Christine Argillet had a bird’s-eye view of Salvador Dali’s life starting in the late 1950s when she was about four and her parents took her to the tiny village of Port Lligat, Spain during the summer. They stayed at an inn near the white home the surrealist shared with his wife. The Argillets lived in Paris, and Argillet’s father, Pierre, an art collector and publisher, had met Dali between the two World Wars, around 1934, and collaborated with him for 50 years.
“I had a big chance to know Dali,” says Argillet, whose father died in 2001 at age 92. “He would put down his brush at about five or six in the evening, and we would go to his house. It was always a lot of fun. He was very humorous and very playful. My father and Dali talked mostly about copper etchings.”
In a striking black and white photo taken one summer, the artist holds the end of eight-year-old Argillet’s braid, while she models an invention that someone had brought him: Eyeglasses that provided a view not only in front but also about 300 degrees around, like a bird’s view.
“He was always eager to see new things,” says Argillet, who is based in Los Angeles but spends a lot of time in Paris, “and he was very kind to me, very charming.” She recalls that he gave her popping red candies in special wrappers, and told her to throw them on the rocks behind the fishermen, who got mad – that was Dali’s sense of humor at work.
A PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST | “I remember him painting geometric shapes on a canvas when I was a teenager,” tells Argillet. “He was starting with the golden ratio, all the elements of the Renaissance, but wanted to be open to the 20th century too.” He would also ask her to stand at a wall with two holes so she could look through and see his paintings in relief.
She recalls the very simple house, white inside and out – cobbled together from several fishermen’s homes connected in a labyrinth. Her girlhood memories also include a view of the system Dali set up so that his paintings could move up and down, using a handle, until they reached the right level for viewing.
Though fresh fish was abundant, the master wouldn’t eat that much, Argillet reports. “He was working a lot, forgetting to eat,” she recalls, “but he loved saucisson, the dry French sausage.”
THE EDITED COLLECTION | Pierre Argillet’s collection stayed in Paris with him for most of his life, but now his daughter is willing to part with some of it. “A collection
is meant to be shared,” she states.
The traveling selection, available for purchase, was destined for cities including Boston, San Francisco, Park City and Palm Beach Gardens. It includes 80 etchings, rare hand-woven tapestries, and nine drawings/watercolors, some in pencil, some in ink, and some mixed media.
“It was very difficult to choose, but now I feel lighter,” shares the once little French girl who summered with Dali in sunny Spain.
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