Santiago El Grande

Salvador Dalí

Spain (1904 - 1989)
Santiago El Grande, 1957
oil on canvas
407.7 x 304.8 cm
Gift of the Sir James Dunn Foundation
© Salvador Dali, Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí/ SODRAC (2014)

Santiago El Grande is one of only 20 masterworks the artist produced in his lifetime and the centrepiece of the Beaverbrook Art Gallery collection. This painting is of James the Great, the patron saint of Spain, who, it is said, appeared in a dream to King Ramirez of León, promising him victory in his battle against the Moors in the nineteenth-century Battle of Clavijo. The next morning an apparition of Saint James appeared and led the Christians into a victorious battle. “Santiago y cierra España” (“Saint James and strike for Spain”) has become the battle cry of Spanish armies.

The painting combines many favourite Dalí elements. A religious theme combined with atomic reference that has at its centre a jasmine flower, a Catalan countryside and the Mediterranean Sea, his wife and muse Gala, as well as Dalí himself as a boy asleep on the beach. Sitting at the foot of this four-meter high Dalí, you get the 3-D effect of Saint James and his rearing horse.

The painting was exhibited at the 1958 World’s Fair in Brussels, and was to be sold to an American who was then going to donate it to the Spanish government for the Real Monasterio de San Lorenzo de El Escorial, near Madrid. Dalí claims that he changed his mind after a ride in a Dunn & Company elevator. This inspired Dalí to sell the painting to the recently widowed Lady Dunn, who then donated it to the Beaverbrook Art Gallery just before its opening.

Here's a time-lapse video of Santiago El Grande being installed at the WAG: