Salvador Dali: Les Yeux Fleuris

This oil painting by the preeminent and wildly eccentric Surrealist artist Salvador Dalí amplifies a common theme not only in his work, but also in Surrealism as a movement.

Dalí, a Spanish artist who moved to New York in 1940, often depicted eyes as both a symbol for the act of perception and as an allusion, and to promote a new way of seeing.

To the Surrealists, eyes impart a sense of omnipotence and, in Dalí’s case, represent an obsessive desire to become a clairvoyant and explore the unconscious.

In 1942 — a few months after his retrospective exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York — Dalí parlayed the idea of accumulated, or “flowering,” eyes into a grand oil and tempera painting for the set of his 1944 ballet Mad Tristan.

In this painting from the same year, Les Yeux Fleuris, Dalí depicts three rows of four eyes with long lashes and a tear dropping on a brick wall backdrop.

Its provenance traces to Marques Jorge de Cuevas, who also owned a similar painting by Dalí — the 15-foot-wide Yeux Fleuris, a 1931 tempera and oil on canvas that was used on the set for Mad Tristan.

Dalí, like Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, designed for theater productions as early as 1927 and later the extent of his work went beyond creating stage décor and costumes to providing the libretto for Bacchanale (1939) and Labyrinth (1941).

Eyes appear in Dalí paintings throughout his career — as late as the 1981 painting Argus, which has five eyes. Most notably, the eye appears in paintings Dalí made for the dream sequences of the film Spellbound starring Ingrid Bergman and directed by Alfred Hitchcock.

A lifetime of relentless controversy and self-promotion, as well as an extraordinary body of paintings and sculpture, assured Dalí of what he wanted — immortality, or at least enduring fame that transcends art.