Long after the wine has been quaffed, the fingers pointed, the hushed comments disappeared into the ether, the paintings still hang. Since late last month, visitors to Hillel at the University of Washington have been treated to a rare viewing of
Salvador Dalí’s scenes of Israel.
Dalí’s Aliyah: The Rebirth of Israel, is on loan to Hillel through June. The 25 lithographs depicting events leading up to the creation of the State of Israel and its first two decades are one of only a few known complete sets.
The exhibit belongs to Dr. David Blumenthal, professor of Jewish Studies at Emory University, and his wife, Ursula. Blumenthal recalled visiting a couple in the early 1980s who offered to sell the Blumenthals his set, which he had purchased when it was first issued.
“Ursula, recalling that on our first date in 1965 I had taken her to see an exhibit of Dalí in the Huntington Hartford Museum in New York, decided to buy the suite for me as a present,” he said.
The collection is comprised of 25 color lithograph replicas of the original paintings commissioned by Shorewood Publishing and Israel Bonds in 1968 to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the State of Israel.
After the collection’s debut in 2010 at Emory’s Hillel, Jconnect director Josh Furman contacted the Blumenthals. Excited to have the collection premiere on the West Coast, the Blumenthals were joined by local Dalí enthusiast Hoyt DeMers, who added his own singular pieces for display at Hillel, “Orah, Horah: Light, Joy” and “Angels of Rebirth.”
Visitors of the collection can follow along with a guide and podcast by Blumenthal, which details the significance and context of these works.
Blumenthal noted that Dalí created the collection in what is considered by many art critics to be his less noteworthy period. He shared some ideas about why Dalí chose to depict Israel in the first place, refuting theories of Dalí’s Jewish ancestry or Zionist inclinations. It is possible that the famed Surrealist simply wanted the money.
“There is no real order to the pieces, so instead I have organized the pieces thematically,” said Blumenthal, who has acted as curator for each showing of the exhibit. He groups the paintings into “exile and hope,” “the Yishuv,” “Shoah” and “independence.”
Blumenthal said he and his wife have both expressed their fondness for the depictions of Israel in three pieces that begin with “the land,” all part of the Yishuv section.
“‘The Land Come to Life’ is such a vibrant piece,” Blumenthal said.
The image conveys the period of time when Israel began to cultivate its land for agriculture, quite literally bringing the land to life.
“If I was to display a piece in my living room as a singular piece, it would likely be ‘The Land of Milk and Honey,’” he said. That image depicts three sketched figures upon a lush landscape, a central watercolor explosion of blue and a gray rain cloud in the upper left corner. According to Blumenthal, it represents the land’s fertility.
At the opening reception last month, the Blumenthals were joined by Israel’s deputy consul general to the Northwest, Gideon Lustig, who spoke about the exhibit’s historical significance to the Jewish community. Lustig said the Jewish community is lucky to have artwork that encapsulates such a significant time in history, and being able to share the exhibition around the country is an extraordinary opportunity. Both the Consulate General of Israel and the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle are sponsors of the exhibit.
For Furman, the most powerful piece is “We Shall Go Up At Once and Possess It.” Inspired by the words of Caleb in the biblical story of the spies (Numbers 13), the painting shows a group of men carrying an Israeli flag.
“You can really see the turbulence in this painting,” Furman said. “The background reminds me of leaving Egypt, and the painting as a whole seems to really stand for freedom.”
With stories so rich in emotion and rooted in a long history of struggle, it stands to reason that the series continues to resonate with the Blumenthals and the entire Jewish community. The Blumenthals are currently in discussions regarding Aliyah’s proposed next stop, in Denver, Colo.
“It is our hope that this will contribute to Jewish culture within each of the communities that it visits,” Blumenthal said.