Features Retrospective

Salvador Dalí on Henri Cartier-Bresson

The Surrealist weighs in on four photos


February 1960

February 1960

t’s Henri Cartier-Bresson’s 106th birthday today, and to mark the occasion we’re jumping back to the February 1960 issue of ARTnews, which featured painter Salvador Dalí musing on what he termed the “moralities” in the Magnum photographer’s work—a loose grouping of ideas that ranged from philosophizing about the French Revolution to brainstorming for an opera. Below, Dalí’s thoughts on four Cartier-Bressson photographs.

“Cartier-Bresson: Moralities”

By Salvador Dalí

An exhibition of Europe’s best-known photographer starts its U.S. tour this month at the I.B.M. Gallery, New York; an equally well-known painter comments

The unique film of Cartier-Bresson is so “hyperestheticized” with moralities that it becomes morally necessary to extract at least four of them. Here are Dalí’s:

1. Matisse, the last consequence of the French Revolution, that is, of the passage from aristocracy to the middle-class; apotheosis of bourgeois taste (Matisse said, a good painting should be like an armchair).

2. In Spain, no armchairs; a total scorn for material things. The ecstasy of St. John of the Cross is the game children play on the street.

3. Holland: clarity, cleanliness, parallelism. The Holland of hogs, like a Mondrian or a Vermeer. In the famous opera I am writing at the moment, I want one hundred (100) hogs to be killed simultaneously against a background of 558 motorcylcists, the engines running. Now that I have seen Cartier-Bresson, I want the hogs to be prepared for slaughter in rigorously parallel lines, like a wonderful Mondrian—wonderful because pinked (the rose of pigs); each of the black lines will become tender, bleeding, deafening with sonorous volume.

4. Russia: the birth of a patriotic conscience—in the French manner—fresh as a rose, according to the Catalonian philosopher Franesc Pujols. “The Country” is the country is the tendency towards a “unity of authority based upon a unity of separation,” which is, morphologically speaking, the rose.

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