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Portrait of a massive wine cat, red wine flowing from its whiskers to be collected by naked women from The Wines of Gala. Source: Taschen

Wine, when you drink it with the virtue of moderation, certainly is a pleasure. The pleasure of  a millenary drink that stimulates the senses and stimulates creativity  Throughout history, wine has been an inspirational hub and pleasure for the artists. For instance, some of the greatest avant garde artworks feature Pablo Picasso’s La Bouteille du Vin ( 1926) and Marc Chagall’s Double with a glass of wine. Both evoke the sensorial aspects of wine and have served to express the artist’s themes-love for Chagall and Cubist perception pleasure for Picasso.

Dali illustration for the 1958 vintage of Mouton Rothschild. Source: Mouton Rothschild

Surrealism had ardent wine lovers and Dali was one of them. In fact, he was commissioned by prestigious Bordeaux producer, Philippe de Rothschild to design the label for the 1958 vintage. In 1978  Dali published his wine book Wines of Gala, dedicated to Gala, her wife. In the guide, Dali groups wine by emotional experience, based on his famous credo “A real connoisseur does not drink wine but tastes of its secrets.” The book also contains  more than 140 reprinted and modified  sketches from Dali’s early work. Through synesthesia, Dali’s wine masterpiece invokes the polysensory aspects of wine to draw attention from the participant to the eroticism theme seldom expressed in his artist practice. This guide establish as well a kinship with its surrealistic artist peers and other  art movements such as Futurism in the field of sensory art. Finally,  Dali uses the wine guide as a protest tool against the conventions of wine tasting.

Inspired by Classical mythology,  the illustration from the guide named  Portrait of a massive wine cat, red wine flowing from its whiskers to be collected by naked women,  combines the sensorial language of wine with surrealistic artistic techniques such as automatism with the uncanny to bring to the surface his hidden lust for wine, desire and sexuality. 

Salvador Dali ( 1904-1989), the Catalan artist is heralded as one of the most important artists of the surrealism movement. He was a multidisciplinary artist, whose practice spanned painting, sculpture, product design and film. He is kindly remembered by Andre Breton, the father of Surrealism as the one and only artist who was capable to open the subconscious mind. He had a particular brand of Spanish Surrealism that was based on sexual neuroses, mortality and a strange phobia of grasshoppers. 

Dali’s SacredHeart. Source: Georges Pompidou Center

Dali loved creating strong sensations and scandals. His intention could be seen in works such as SacredHeart, where he writes “ Sometimes I spit with pleasure at the portrait of my mother”. The senses were a great inspiration for the Catalan artist as well. In his autobiography, The Secret Life of Salvador Dali, he recounts a lunch with friends where the wine remind him of the “ delicate secrets of the Mediterranean” and a “unique bouquet in which along with a great, great deal of unreality, one can almost detect the sentimental prickling taste of tears”. Dali was probably tasting a white wine and through the sense of taste, he made an analogy that reminded him of human tears. However, he seldom showed his lust for wine in his artist’s practice. Dali once also said that “ Among the five senses, smell is unquestionably the one that best gives the idea of immortality”. In fact, in 1983, he created his first fragrance as a tribute to her muse and wife Gala with whom he was crazy in love. For Dali, perfume was the “most beautiful messenger” of memories and happy moments. The perfume essence was reminiscent of jasmine and rose evoking a spiritual and exquisite experience. However, more important was the container of the perfume, a disembodied nose and mouth evoking the juicy taste of the mouth and bringing to mind eroticism.

Aphrodisiac Dinner Jacket. Source: Pinterest

As a matter of fact, eroticism was Dali’s greatest contribution to surrealism.  The French historian Jose Pierre states: “ Salvador Dali”s greatest contribution to Surrealism lay in his systematic exaltation of eroticism, that is, of his own wholly erotic personality”.  His passion for erotica can be seen in works such as Aphrodisiac Dinner Jacket (Veston Aphrodisiaque). This particular blazer was adorned with tiny glasses each filled with creme de menthe, a digestive with a reputation of strong aphrodisiac properties. In Lobster Telephone (1936), Dali replaces a telephone receiver with a lobster figure conveying the aphrodisiacal lovemaking  properties of eating a lobster to the participant. In both artworks, Dali used his favorite sense of smell to exalt erotica.

