New book from an art collector in the Charlotte area on Salvador Dalí

At the edge of Lake Norman is a vast eclectic collection of one of the greatest, one of the strangest, one of the most visionary artists of the twentieth century.

The mysteries embedded in Salvador Dalí’s prolific graphics, paintings and sculptures still intrigue viewers three decades after his death. Among the enchanted is Dr Christopher Heath Brown, a renowned art historian whose Cornelius mansion is filled with hundreds of Dalí creations.

“He’s a guy who was a showman,” says Brown, “and a genius probably just as much as Leonardo da Vinci.”

Brown seeks to decode some of Dali’s artistic puzzles in his latest book, “The Dalí Legacy: How an Eccentric Genius Changed the Art World and Created a Lasting Legacy,” written with his longtime collaborator Jean-Pierre Isbouts and published by Apollo Publishers.

Dali_Collector 5
Dr Christopher Heath Brown shows a drawing by Salvador Dalí of the painting “Cartel de Don Juan Tenorio”, which was stolen from the Venus Over Manhattan gallery in New York City and then returned to the gallery from Greece a week later in 2012. Joshua Komer Charlotte Observer

They explore Dalí’s indifference to the Spanish Civil War, his close ties to the postwar Franco regime, his family’s stormy dysfunction, and the origins of his autoerotic themes.

Their meticulously researched detective work is a response to a challenge given by Dalí himself when he reflects on the sectarian follow-up of his admirers: “The secret of my influence has always been that it has remained a secret.

A particular master

Dalí was one of the most influential, eccentric, flamboyant and versatile artists of the 20th century.

His bulging eyes and mustache mustache made him the iconic face of surrealism, a movement he started with dismembered body parts, decaying images and deep sexual symbolism.

He painted museum-quality landscapes at the age of 6 in his native Spain, was twice expelled from the prestigious San Fernando Art Academy in Madrid in the 1920s for his rebellious non-compliance and believed that he was the reincarnated spirit of his older brother, also named Salvador. , who died nine months before Dalí’s birth.

Dali_Collector art
Dr Christopher Heath Brown enjoys collecting coins with a religious theme such as Rembrandt’s etching “Christ before Pilate”, front right. At the front left is a 1972 lithograph by Salvador Dalí titled “St. George” from the Dalinean Horses Suite. Joshua Komer Charlotte Observer

For Dalí, life itself was the greatest art. He loved stunts and performances that fueled his image of a mad genius.

In the 1930s, he and his wife, Gala, shocked New York City by attending a masked ball disguised as baby Lindbergh and his kidnapper. He has already caught an anteater while walking in the Paris metro.

Hired by high-end store Bonwit Teller to design a display case, he became enraged at the changes to its design and threw a tub through the glass.

His talents touched many mediums – he designed furniture, clothing and jewelry. He understood the concept of becoming his own brand long before celebrities put it into fashion.

He’s embraced the nascent medium of television, appearing in game shows and late-night interviews.

He advertised alongside Yankees pitcher Whitey Ford for the new company Braniff Airlines and served as the pitcher for the antacid. “Alka-Seltzer,” Dali said in the punchline, “is truly a work of art.”

dali.JPG
Artist Salvador Dalí, pictured in this archive photo from 1976, was one of the most influential, eccentric, flamboyant and versatile artists of the 20th century. Photo file / AP

Path to Dalí

Brown remembers the first piece of art he ever hung on the wall – that famous 1976 Farrah Fawcett swimsuit poster that decorated the bedrooms of many teenagers. He grew up in suburban Washington, DC, in a family interested in fine art. The museums offered by the city give it a solid cultural base.

After graduating from UNC Chapel Hill Dental School in 1986, he began to earn enough money as an oral and maxillofacial surgeon to be able to create his own art collection.

He acquired his first Dalí in the mid-90s at the Centaur Gallery in Las Vegas, a watercolor of Christ with the fallen angel at the gates of Heaven. It was still hanging on the wall when the hosts Siegfried & Roy came to browse it and they asked if it was possible to buy it.

Informed that he had just been sold, they approached Brown and offered him three times the $ 35,000 he had paid. “I told them this was my first major piece,” says Brown, “and that speaks to me personally. It wasn’t about the money.

