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Discovering Dali in Book Illustrations, Part 2

Discovering Dali in Book Illustrations, Part 2

For the Love of Shakespeare

Curated by Abigail Wunderle and Shaina Harkness

Salvador Dali, known for his paintings, drawings, and even his own writings, was also an illustrator for many books. “Dali worked in this field of creation so often because, rather than an amusement, the work was a necessity for him. Dali had to express himself and any medium that allowed him to do so was valid.  That was why he never missed an opportunity to work in publishing,” (Dali, a life in books, p.344).

This series of digital exhibitions, broken up into several parts, will focus on illustrations Dali created for commercial books, some of which are rarely seen.  This series will also focus on the symbols Dali inserts into the illustrations, promoting his own iconography.  “Salvador Dali used symbols repeatedly in his artwork.  He was influenced by Sigmund Freud’s idea that dreams can be understood symbolically – where each image has its own interpretation – Dali approached his work this way” (Dali Museum-Peter Tush, Curator of Education).  Shown here in the book illustrations are the main symbols, as well as other Dali symbols.  Viewers will then be given an opportunity to discover the same symbols in works from The Dali Museum Collection. The use of these specific symbols shows how Dali inserts himself throughout his artwork, even in books.

Salvador Dali was greatly interested in Shakespeare, and much of his work was in his personal library.

William Shakespeare by Louis Coblitz, 1847

William Shakespeare by Louis Coblitz, 1847

As You Like It

As You Like It subverts the traditional rules of romance. Gender roles, nature and politics are confused in a play that reflects on how bewildering yet utterly pleasurable life can be. (From the Royal Shakespeare Company).  One can certainly see how the themes in the play attracted Dali, who reveled in the confusion of his audiences.


First Folio As You Like it

First Folio, 1623 from the Folger Shakespeare Library

As You Like It was first printed in the collected edition of Shakespeare’s plays, known as the First Folio, during 1623. No copy of it in Quarto exists, for the play is mentioned by the printers of the First Folio among those which “are not formerly entered to other men.” By means of evidences, external and internal, the date of composition of the play has been approximately fixed at a period between the end of 1598 and the middle of 1599.

Through the years, As You Like It has been depicted in many ways and by many artists.  Below are a few renditions captured by the Folger Shakespeare Library.  Salvador Dali is even included in this special group of actors and artists.


Visconte's As You Like It ballet; program cover designed by Dali, 1948

Visconte’s As You Like It ballet; program cover designed by Dali, 1948

The Folio Society, London, 1953 commercial publication

The Folio Society, London, 1953 commercial publication



When Dali returned from the United States in 1948, he met Luchino Visconti, the Italian theatre, opera and cinema director, and screenwriter.  Visconti decided to stage As You Like It, and while in Rome Visconti said, “I was looking for an eccentric designer, a magician…” (Dali Shakespeare Visconti, p. 19) Then, he met Dali – the ultimate eccentric and magician.  Dali became immersed for an entire month with complete artistic freedom, designing the sets and costumes for Visconti’s production, and later that year As You Like It was performed on stage with Dali’s designs.  He even designed the ballet program (above).

Five years after the ballet, “In their edition of William Shakespeare’s As You Like It, the publisher, The Folio Society, London included the drawings Dali made for the staging of the play.” (description from Dali By the Book exhibition file, 1996)

About  As You Like It, Dali says “I like [it] very much because it represents the most typically anti-existentialist work, the archetype of the immediate mode of existence, biologically joyous and divine, opposed to the ephemeral theory in vogue today of a sordid Debussian masochism”(Dali Shakespeare Visconti, p. 9)


In these side by side views, you see how Dali’s sets and costumes came to life on stage!


character costume for As You Like It
character costume for As You Like It


Dali Symbol…The Crutch!

“A crutch is a means of support.  Dali’s use of the crutch is more for emotional support than physical support.  The crutch holds up parts of the body symbolizing our handicaps and weaknesses.  It also symbolizes death and snobbery,” (Dali Museum).

Notice that Rosalind is shown holding a crutch in this illustration. “While Dali felt that crutches were particularly useful as props for aristocratic snobbism, in this case the crutch refers to a fear of impotence, which has been projected onto the father.  Unlike other works where the crutch is a symbol of death, impotence, or snobbery, here the crutch is used as a symbol of solemnity [“a dignity of a religious or sacred character”] or solace (Docent)” (Dali Museum).

Crutches can be seen in many of Dali’s works.  For instance, in the painting Average Atmospherocephalic Bureaucrat in the Act of Milking a Cranial Harp there is a crutch that holds up one side of the skull, or cranial harp.  Other crutches can be seen in the Javanese Mannequin and the Weaning of Furniture-Nutrition.



Macbeth, set primarily in Scotland, mixes witchcraft, prophecy, and murder. Three “Weïrd Sisters” appear to Macbeth and his comrade Banquo after a battle and prophesy that Macbeth will be king and that the descendants of Banquo will also reign. (From the Royal Shakespeare Company)


First Folio MacBeth

First Folio, 1623 from the Folger Shakespeare Library

“A tragedy by Shakespeare and his shortest play.  Macbeth has been described as a study in fear.  It is thought that the play may have been written as a tribute to James I because of its emphasis on the supernatural, a subject in which the king was interested, and its flattering portrayal of the origins of the Stuart line, to which he belonged.” (description from Dali By The Book exhibition file, 1996)

Dali on BBC radio advertising his illustrations for Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

Dali on the BBC


Macbeth cover image

Doubleday, New York, 1946

MavBeth frontispiece illustration



Dali’s genius draftsmanship is most evident with his 13 illustrations (1 is the lettering on the title page above) for Macbeth.  As A. Reynolds Morse wrote, ” The point is often missed that Salvador Dali’s skill with pen and pencil demonstrates a great deal more than a mere technical competence.  Dali’s draftsmanship reveals with utmost clarity the initial phases of this intimate creative process.” (The Draftsmanship of Salvador Dali, 1970, p.7)




Here in this NY Times article from 1946, Dali’s illustrated Macbeth is approached with caution and some cynicism – an approach that was generally taken by Americans in reference to Salvador Dali. In the following quote, the author Wolcott Gibbs, is referring to the image above on the far right: “The great picture is one of the season’s most provocative works of art, and in a sense it establishes the tone of the book, though what that is I would scarcely care to say.”

newspaper article "Dali interprets Macbeth"

See the full PDF view here: Dali Interprets Macbeth

Dali Symbol… The Key!

This illustration is found in Act IV, Scene I of the play.   Macbeth approaches the witches while they are around their cauldrons, and they call for three apparitions that hint at what awaits Macbeth’s future.  Within the scene is one of Dali’s most famous symbols – the key.

Macbeth illustration

Page 83


Macbeth illustration
Keys can be seen in many of Dali’s works. The key symbolizes unlocking the unconscious and exploring the mind. The key is a symbol adapted from Sigmund Freud, and also has sexual connotations.(Dali Museum).  Keys can also be seen in the Surrealist Poster (1934), The Font (1930) and Memory of the Child-Woman (1931).



Index of Illustrations

Dali in Book Illustration Notes

Discovering Dali in Book Illustrations, Part 1

Discovering Dali in Book Illustrations, Part 2

Discovering Dali in Book Illustrations, Part 3

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