Salvador Dalí’s ‘Western Wall’ could be yours...

If you have $400,000 to $800,000 burning a hole in your pocket.

Who knew? Beyond melting clocks and other Surrealist tchotchkes, the eccentrically-mustachioed Salvador Dalí painted Jerusalem’s iconic Western Wall.

Heritage Auctions expects the gouache-and-oil on canvas going under the hammer Nov. 19 to fetch $400,000-$800,000. Titled “Le Mur des Lamentations,” the work “reflects the legendary Spanish artist’s keen interest in people’s different religious faiths,” according to Heritage. It has been in a private collection since Dalí painted it in April 1975. (Christie’s sold a lithograph on the subject for £4,800 in 2007.)

Part of the sale will benefit something called Football World Heritage, which seems to be some sort of UNESCO candidate but despite spending significant time on its website, I have little sense what it does exactly.

(There may be a broader story on Dalí and sports, and the princess who leads the football group says the painting “perfectly fits the UNESCO values as the famous master was very keen on Football, art and diplomacy.” I’m unsure why football is capitalized.)

I’ve written extensively on Jewish art for nearly 20 years, but this religious picture of Dalí’s is new to me. I am familiar with other religious works, particularly Dalí’s mysterious “The Sacrament of the Last Supper” (1955) at the National Gallery of Art.

“O you, people of Israel, chosen people, sons of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. For your devotion to upholding traditions, for the joy with which you celebrate and sanctify your festivities, I created this ‘Peace Menorah’ and this painting of the ‘Western Wall,’” Dalí said, in an inscription on a bronze Menorah at Israel’s Ben Gurion airport. “While with your unshakeable faith you pray for the glory of your ancestors and for the triumph of truth, I want you to see in the radiation of these bright and cheerful lights, a tribute to your people.” 

Moshe Katsav, former Israeli president, said of Dalí, “There is no other artist of international reputation who, not being Jewish, expressed so strongly about the Jewish people and their history through their visionary art!” This is nonsense, but it does seem Dalí is on a short list here, although he’s certainly not in the lead.

In difficult-to-decipher handwriting, Dalí painted Baruch Hashem, “Blessed is God’s name,” in Hebrew on the Western Wall, and this is Dalí’s lone work depicting a sacred site, says Leon Benrimon, Heritage’s vice president of modern and contemporary art. (In my limited experience, Heritage does a stellar job contextualizing its offerings, and this is no exception. Its full description is worth reading.)

The auction house doesn’t mention it, but Dalí’s vision here aligns—in likely unintended ways—with some Zionist representations of the Western Wall, or kotel, which deliberately edit out the Dome of the Rock. (See one photographic example here; many contemporary paintings do the same.) To its credit, Heritage is upfront about context that could undermine some buyers’ interest:

Dalí had a vexed connection with Judaism, having been expelled from the Surrealists after André Breton accused him of glorifying Hitler. (The artist, known for his provocations, had in fact written that Hitler turned him on.) Decades later, however, he would create a number of works devoted to Jewish subjects, including, in 1968, a set of prints to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the founding of Israel, some in a similar style to that of The Wailing Wall; he created a sculpture of the Western Wall, echoing the composition of the present painting, in 1982.

My main takeaway here is I just don’t think this is a great painting, and it certainly lacks the depth of the National Gallery picture. Purely from a graphic perspective, one could purchase many kitschy Western Wall paintings in Jerusalem’s Old City shops for much less money and likely have in hand better-composed pictures.

The appeal here, of course, is of having a Dalí Western Wall. Serious buyers who can stomach Dalí’s Nazi proclivities would acquire a work that is far more interesting for the context around it than the actual marks on canvas. But it’s quite a story to share with others in front of the picture, I bet.