Bread, Dali and the Revolution

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

 

                            Figure 1: Dali  1926. Basket of Bread

 

I said to everyone who cared to listen, ‘Bread, bread and more bread. Nothing but bread.” - Salvador Dali

 

One of the prominent subjects in my Work in Progress Portfolio, is naturally, bread. This daily food has remained part of our shared iconography food culture for thousands of years.  We have loved and celebrated our life events with bread. And when most of a society's population cannot afford to buy bread because of bad governance, unsurprisingly,  there will be anger, there will be, a Revolution. To declare bread - the political food that brought down some of the most powerful leaders in history, wouldn't be far fetched. Bread is also a favourite subject of artists, Salvador Dali, in particular, was either in love or obsessed with it. The renown artist often wrote and discussed the topic of bread, Dali once revealed that during a lightbulb moment he looked down at the heel of a long loaf of bread that was on the edge of a table. 

 

Dali stared at the bread for a moment that seemed almost eternal.  After snapping out of this trance like state, he picked up the hard end of the loaf, kissed it and put it in his mouth. Dali then proceeded to suck on the bread until it was soft enough. He then placed the softened part of the bread upright on the edge of the table, the bread remained standing.  Dali considered it a profound symbolism.

 

It was the beginning of his fascination with bread, and over the years, he has painted the food numerous times.  Dali's numerous paintings of bread personified and explored topics like sex with his 'Anthropomorphic Bread', painted in 1932 during his Surrealist period (1929-1940).  An earlier painting of a more realistic looking bread was in 1926,  'THE BASKET OF BREAD', painted during his Realism period and the formative years of his career (1917-1927). Dali was twenty-two when he completed the painting.  'THE BASKET OF BREAD' was painted after he finished formal art studies of the Dutch Masters in Madrid.  Just by looking at the painting's muted colours and tones, you can see the influences of baroque artists like Vermeer in Dali's work.   In 1928, 'THE BASKET OF BREAD' became the first painting of Dali's that was on display in America at the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh.

 

                              Figure 2: Dali  1945.  Bread in a Basket.

 

One of his most famous paintings, is the heel of a bread, in a basket, on the edge of a table. 'BREAD IN A BASKET' painted in 1945 over a period of two months, during the week of the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which occurred on 6th and 9th of August, the final stages of the war. It represented "Death than Shame" - 'to die a victim than live in shame of having dropped the bombs that killed 129,000 people'.   The Guillotine, by contrast, was used during the French Revolution to behead around 40,000 people between 1793 and 1794, a little less than a third of deaths than the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And it was also more humane despite its gore factor.

 

But getting back to bread, Dali understood the significance of bread in our spiritual history, daily lives and its political context in history.  Looking back, leading up to the French Revolution, during times of bad harvests, when the poorest of the poor were spending over 97% of their wages on bread, it's easy to understand their plight.  Imagine today if we were in such a situation, how would we react?  You can’t dream, you can’t think of being cultured or intellectual if your belly is constantly grumbling. To spend virtually every dime you earn on bread, will create an uncontrollable anger in any struggling society. So it’s easy to understand how the situation became what it was, how morality and empathy can be thrown out the door when there is no bread.

Figure 3: Vermeer 1665. Girl with a Pearl Earring.

 

Hard-Boiled & Caked: Antoinette on Display

This series 'Hard Boiled & Caked: Antoinette on Display',  I borrowed from Dali. When I first looked at Dali's painting, what struck me was the similarity between Johannes Vermeer’s Girl with the Pearl Earring and A Lady Writing.  Just by looking at the painting's muted colours and tones, you can see the influences of artists like Vermeer in Dali's work. The tonal contrasts, colour scheme, the golds and browns and dark backgrounds and highlights are quite similar.  To find that link was reassuring in terms of the consistency in my practice from the Informing Context Module to Surfaces and Strategies.

 

                           Figure 4: Baptiste  2017. The Third Loaf.

 

Looking at my 'The Third Loaf, it’s clear not only by its title but also by its symbolism what it represents. Leading up to the French Revolution, France in 1789 was predominantly Catholic, almost the entire 28 million of its inhabitants were Catholic, it would appear as no coincidence that the structure of governance at the time was divided into three Estates in France. The number three as you may be aware is represented in the Holy Trinity: The Father, The Son and the Holy Spirit.

 

The Three Estates

The First Estate, the Clery (comprised of 0.5% of the population owned 10% of the land and did not pay taxes) is represented by the standing oval shaped bread that casts this ominous shadow instead of halo on the wall.  The Second Estate, the Nobility, (made up 1.5 % of the population, its wealthiest members held top jobs in government, army and at court, they did not pay taxes) is represented by the round upright bread.  The loaf of bread represents the Third Estate, the People (98% of the population, at the top were lawyers, doctors, professors, then the middle class, and peasants) with its visible heel.  

 

Like Dali, the three bread, in my photography art are personified, they are the manifestations of individuals, French society,  its culture, social order and division.  While the contextualization aligns well with Dali's political reference in his 'Basket of Bread', from an aesthetic perspective, it's colours are vibrant and lines more stable, giving a more renaissance feel to the image with a touch of baroque elements.   

 

The bread continues to be the food of the people.  The wise politician will always find knowledge and ways to solve the common people's issues by breaking bread with them.

 

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'The Third Loaf' is currently featured in my exhibition 'Lost in Velvet: Antoinette on Display' in Abu Dhabi. 'Lost in Velvet' is part of a group exhibition 'Landings' SEARCHING FOR MEANING, featuring the 'work-in-progress portfolio exhibitions by students and staff of the Online MA Photography course at Falmouth University'.   

 

 

 

 

References

 

© Price and Wages in Paris, 1789-93. 2017. Tees.ac.uk [online]. Available at: http://www.tees.ac.uk/schools/lahs/rev_france/frenrev/resource/15c(ii).htm [accessed 9 July 2017].

 

PINE, JULIA. 2010. Breaking Dalinian Bread: On Consuming the Anthropomorphic, Performative, Ferocious, and Eucharistic Loaves of Salvador Dalí. InVisible Culture: An Electronic Journal for Visual Culture.

 

Figures

 

Figure 1. DALI, SALVADOR. 1926. The Basket of Bread [Oil, panel]. St. Petersburg, FL, US: Salvador Dali Museum.

 

Figure 2. DALI, SALVADOR. 1945. The Bread Basket / Bread in a Basket [Oil on canvas].

 

Figure 3. VERMEER, JOHANNES. 1665. The Girl with a Pearl Earring [oil on canvas]. Wikipedia Commons [online] Available at:  https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AGirl_with_a_Pearl_Earring.jpg

 

Figure 4. BAPTISTE, MANDISA. 2017. The Third Loaf.

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