jhala.
Gallery co-owners Glenn and Devon Harte discovered the piece after contacting the collector to purchase an art book.
Created in 1979, the wax sculpture served as the model for various editions of Dalí’s bas-relief sculptures Christ of Saint John of the Cross in platinum, gold, silver and bronze. This work could be seen as a 3D variation of the artist’s 1951 painting with the same title currently on display at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow.
The piece is now called the Lost waxin reference to an ancient process called lost wax casting which is still used to create reproductions of Dalí’s three-dimensional works.
The preservation of wax sculptures is complex and unusual, and most experts expected that the original mold did not survive.
“Harte International Galleries has sold a number of bas-relief sculptures of ‘Christ of St. John of the Cross’ throughout our history, but no one believed that the original work – made by a senior Dalí in wax – still existed,” Glenn said. Harte, co-owner of Harte International Galleries, in a statement.
The gallery collaborated with Nicolas Descharnes, Salvador Dalí specialist, and Carlos Evaristo, iconographic expert, to authenticate the sculpture. Descharnes’ father, Robert Descharnes, was Dalí’s secretary until his death, and his family worked to authenticate the Spanish surrealist’s works for more than 40 years to maintain his legacy and protect him from forgery.
In 2018, for example, Descharnes authenticated a Dalí painting that had been stored in a private collection for 75 years, Brigit Katz wrote for Smithsonian magazine. Descharnes spent nine months digging through the archives and performing infrared photography tests to ensure the painting was not a fake reproduction.
The market for Dalí sculptures has long been controversial. In 2008, ART news reported on long-running controversies over how many sculptures Dalí actually made, which of Dalí’s alleged creations on the market were actually created by the artist, and who owns the right to produce them.
“There are always two levels of authentication,” Descharnes told the art diary‘s Gabriella Angeleti in 2018. “One is the technical level, with which I will have help from other experts, and the other is pure knowledge.”
“…Few things are as they seem in the world of Salvador Dalí,” ART news written at the time. But the enthusiasm for the sculpture is real – and while the gallery doesn’t say how much it paid for the artwork, it has valued the sculpture at between $10 million and $20 million.