Lobster Telephone (1936) by Salvador Dali. Source: Tate

In portrait of a massive wine cat, red wine flowing from its whiskers to be collected by naked women from the Wines of Gala, the sense of smell and taste via synesthesia  are called again to explore the erotic  subconcious mind of Dali. This artwork  falls very much in line with the praxis of Surrealism. As Paung would state, “Surrealism establishes a bridge between the physical realm and the domain of dreams and illusions. In the surreal world, logic is paradoxical; physical principles and rules are defied, only limited by imagination. The expression is a reflection of the personal experience and psychological state of the creator”. Dali successfully ties the sensorial  language of wine such as colour, taste and smell to make a link with his erotic mind. 

This artwork could be seen as a continuation of the research in the study of sensory art  pioneered early in the twentieth century  by The Futurists with a few differences. Martinetti’s futurism explores kinetics via the sense of smell through food explorations. They saw scent as a fleeting moment which had to be augmented and decelerated to explore the realm of speed. On the other hand, Dali saw olfactory beauty via the consumption of everything that was edible or drinkable. In fact, in most of Dali’s practice, the gastronomic is reterritorialized to enter art into the body. As Dolphin would state about Dali: “All of his artworks are in search of the viscera, of the gut, in which they desire to disappear. With Dali, alimentary reterritorialization get its highest degrees of intensity.”

Meret Oppenheim: Dejeuner en Fourrure (1936). Source: sartle.com

Overall, Dali’s artwork in his wine guide is an important contribution on the polysensory of food & wine previously built by its surrealistic peers. Like Dali, other artists used food and related accessories to evoke a gustatory experience to represent a metaphor of erotica. For example, in Déjeuner en fourrure (1936) by Meret Oppenheim, the artist promotes a haptic sensation and stimulates the sense of taste. This piece suggests to an audience the contact between a human lip and female genitalia. An adventurous participant with a vivid imagination may see this surreal object also as the oral sexual practice of  cunnilingus, a mild expression of anthropophagy that intertwines  gustatory sensation with erotic pleasure.

Portrait of a massive wine cat, red wine flowing from its whiskers to be collected by naked women  is a reprint of two combined mediums: photography and painting. In a quick impression, it looks like the cat photography was inserted in an already established painting depicting an orgy in a dark cavernous environment.To the left of the white cat, fourth facial portraits are represented: three males and one feline conferring an eerie and perverse atmosphere. The lower part of the picture is filled with a group of naked women with wine overflowing in their bodies. The artistic technique for this piece might be described as decalcomania. As defined by MOMA, “ A transfer technique, developed in the 18th century, in which ink, paint, or another medium is spread onto a surface and, while still wet, covered with material such as paper, glass, or aluminum foil, which, when removed, transfers a pattern that may be further embellished upon..”. This technique was commonly used by Surrealists to promote Automatism, the artistic production without any interference of the conscious thought or moral concern. The main purpose of automatism was to freely explore the unconscious mind.

By Automatism, Dali’s secret obsession with sex comes to the surface and he used wine imagery to amplify this desire. Dali was frightened and obsessed with sex at the same time. For example, he preferred masturbation and voyeuristic pleasures such as being the participant in orgies. These were current themes in many of his artworks. About this, he used to say: “Now sexual obsessions are the basis of artistic creations. Accumulated frustration leads to what Freud calls the process of sublimation. Anything that does not take place erotically sublimates itself in the work of art”. In the artwork, Dali draws a parallel between the sensuality of wine and sexuality.  The red colour of wine evoques passion and creates a powerful aphrodisiac image in the spectator mind. In addition, the tannins of a red wine evolve the softness of cashmere and being in the arms of a naked woman.

