Santiago El Grande

Santiago El Grande

The painting on the left is Santiago El Grande, by Salvador Dali.

I love this painting.

I first saw it when I visited my friend Trish Smith in Fredericton twenty-one years ago. Trish took me to the Beaverbrook Art Gallery and when I first laid eyes on this painting I was blown away. You can’t tell by the picture in this post but it’s enormous, and when I saw it up close I could not get over the at times almost photo-realistic detail Dali managed to achieve. It was the first painting of its calibre I had ever seen.

Shortly afterward I travelled to Europe and visited the Louvre and the Musee D’Orsay, and several galleries in Florence Italy, and no painting in any of those places impressed me as much as Santiago El Grande. I bought a print of it and it hangs in my office at home. But the print is so small compared to the original that you can’t really get a sense of the painting’s majesty, or intricate detail.

About four years ago I returned to Fredericton on a business trip. When I learned I would be going to Fredericton I knew that the one thing I had to do was see Santiago El Grande again. I hoped I would have time, and that the Gallery wouldn’t be too far from where I was staying. Turns out my hotel was the Beaverbrook Hotel… right next door to the Gallery! As soon as I checked in and deposited my bags in my room I high-tailed it to the Gallery.

I had forgotten the layout of the Gallery, that you can see Santiago El Grande as soon as you step inside. There was only an hour left until close but I paid my eight bucks and went in. I spent about ten minutes staring at Santiago El Grande. As I approached the painting I overheard the final moment of a conversation another patron was having with a staff member about Dali. Once I finished admiring the painting on my own I approached the staff member and asked if he could tell me a bit about the painting.

“You’ll be sorry you asked,” he told me.

But I was not at all sorry. It took him about fifteen minutes, but afterward I appreciated the painting even more. He pointed out many details that I had overlooked, such as the partial transparency of some of the figures, and how certain elements were foreshortened to give a three dimensional aspect if viewed from the right angle beneath the painting. (The painting was originally supposed to hung high above an altar to permit this perspective).

He explained some of the history of the painting, how it came to be in Fredericton after the Catholic Church of Spain refused Dali’s offer of the painting. They weren’t refusing the painting so much as they were refusing the painter himself. After which Dali claims he had a dream that told him the painting belonged in a relatively obscure art gallery in Canada. And he told me much more.

Don’t pass through Fredericton without treating yourself to a glimpse of this fantastic work of art.

If I ever manage to cobble together some manner of art that’s even a thousandth as accomplished in my lifetime, I’ll be grateful.