Salvador Dali (1904-1989)
It is no secret that Salvador Dali was a very prolific artist. He created art in a number of different mediums from paintings and sketches to prints, sculptures, film and more. What remains unknown today is just how much of the massive oeuvre that Dali left behind was created solely by his hand. Dali has been quoted in saying that even if a painting had the slightest touch of Dali's hand, say only a signature, that it was considered the work of Dali. Dali not only knew about fakes being created in his name, but allowed it.
The question on the mind of many Dali collectors is, "Why would Dali allow for his name to be used in creating fakes?" There are many speculations as to why Dali would allow it, but money seems to be the ruling factor in why there are so many fake Dali's on the market. Dali was also a tireless self-promoter, and it was very important for the artists' name to always be surrounded by a buzz in the art world. Whether for money or the promise of eternal fame, Dali allowed his name to be used by others so that his art could live on, even when he was unable to paint.
From the time that he reached great fame, Dali and his wife Gala enjoyed living a life of luxury. Dali was even quoted once as saying, "I like to start off the day by making $20,000." At the height of his career, Dali brought in $100,000 a week or more, and would sell his prints and sketches at what some would consider inflated prices. He could easily toss off a sketch in a half an hour and charge upwards of $5,000 for it. By the 1970s, Dali's net worth was estimated around $10 million. Dali's feverish work helped to keep his wife and himself in the lifestyle that they had become accustomed to.
However, like the rest of us, Dali was only human. Rumors began to circulate in the 1970s that Dali had developed Parkinson's disease, which naturally caused his hands to shake. Whether or not his disease was ever proven to be real is still under scrutiny. However, Dali made it a point to prove to his critics that he was still able to create art, despite his obviously shaking hands. At a press conference held by Dali, the artist demonstrated that he was able to steady his own hand, thereby making it acceptable for some to believe that he was still able to produce art just as he had before.
Stranger still was the rate at which Dali was producing not just any kind of art, but oil painted canvases. In the height of his career, Dali would average about one canvas a month. However, during his twilight years and despite his ailing health, Dali was somehow able to create nearly 100 canvases between 1981 and 1983—that's nearly one canvas a week!
Did Dali have a "ghost painter" help him paint in his later years in order to keep bringing in massive amounts of money? It certainly appears so.
One of Dali's followers was a fellow Spanish artist named Manuel Pujol Baladas, who was eventually granted the nickname the "Young Dali." Baladas worked for Disney and was discovered by Dali's wife Gala. Around 1973, after creating some watercolors for her, Gala became impressed and basically hired Baladas to create canvases in the early Surrealist style of Dali. According to one source, Gala was even known to have said that "Dali is a machine, but the machine is worn out and has to be replaced." Baladas was to be that replacement. It is estimated that over the years Baladas painted for Dali, he created upwards of 400 canvases in his name. It has been said that these paintings by the "Young Dali" now hang in museums worldwide, many of which are housed in the Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, FL and even in his own museum in Figueres, Spain.
So how did Dali get around rumors of these paintings being fakes as well? The artist simply staged photographs of himself in front of the canvas, holding a paint brush as if he was actually working on the painting to secure authenticity.
Shocking as this may all seem, there was yet another rumored Dali ghost painter, also hired out by the artist. Some called him Dali's slave, some claim he was the artists' assistant, and others simply called him a house maid, but essentially he was another follower and went by the name Isidor Bea.
Isidor Bea began assisting Dali starting in 1955. It is said that Bea lived in Dali's home in a tiny room under his stairs, and worded tirelessly for him for almost 30 years. Perhaps Bea's greatest claim to fame was painting Dali's famous huge canvas "The Last Supper"—every square inch of it. According to Bea, this great work was entirely his doing, and Dali had absolutely no hand in creating it.
Bea claims that he continued to create all of Dali's huge canvases for the following thirty years, including "The Discovery of America by Christopher Columbus" and all of his "atomic" paintings. According to Bea, Dali was completely dependant on him to continue working. Before he worked for Dali, Bea was a set designer and painted large backdrops for the theater. This gave him a background for creating these large canvases, which Bea takes full credit for completing. In many instances, Bea described his time with Dali as being treated like a slave, and insisted that he was forced to work day and night on these huge canvases.
So why then are the works of Isidor Bea and the "Young Dali" still considered to be valid in the art world? It is for the same reason that the works of other greats such as Auguste Rodin are considered valid—if pupils or assistants created art under their watch and by their specifications, and the artist signs it, then it can be considered authentic.