Skip to main content

Meet The Lady Who Grew Up With Salvador Dalí

The Redsea Gallery in Singapore showcased a unique collection of Salvador Dalí’s works from The Argillet Collection. Billionaire spoke to Christine Argillet, who was fortunate enough to have known Dalí during her childhood.

Christine Argillet: “I’m sure Dalí would have loved the idea of being in Asia and maybe exhibiting in China and India, even if it never happened during his lifetime.” (photo credit: Vanessa Caitlin)

Christine Argillet is one lucky woman. As the daughter of Salvador Dalí’s long-time publisher, Argillet spent several of her summers growing up with the prominent Surrealist painter. Her close relationship to the artist afforded her the opportunity to see Dalí in a different light from the rest of the world. What she saw wasn’t Dalí the painter, but the man behind the public persona.

Her father, Pierre Argillet worked closely with Dalí (who died in 1989) as his publisher and, together, they produced about 200 etchings over their 30-year friendship. During that time, Argillet amassed a large number of Dalí’s copper etchings that would later become known as The Argillet Collection. It has been exhibited all over the world from the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam to the Hiroshima Prefectural Art Museum in Japan. The full collection resides permanently in Château de Vaux le Pénil and Dalí’s Teatro-Museo.

The showcase at RedSea Gallery featured previously unseen artworks created by the iconic Surrealist artist, including rare porcelain works and tapestries. Every piece in the Pierre Argillet Collection has been authenticated and signed by Dalí. It also marked the first public display of two original copper plates by the artist.

The tapestries and porcelain pieces were created by Dalí specifically for museums — Teatro-Museo in Figueres, Spain and Château de Vaux le Pénil in Melun, France. The latter is a museum of Surrealism set up by Argillet. The porcelain plates were developed by Dalí and Argillet in 1973 based on Dalí’s famous etchings. The use of different mediums highlights Dalí’s capacity for creativity outside of his traditional painterly skills.

After the passing of her father, Christine Argillet decided that the best way to honour the partnership was to showcase Dalí’s works from Pierre Argillet’s private collection.

Daniel Hilarion Lim: Having spent several summers of your childhood with Dalí, what is one side of Dalí you saw that the rest of the world didn’t get to see?
Christine Argillet: Most people know that Dalí was a workaholic and was constantly experimenting with different tools and different ways of etching. He would experiment with scissors, razors, nails and, one time, even with a real octopus soaked in acid. He was very inventive. But I saw Dalí differently. During the Second World War, he went to the US with his wife and he knew that he needed to be on stage and be seen. In order to do that, he created the moustache and made his appearances and exaggerated everything about him. He was drawing burning giraffes, doing this and that, and creating baguettes that were longer than most rooms. He was doing all that to be seen, so people would wonder what he was up to. The truth is he wasn’t anything like that in real life. He was a very shy and simple guy. I didn’t recognise the man who was on stage.

The illustrations in Poems by Mao Zedong were heavily influenced by eastern culture and Dalí is known for having a penchant for oriental clothes. What is it about the East that Dalí took a liking to?
Dalí had an immense respect for Buddhism, Hinduism and eastern wisdoms, which are more serene than that of the western world. And there are a lot of these elements in his works in this collection; not only in the Mao Zedong series, but in the Les Hippies collection too. There he depicted not only hippies but also people in India, China and people of the past and present. It was always Dalí’s idea to link people and put bridges between cultures, space and time. That said, with The Argillet Collection exhibiting in Asia for the first time, I’m sure Dalí would have loved the idea of being in Asia and maybe exhibiting in China and India, even if it never happened during his lifetime.

What are your favourite memories of Dalí?
I have several moments with Dalí that I keep close to my heart. He was very humorous and one of my favourite memories, although it isn’t related to his art, is from when I was eight years old. One day, I was sitting in a corner, trying to make myself scarce because my parents had told me not to cause any commotion. And Dalí came up to me and asked why I was hiding out in a corner. He said: “Go into my bedroom. Behind my bed, I have a crystal jar. There are some eggs in them that are covered in colourful paper. Open the jar and take as many as you can and bring them to me.” So, I went to the room, found the jar and picked up the eggs — I had no idea what these supposed eggs were. Dalí then told me to take the eggs and head to the shore. When we were there, he asked me to go up behind the fishermen and throw the eggs against the rocks. So I did as I was told and the eggs exploded. It was then that I realised they were cherry bombs. The fishermen were furious. I ran back to Dalí and asked him why he told me to do that. I was terrified, but he just kept laughing. That was the kind of man he was. He was such fun.

Dalí is known for his Surrealist depictions. In your opinion, what is it about his work that makes it so special?
In his time, Dalí brought something new to the art world; and this helped other artists in that generation. For instance, Andy Warhol once said he would never have been who he was without Dalí. Dalí used to have small paintings with just lines and abstracts sitting on easels in his studio. And I remember people always asking what they were and which artist had drawn them. And he would reply that it was his work. Most people don’t realise that when he painted, everything was calculated by the golden ratio. There is an architectural element to his designs. Dalí was also a Renaissance man. He could write wonderfully well and create films; he worked with Hitchcock on Spellbound. He even worked with Disney on cartoons. During his time in New York, he also did fashion design — he became a good friend of Gabrielle [Coco] Chanel and, at a certain point, they were maybe even lovers. And he was also at the forefront of art — he would work on three-dimensional paintings and dabble in holograms. He spoke of DNA and about bringing certain elements of DNA strands into his paintings. He wanted to be the Leonardo da Vinci of the 20th century.

‘Salvador Dali & Pierre Argillet: Thirty Years of Collaboration’ runs from 10 September to 5 October 2016 at the RedSea Gallery.