Plans have been announced to dramatically change one of Spain’s most famous views and perhaps the most well-known sea view in art history.
Wind turbines have been proposed for the sea off Portlligat, the home of one of the world’s greatest modern artists, Salvador Dalí. For almost a century, art lovers have been captivated by the seascape views of Spanish Surrealist Dalí (1904-1989).
Starting as a youth in his childhood home of Cadaqués, Dalí was fascinated by the views of the Mediterranean Sea. Over the 1920s, as he grew to be a provocative modernist painter in Madrid, Dalí repeatedly made images of the sea as viewed from his home. Later, when estranged from his family, Dali moved across the headland to occupy a fisherman’s house in Portlligat (Port Lligat). It would be home for most of his life.
The view of the sea was the backdrop for his iconic Surrealist paintings of the 1930s. When Dalí and his wife Gala returned from the USA in the late 1940s, the artist once again drew inspiration from the view. It became the setting for his famous religious paintings, such as The Madonna of Port Lligat (1950) and Christ of St John of the Cross (1951), where religious motifs and figures float over the timeless bay of Portlligat. The beach outside Dalí’s house became a party spot for hippies in the 1960s and 1970s, when the artist would come down to sit on a throne facing the sea. He continued to paint it until he became to infirm to hold a brush in the early 1980s.
Portlligat and Cadaqués were visited by artists ranging from Picasso, Man Ray and René Magritte (who even painted it) to Walt Disney, who struck up a friendship with Dalí after they worked on an animation project together. The rocky headland was where Dalí declared his love for his future wife Gala Éluard. Their Portlligat house is now a museum. Dalí repeatedly claimed that it was from his home town and the local geography that his genius sprang. In Dalí’s imagination, weathered rock formations were transformed into grotesque sleeping heads, objects and animals.
No natural landscape has been more integral to a modern painter’s output, not even Mont Saint Victoire, which Paul Cézanne repeatedly painted in his last years. The view over the bay from Dalí’s house is emblematic of the Mediterranean as the birthplace of Western civilisation and Christianity. He deliberately decided to situate his religious paintings from 1949 to the mid-1960s (including The Sacrament of the Last Supper (1955)) in this setting. The jagged spurs of ruddy-brown rocks and the calm blue sea provide a frisson of contrast and dramatic shorthand for primal nature and as shorthand for the world of Dalí, one of the most memorable and distinctive artists of the last century.
Situated in Catalonia, near the border between Spain and France, Alt Empordà is a region that is the easternmost part of the Iberian Peninsula. Dalí used to boast that his home received the first daylight in all Spain. Part of the power of the view is its timelessness, with its ragged rocks, terraced fertile slopes and simple stone buildings unchanged from Roman times. Now that is about to change.
The region is famously windy, with the local wind being called the Tramuntana (Tramontana). The wind was so strong and relentless it was said to drive locals made. The locals would supposedly become so hardy because of the Tramuntana that they would become famously stubborn. Dalí celebrated independence and eccentricity was attributed to this phenomenon.
It is exactly this wind that FloatBlue expects to harness in an off-shore wind farm. Thirty-five turbines reaching 856 feet/260 m above the water would have a dramatic impact on the view. It is exactly that view that brings thousands of tourists from around the world to Portlligat. There are other worries aside from the impact on tourism. The recent New York Times article quotes locals worried that the turbines will disturb the fishing grounds and local eco-system. Not least, approval for this project would lead to a boom in similar schemes nearby. Other energy companies are lining up to submit similar proposals.
If the local authorities do go ahead with the approval of the plan, one of the most celebrated views in all of world art will be dramatically changed. Some tough choices must be made between the push for renewable energy and preserving cultural heritage.
Dalí by Alexander Adams will be published by Prestel in 2023.