Sensational stage curtain by Salvador Dalí at Lempertz

'Mad Tristan' in a private sale

This autumn Lempertz will auction Dali's stage curtain 'Mad Tristan' from 1944. The unusual work is probably the largest surrealist painting, and will be on display in Brussels until 3 December.

Salvador Dali (1904-1989) is one of the most important artists of the 20th century and one of the main representatives of Surrealism. He gained popularity in particular through his paintings, sculptures and graphic pieces, but the work of this Spanish artist also included a number of stage sets for ballet, opera and theatre.

Tristan fou marks the starting point of Dali's theatre work in the mid-1930s. In his 'paranoic-spectacle', the artist took on the role of the librettists, choreographers and directors as well as the stage and costume design. The fundamental context of the piece is an extensive discussion of the work of Richard Wagner, a thematic frame of reference which shapes a whole series of Dali's productions. Although for various reasons the performance was never actually realised, Dali continued to work with the idea of combining his painting with Richard Wagner's music.

Only in 1944 when Dali was living in New York did Mad Tristan celebrate its premier at the New Yorker International Theater, thanks to the impresario Marquis de Cuevas. For this purpose Dali had thoroughly reworked the first draft of Tristan from 1938, collaborating again with the choreographer Léonide Massine. Alongside the stage curtain which the public saw at the beginning of the performance, setting the mood for the drama of Tristan and Isolde, Dali also designed two background scenes. His friend and patron de Cuevas provided him with the Ensemble des Ballet International as well as 60.000 US dollars worth of production resources.* Following the success in New York, Mad Tristan travelled to Europe and was performed on the most important stages in London, Paris, Barcelona, Venice and Monte Carlo.

*According to the inflation rate, 60,000 US dollars in 1944 is equivalent today to 823,050 US dollars.


Salvador Dali Y Domenech, Mad Tristan (Tristan fou), 1944, stage curtain.

Mixed media (tempera, pastel and oil) on a multi-piece canvas (cotton). 8.76 x 14.76 m. Unsigned. Inscribed verso top left in black brush (possibly by the artist) "TRISTA T DROP" and bottom right with round a black stamp "UNITED SCENIC ARTISTS / LOCAL 829" – Professionally restored by the previous owner in 2009.

With an expertise from Robert Descharnes, Paris, 29 November.