Salvador Dali turns up where you least expect him, even in an out of the way thrift store. Shoppers at thrift stores will tell you that one of the things that they like about it is the idea that they like the idea of finding the odd, remarkable item mixed in among the junk, like a modern-day treasure hunt. Usually those finds are relatively modest, but according to a recent story reported by television station WAVY, sometimes the treasures are, well, treasures.
A print from an original Salvador Dali woodcut was discovered at the Hotline Pink Thrift Store, in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. The print was discovered by Wendy Howkins, who volunteers at the shop twice a week.
She told reporters, “Sometimes when paintings or pictures are in frames that are broken, and it was kind of dirty, they get passed by.” She saw the print along with a bunch of other paintings that were lined up on the floor, and knew it was both old and extraordinary.
Hawkins wanted an expert opinion on the find, so she got permission to take it to a nearby art gallery, and had its director, Madeline Smith, take a look at it. The artwork had two signatures on it, one was pressed on to it using a wooden stamp, and the other was written in purple pencil, and the combination suggested that the work might be a Dali original. In the interests of thoroughness, Smith spent a week researching the piece before she came to her final conclusion. She told an NPR reporter that Dali’s work was difficult to authenticate because his work had so many nuances, but she eventually determined its authenticity.
The print is titled Purgatory Canto 32, and is one of a 100-image series painter by the artist containing images from the 14th-century poet Dante Alighieri’s work the Divine Comedy, a famous work which follows the writer’s journey though the various levels of hell and the mountains of purgatory, before finally ascending to paradise.
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The print is from the 1950s, and is a watercolor made using woodcuts, showing the figures of two people, a woman in blue standing next to a male figure wearing red. Like all the paintings in the series, it used around 30 different cut wooden blocks to create the image.
The full series was commissioned in 19578 by the National Library of Italy, as a way to commemorate the 700th anniversary of Dante’s birth. Once it became public knowledge that the project had been awarded to a Spanish artist, rather than Italian one, there was public outcry which resulted in the Italian government revoking the commission.
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By the time that happened, however, he was already well into the work and chose to continue his series, creating one watercolor for each of the 100 cantos in the poem. Dali was surrealist, like Pablo Picasso, and was devoted to capturing the expression of the unconscious, giving his work a dreamlike and rather strange use of symbolism.
When the series was finished, he offered it to a French publishing house, Le Heures Claires. In 1965, the publishers released the watercolors as part of a limited edition that went with a six-volume collection of Dante’s epic poem.
Once Smith was sure that the print was an original, she helped sell it. A couple bought it from her gallery for $1,200, a significantly higher price than the $10-50 that art from the thrift store usually sells for.
No one really knows who the painting came from, or how it ended up being donated to the store, and there isn’t really a way to find out. The proceeds from the sale are being put to good use, however. The money from the sale is being donated to an organization which supports a shelter for runaway teens, survivors of domestic abuse, and victims of human trafficking.