Dali_Collector_7.jpg
Dr Christopher Heath Brown shows a rare piece entitled “The Lady with the Jug” by Salvador Dalí when the artist drew inspiration from Picasso at the start of his career. Dalí produced only a limited number of works in the Cubist style before switching to surrealism later in his career. Joshua Komer

Since then he has focused on the Dalí and Renaissance masters. He collected other renowned artists, including Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Albrecht Durer and Rembrandt van Rijn. For security reasons, Brown declined to disclose the estimated value of his collection.

Brown is particularly drawn to works with a religious or mythological theme.

With Isbouts, he wrote three books on da Vinci, “Young Leonardo”, “The Mona Lisa Myth” and “The Da Vinci Legacy”. They also collaborated on two PBS documentaries, “The Search for the Last Supper” and “The Search for the Mona Lisa”.

Among the mysteries explored in their new book (published in March), they examine subtle clues in Dalí’s best-known work, “The Persistence of Memory”.

Look closely at the molten watches, says Brown. “One reads 2 minutes minus 6, one says 6 and the other 6:02. There is a past, a present and a future.

When they are superimposed on the “Baptism of Christ” by Leonardo da Vinci and Andrea del Verrochio, the clocks occupy temporal spaces corresponding to the concepts of the past, the present and the eternal. They also adapt to “The Adoration of the Magi” by Leonardo da Vinci.

“Jean-Pierre and I have decoded some of Dali’s secrets,” says Brown. “There was a hidden and intentional intention in what the artist was doing.”

Dali_Collector (6)
Dr Christopher Heah Brown and Jean-Pierre Isbouts co-wrote “The Dalí Legacy: How an Eccentric Genius Changed the Art World and Created a Lasting Legacy”, which was released this spring. The book details the surrealist’s journey as an artist and delves into the influences of his personal life. Joshua Komer Charlotte Observer

Art house

From the entrance hall to the back porch, Brown’s home is a vibrant gallery of artistic flair, a kind of cross between the modern Louvre and the Gothic mansion of the Addams family. (It contains a sophisticated security system and four dogs, in case you have any ideas.)

Statuary, sculptures, paintings and murals are just a few of the treasures.

In an Oz-themed nook is the Iron Man’s ax from the classic 1939 MGM film “Wizard of Oz.” In a garage you’ll find a snow-white 1961 Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud. The first appearance of Marilyn Monroe in Playboy comes out of a wall frame, autographed by Hugh Hefner. Push into the dresser and you will find Dalí themed socks.

the collection dali.jpg
Dr Christopher Heath Brown, an art historian whose Cornelius mansion is filled with hundreds of Dalí’s creations and other works, called the artist “a spectator and a genius probably as much as Leonardo da Vinci”. Joshua Komer

Brown has an extensive collection of Dalí’s graphics – working studies, lithographs, original drawings and watercolors, about 2,000 in all.

Some are sketches of later works; others contain notes and notes. “These are a real glimpse of Dalí’s genius,” says Brown.

He hopes that one day they will land in a new museum in Monaco. Brown has said he wants to meet Prince Albert II in a year or two to discuss such a venture.

It would probably appeal to Dalí – he knew Princess Grace; she was famously photographed with him during one of his shows in Paris.

CLT_05032021_Dali_Collector (4)
Dr Christopher Heath Brown hopes to have a museum to display his collection of Salvador Dali lithographs. Joshua Komer Charlotte Observer

Sometimes, however, it didn’t take much to please Dalí. A secret that the enigmatic artist shared at the height of his career: “Every morning when I wake up I feel an exquisite joy – the joy of being Salvador Dalí – and I wonder with rapture: what wonderful things what Salvador Dalí will he do? accomplish today? “

This story is part of an Observer fundraising project with the Thrive Campaign for the Arts, which supports arts journalism in Charlotte.

More artistic coverage

Want to see more stories like this? You can join our Facebook group, “Inside Charlotte Arts”, at https://www.facebook.com/groups/insidecharlottearts/

This story was originally published May 4, 2021 10:28 a.m.

Related stories from Charlotte Observer

Norma D. Ross