In 1956, Salvador Dalí created a sculpture entitled Rinoceronte vestido con puntillas (Rhinoceros dressed in lace). He was inspired by a woodcut created by Albrecht Dürer in 1515, popularly known as Dürer’s Rhinoceros. Starting in the 50s, Dali painted several of his subjects as composed of rhinoceros horns. According to Dalí, the rhinoceros horn signifies divine geometry because it grows in a logarithmic spiral. He also linked the rhinoceros to themes of chastity and to the Virgin Mary: “The rhino horn is indeed the legendary unicorn horn, symbol of chastity. The young lady may choose to lie on it or to morally play with it; as it was usual in courtesan love epochs”.
As an homage to Vermeer, he painted a study of The Lacemaker composed entirely of exploding rhinoceros horns. This piece, Paranoiac-Critical Study of Vermeer’s Lacemaker was painted at the Paris Zoo. In 1958, his tribute to the 300th anniversary of the death of Velasquez, the Infanta Margarita, also included rhinoceros horns, which converge to define the head of the Infanta. In the above 1952 photo, Dali–equipped with his only horn–pays a homage of a rhinoceros.
The photo was taken by Phillippe Halsman, who met Dalí in 1941 and started collaborating with him in the late 1940s. Their 1948 work Dali Atomicus explores the idea of suspension. Halsman and Dali eventually released a compendium of their collaborations in the 1954 book Dali’s Mustache, which features 36 different views of the artist’s distinctive mustache. The photo was homaged by Annie Leibovitz in 1996 photoshoot with Nicolas Cage.
“Halsman felt that asking a person to jump shifted their attention from being photographed to the act of jumping, thereby revealing the subject’s inner personality,” said Kurt Sundstrom, Assistant Curator at the Currier Gallery of Art. “In fact, Halsman compared his ability to reveal character to the work of a good psychologist.”
Halsman himself admitted, “[Revealing character] can’t be done by pushing the person into position or arranging his head at a certain angle. It must be accomplished by provoking the victim, amusing him with jokes, lulling him with silence, or asking impertinent questions which his best friend would be afraid to voice.”
Halsman himself was daunted to photographer Vice President Richard Nixon in the White House and thought that the proper and grumpy politician would refuse to jump. However, Nixon readily agreed, but like his subsequent presidency, the photo was awkward to say the least.
Dr. Einstein was not fond of photographers; he called them Lichtaffen, or light monkeys. Yet, he had a soft spot for Phillippe Halsman. Einstein had personally included the photographer on a list of German artists and scientists getting emergency U.S. visas to evade Nazi capture.
While he was not taking the jumping pictures of the celebrities for his hobby, Halsman was making his name as a photographer who took introspective and dissecting photos. Halsman recalled that Einstein ruminated painfully in his study on the legacy of E=mc2 during their photo session and talked about an atomic war, an arms race. Einstein spoke to Halsman of his despair over how his special theory of relativity and letter to Roosevelt led to the creation of the atomic bomb. “So you don’t believe that there will ever be peace?” Halsman asked as he released the shutter. Einstein’s eyes, Halsman said, “had a look of immense sadness…a question and a reproach in them.” He answered, “No. As long as there will be man, there will be war.”
TIME magazine used the picture on the cover when they chose Einstein as ‘the Person of the Century’.
Philippe Halsman made his career out of taking portraits of people jumping, an act which he maintained revealed his subjects’ true selves.
This Dali photograph is Halsman’s homage both to the new atomic age (physicists had recently announced that all matter hangs in a constant state of suspension) and to Dalí’s surrealist masterpiece “Leda Atomica” (which hangs on the right, behind the cats, and unfinished at the time). In 1941 Halsman met the surrealist Salvador Dalí and they began to collaborate in the late 1940s.
Halsman reported that it took 28 attempts to be satisfied with the result. Halsman and Dali eventually released a compendium of their collaborations in the 1954 book Dali’s Mustache, which also featured 36 different views of the artist’s distinctive mustache. Halsman’s wife, Yvonne, held the chair, on the count of three, his assistants threw three increasingly angry cats and a bucket of water into the air; and on the count of four, Dali jumped and Halsman snapped the picture. It was that simple, said Halsman, but it nonetheless took six hours.
Halsman’s original idea is to use an opaque liquid (milk) but it was abandoned for fear that viewers, fresh from the privations of World War II, would condemn it as a waste of milk. Another idea involved exploding a cat in order to capture it “in suspension.”