Little-Known Zionist Series by Salvador Dalí Goes On Private Display in New York
by Lea Speyer
A series of biblical and Zionist-themed paintings by Salvador Dalí has gone on private display in the heart of New York City in an effort to showcase through art the historical connection of the Jewish people to the land of Israel, the collection’s owner told The Algemeiner.
Art dealer Hillel Philip, who owns one of 250 sets of prints of Dalí’s little-known “Aliyah, the Rebirth of Israel” series, told The Algemeiner, “You have all of Jewish history, all the dreams of the Jews for 2,000 years, in these paintings.”
The paintings were commissioned by Shorewood Publishers in 1967 for the 20th anniversary of the state of Israel. The set is comprised of 25 mixed-media paintings highlighting important religious, historic and political moments in Jewish history. The series received a special endorsement from Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion.
“The distinguished artist Salvador Dalí has succeeded through the power of his great artistry in embodying in a number of prints the marvel of aliyah, which in a short time fashioned a renewed people, a renewed country and a renewed — as well as renewing — state,” Ben-Gurion wrote in a letter on display with the collection. Shorewood exhibited the original series in a New York museum, but each piece was eventually sold to private collectors. Their locations remain unknown to this day.
Philip told The Algemeiner that a large number of the roughly 300 people — including top art collectors, Jewish leaders and political officials — who came to view “Dalí’s Israel: From Past to Present” expressed their marvel over the artist’s connection to Judaism. “Many people have said to me, ‘I didn’t know Dalí was Jewish.’ I would tell them that no, he wasn’t Jewish and everyone would respond, ‘But I’ve never heard of Dalí doing something like this.’ Everyone just loved it. They are blown away that he did such a thing,” Philip said.
Philip organized the series into five themes: the covenant between God and the Jewish people, embracing life despite tragedies in Jewish history, war, aliyah and the founding of modern Israel. “A lot of Jews have something that connects them to Israel, whether it be the land, technology, history or culture. That’s why the whole series together shows the dreams of the Jewish people,” said Philip.
Each painting is accompanied by a biblical verse originally ascribed to each work by the artist. According to the website of the Salvador Dalí Foundation, “In order to illustrate the various meanings of the Hebrew word ‘aliyah,’ which means literally ‘migration to the land of Israel,’ the artist took inspiration from the Old Testament as well as contemporary history.”
The verse for the painting entitled “Covenant Eternal: Circumcision,” for example, is taken from Deuteronomy 30:9: “This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.”
In one of several paintings in the series that depicts the Holocaust, the artist quotes Psalms 88:7 — “Thou hast laid me in the nethermost pit, in dark place, in the deeps.”
Philip called Dalí’s ability to connect so intimately to Jewish history “fascinating.”
“Here is an example of a world-renowned artist who is not Jewish and was able to understand the Jewish connection so well. Although he was a brilliant guy, Dalí’s Jewish education is probably equal to that of most American Jews today, or even less,” Philip claimed. “It is quite incredible that he was able to depict such an amazing and deep understanding of Jewish history and is something we can learn from, too.”
Philip noted that, according to some scholars, Dalí “was an antisemite, due to his involvement with Franco in Spain, who collaborated with Hitler. It’s my understanding that in the end, Dalí bet on the right horse, so to speak, on the Jews, when he saw in the 1960s biblical prophecies coming to life. Israel came into existence, the Jews were victorious and he decided to ‘change sides.'”
Calling Dalí’s series “a representation of the legitimacy of the Jews and their right to Israel,” Philip, who is Jewish, said he had decided to exhibit it “to remind the world, especially the Jews, that we belong in Israel and, more importantly, that the land belongs to us.”
As Israel faces an ongoing terror wave, he said, “It is important to defend and support it during a time of crisis.”