Salvador Dali and Atelier 17

Submitted by Leslie Cade on

The Print Club of Cleveland, the oldest museum affiliate group in the nation, has every year since 1924 issued an annual print exclusively for its members. After admiring a recent work by Dali – The Sleep of Nautilus (1938) made for the Steuben Glass Works – the club asked the artist to submit proposal drawings based on mythological themes for their 1945 print. Dali’s first proposal, Rapt d’Afrique, was rejected as being too sensational. Henry Sayles Francis, curator of Prints and Drawings and the Print Club secretary, sent a plaintive letter requesting the artist consider a different subject. Dali replied with Saint George and the Dragon, which was enthusiastically accepted.

Approving the drawing was just the beginning of a lengthy saga resulting in the delay of the publication of the print until 1947. The museum provided Dali with the copper plate for etching. The first plate arrived scratched and efforts to repair it instead ruined it and another plate had to be procured. In March 1946 the replacement plate was shipped to the artist in California where it languished in a crate while Dali completed work on an animated film for Walt Disney. In November Henry Sayles Francis received a letter requesting the assistance of a specialist who could help with the etching. He scrambled to find a collaborator in New York, where Dali had relocated, but to no avail. In a desperate attempt to complete the project, Francis even suggested shipping the plate and drawing back to the museum where a “competent etcher” on staff could complete the work.

As it turned out, Dali merely needed the use of a studio in which to etch the plate. In January 1947 Print Club member Charles E. Roseman, Jr. made arrangements with Stanley William Hayter for the use of Atelier 17. Hayter advised and supervised Dali during the etching process. By the end of March proofs were ready for approval by the Print Club. The edition was printed by Charles S. White in New York, and in June a total of 260 impressions and three trial prints were sent to Dali for his signature. Saint George and the Dragon made its public debut in an exhibition of 65 works by the artist held at the Cleveland Museum of Art in October 1947.

Saint George and the Dragon is on display through August 13th in the exhibition Cutting Edge: Modern Prints from Atelier 17. The cancelled printing plate is on exhibit in the Ingalls Library.