The Reece Museum’s “Salvador Dali and the Divine Comedy, Part I: Inferno” exhibit will run from April 7 to May 27, with an opening reception on April 14 from 5-7 p.m.
The exhibit is the first of three exhibits that will present surrealist painter Salvador Dali’s prints illustrating the “Divine Comedy” commissioned by the Italian government for the 700th anniversary of Dante Alighieri’s birth. This exhibit will feature all 34 prints created by Dali for the first part of the “Divine Comedy,” depicting Dante’s journey through the nine circles of hell, guided by Roman poet Virgil. Exhibits showcasing prints of the next two parts will open in 2017 and 2018, respectively.
Dali began work in 1951, but the project eventually grew too controversial.
The Italian public were wary of a non-Italian, surrealist and known eccentric artist commemorating one of the greatest Italian poet’s masterpiece, and the project was dropped. However, a French publisher eventually took over the project and published versions of “The Divine Comedy” with Dali’s illustrations in 1960.
Dali created one illustration for all 100 chapters of the epic poem. They were then reproduced using a wood block engraving technique, closely supervised by Dali himself, in order to replicate his watercolor style.
The end result required 3,500 blocks, with up to 37 separate blocks creating a single print. Blocks used to create the prints were destroyed after a set number of prints to maintain the prints’ value and prevent reproduction.
The prints were donated by Dr. Frank Barham. Dr. Barham, who performed undergraduate studies at ETSU, began collecting Dali prints at a charity auction in 1980.
His collection of Dali grew and grew until he added a gallery to his home, to hold his expanding collection. His retirement and move to a condominium in Philadelphia required him to find a home for his massive collection, so he donated it to the Reece Museum.