Dionysus Spitting the Complete Image of Cadaques on the Tip of the Tongue of a Three-storied Gaudinian Woman. Source: Dali Museum

A Bacchanalia in a dream is the first quick image that the artwork conveys to the participant mind. In his practice, Dali borrowed elements of Classical Mythology from Ancient Greece to explore themes of lust and desire. For instance, in a previous artwork titled Dionysus Spitting the Complete Image of Cadaques on the Tip of the Tongue of a Three-storied Gaudinian Woman, Dali positioned a wine bottle symbolistic of the Phallus  as part of Dionysus. The greek deity is charging out an image of Cadaques, Spain which lands in the tongue of a woman. Here again, Dali arouses the viewer with his invocation of the male orgasm in a woman’s mouth. Likewise, in our particular artwork of the guide, Dali uses the  Bacchanalia theme to symbolize images of group sex and euphoria by the ingestion of mind altering substances such as wine. The purpose of the bacchic rites was to induce  states of divine possession to convey a primal state of being  and the senses were the portal for this state.  The group of naked women in the picture symbolizing nymphs  seem to be under a sexual trance induced by the intoxication of  free flowing wine. Under this spell, they lure three bearded men that are reminiscent of fauns to join them. By synaesthesia, this visual image triggers in the audience a form of Olfactophilia, where an individual derives sexual pleasure from smell and odours. The erotic focus relates to the body odours of a sexual partner and is compounded by the smell of wine. Both occur in the olfactory lobe  which is also called the emotional brain, the area that sexual desires come from.

 The cat, a central element in this piece as well stimulates the imagination of the audience as well and brings to mind positive and negative feelings. Its gaze is mysterious and lures the participant into the picture. Across cultures, cats have symbolized the positive aspects of fecund femininity.  For instance, in ancient Egypt and Rome, cats were associated with the deities Bast and Artemis both representing fertility. On the other hand, Medieval Christianity, saw cats as  symbolizing the negative aspects of women such as cruelty, betrayal, cunning and witchcraft. In this particular case, the white cat represent the love and hate relationship that Dali and the surrealists had with the opposite sex. The cat is a symbol of eros (libido)  and femme fatale as well  who precipitates physical and emotional castration. This connection between eroticism and death was often shown in surrealistic themes.

Like mentioned above, the framing of an innocent  cat in an uncommon  environment ( dark cavern, naked women with wine and pervert masks)  conveys an eerie and devious atmosphere to the audience and it is an example of the use of the uncanny in Surrealism. The uncanny can be defined as an unsettling feeling created by objects familiar to us placed in  bizarre circumstances. The Surrealists borrowed the concept from Freud to bring out repressed memories to the surface. The cat is the link between the dark sexual hidden subconscious of Dali and reality bringing out his vivid fetish for wine. In fact, Dali suffered from something called polymorphous perversity as defined by the American Psychological Association as “ in the classical psychoanalytic theory of Sigmund Freud, the response of the human infant to many kinds of everyday activities posited to provide sexual excitation, such as touching, smelling, sucking, viewing, exhibiting, rocking, defecating, urinating, hurting, and being hurt”. Dali wants to convey to the audience through this rich visual representation his sexual deviant behaviour of voyeurism which he was infamous for.

Finally, In Portrait of a massive wine cat, red wine flowing from its whiskers to be collected by naked women, Dali rebels against the conceived notion of wine as being a drink of the civilized people. Traditionally, wine has been seen as the beverage choice that conveys an aura of sophistication and restraint and Dali breaks all these conventions by conferring wine an image of excess and debauchery. Surrealism has been usually understood in the context of psychoanalysis and dreams but never as a force for social change. Art historian, Sidra Stich defines surrealism as  “a movement devoted to rupture, excess, disorder and disorientation” She praises the Surrealist resistance to convention and its strong disapproval of civilized social values.

In conclusion, Portrait of a massive wine cat, red wine flowing from its whiskers to be collected by naked women presents the participant a twisted but beautiful vision of the place of wine in the erotic mind of Dali. The Catalan artist exhaltes the sensorial aspects of wine via mythology  to draw attention to its dark vision of sexuality. Through automatism and the uncanny, Dali provides the participant an alternative eerie vision of wine that shatters the traditional wine conventions. Dali’s wine guide violently shakes the credo of the wine drinker and proposes a new way of understanding wine the emotional experience. This was the will of the surrealists and Dali carried out to the letter.