About This Artwork

Salvador Dalí
Spanish, 1904–1989

Venus de Milo with Drawers, 1936

Painted plaster with metal pulls and mink pompons
38 5/8 x 12 3/4 x 13 3/8 in. (98 x 32.5 x 34 cm)

Through prior gift of Mrs. Gilbert W. Chapman, 2005.424

© Salvador Dalí, Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York,
2014

Among Salvador Dalí’s many memorable works, perhaps none is more deeply embedded in the popular imagination than Venus de Milo with Drawers, a halfsize plaster reproduction of the famous marble statue (130/120 b.c.; Musée du Louvre, Paris), altered with pompon decorated drawers in the figure’s forehead, breasts, stomach, abdomen, and left knee. The combination of cool painted plaster and silky mink tufts illustrates the Surrealist interest in uniting different elements to spark a new reality. For the Surrealists, the best means of provoking this revolution of consciousness was a special kind of sculpture that, as Dalí explained in a 1931 essay, was "absolutely useless . . . and created wholly for the purpose of materializing in a fetishistic way, with maximum tangible reality, ideas and fantasies of a delirious character." Dalí’s essay, which drew upon the ideas of Marcel Duchamp’s readymades, inaugurated object making as an integral part of Surrealist activities.

Influenced by the work of Sigmund Freud, Dalì envisioned the idea of a cabinet transformed into a female figure, which he called an "anthropomorphic cabinet." Venus de Milo with Drawers is the culmination of Dalí’s explorations into the deep, psychological mysteries of sexual desire, which are symbolized in the figure of the ancient goddess of love.

— Entry, The Essential Guide, 2013, p.274.


Among Salvador Dali's many memorable works, perhaps none is more deeply embedded in the popular imagination than Venus de Milo with Drawers, a half-size plaster reproduction of the famous marble (130-120 B.C.; Musée de Louvre, Paris), altered with pompon-decorated drawers in the figure's forehead, breasts, stomach, abdomen, and left knee. The provoking combination of cool painted plaster and silky mink tufts illustrates the Surrealist interest in uniting different elements to spark a new reality. For the Surrealists the best means of provoking this revolution of consciousness was a special kind of sculpture that, as Dali explained in a 1931 essay, was "absolutely useless ... and created wholly for the purpose of materializing in a fetishistic way, with maximum tangible reality, ideas and fantasies of a delirious character." Dali's article, which drew upon the ideas of Marcel Duchamp's Readymades, inaugurated object making as an integral part of Surrealist activity.

Dali was deeply influenced by the work of Sigmund Freud, contending "The only difference between immortal Greece and contemporary times is Sigmund Freud, who discovered that the human body, purely platonic in the Greek epoch, is nowadays full of secret drawers that only psychoanalysis is capable to open." The artist was especially interested in Freud's interpretation of William Jensen's Gradiva, a 1903 novel about an archaeologist's obsession with an ancient relief; this curiosity coincided with his first explorations on the theme of cabinets—works such as the intimately scaled Atmospheric Chair (1933), in which a small cabinet seems to give birth to a maelstrom of vaguely human body parts. In other works, like City of Drawers (1936), Dali transformed the cabinet into a female figure, or, as he put it, an "anthropomorphic cabinet." Venus de Milo with Drawers is the three-dimensional culmination of Dali's explorations into the deep, psychological mysteries of sexual desire symbolized in the figure of the ancient goddess of love.

While the artist showed Venus privately in 1936 and 1939, it remained in obscurity until the early 1960s, when the art dealer Max Clarac-Serou acquired it and made an edition of ten bronzes under Dali's supervision. Over the next twenty-five years, Dali reconceived the sculpture in countless variations. While the unique 1936 plaster was first exhibited publicly in 1979, it had, in a Surrealist twist, already long enjoyed an iconic status thanks to its many proliferations.

—Entry, Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies, Vol. 32, No. 1, Notable Acquisitions at The Art Institute of Chicago (2006), p. 64-65.

Exhibition, Publication and Ownership Histories

Exhibition History

Paris, 101 bis rue de la Tombe-Issoire, 19 June 1936.

Paris, 88 rue de l’Université, 2 February 1939.

Paris, Galerie du Dragon, Objet surréaliste 1931–1937, 20 October–20 December 1979, no. 10.

Paris, Musée du Louvre, D’après l’antique, 16 October 2000–15 January 2001, no. 259.

St. Petersburg, Florida, The Salvador Dali Museum, A Disarming Beauty. The Venus de Milo in 20th-Century Art, 28 April–9 September 2001, fig. 29.

London, Tate Modern, Surrealism: Desire Unbound, 20 September 2001–1 January 2002; traveled to: New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 6 February–12 May 2002, fig. 72.

Venice, Palazzo Grassi, Dalì, 12 September 2004–16 January 2005; traveled to: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 16 February–15 May 2005, cat. 156 (ill.),

Publication History

Robert Descharnes, The World of Salvador Dali (New York: 1962), p. 167.

William S. Rubin, Dada, Surrealism and Their Heritage (New York, 1968), p. 145, fig. 217.

Salvador Dali, exh. cat. (Frankfurt am Main, 1974), p. 30 (ill.).

Dalí parDalí (Montrouge, 1975), p. 73 (ill.)

Galerie du Dragon, L’Objet surréaliste 1931–1937 (Paris, 1979), no. 10 (ill.).

Simon Wilson, “Salvador Dali,” Salvador Dali, exh. cat. (London, 1980), p. 17.

Picasso/Miró/Dalí: Evocations d’Espagne (Madrid, 1985), no. 23, p. 230 (ill.).

Carlton Lake, In Quest of Dali (New York, 1990), pp. 72-74.

Franco Passioni, “Dalí dans la troisième dimension,” Salvador Dalí: Illustrateur et Sculpteur, exh. cat. (Geneva, 1992), p. 93.

Robert Descharnes and Gilles Néret, Salvador Dalí, 1904–1989, vol. I: Das malerische Werk, (Cologne, 1993), p. 279, no. 628 (ill.).

Marco di Capua, Dalí (New York, 1994)

Robert Descharnes, “Dalì, la Vénus de Milo, et la persistence de la mémoire antique,” D’après l’antique (Paris, 2000), pp. 462–65 (ill.).

William Jeffett, “An Obscure Object of Desire: The Venus de Milo, Surrealism and Beyond,” Disarming Beauty: The Venus de Milo in 20th-Century Art (St. Petersburg, Florida, 2001), pp. 61-67, 83, fig. 29.

Jennifer Mundy, ed., Surrealism: Desire Unbound (Princeton, New Jersey, 2001), p. 97 (ill. only).

Robert and Nicolas Descharnes, Dalí: Le dur et le mou, Sortilège et magie des formes (Paris, 2003), no. 61, pp. 32-33 (ill.).

Dalí, exh. cat. (New York, 2004), pp.258–59, no. 156 (ill.).

Bruce Boucher, "Notable Acquisitions at the Art Institute of Chicago," Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies 32, no. 1 (2006), p. 64, ill. p. 65.

Charles Stuckey, “Dalì in Duchamp-Land,” Art In America (May 2005), pp. 153–54, ill.

Ownership History

Salvador Dalí, Paris, 1936–c. 1964; sold to Max Clarac-Sérou, Paris, c. 1964–1990; sold to Patrick Derom, Brussels, c. 1990.




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