Salvador Dalí and Maurice Sandoz: A Fantastic Collaboration
In 1944, Thomas Sugrue reviewed Fantastic Memories, the first book Salvador Dalí illustrated for Swiss writer Maurice Sandoz (1892-1958). The critic described Dalí as clairvoyant, able to receive the author’s words and transform them into intriguing and complex images. From a pair of hairy hands to a headless torso, decaying bodies, crutches, and ants, the nightmarish stories blur the boundary between the real and imagined in typical surrealist fashion. Dalí illustrated three other books by Sandoz: The Maze (1945), The House Without Windows (1950) and On the Verge (1950), all within the mystery/horror genre. Reviews were mixed. Some critics regarded the books as exciting, superb, and beautifully composed, while others referred to the texts, and to Dalí’s illustrations, as deficient, lacking depth, or uninspired. Some of the original works were exhibited at the Bignou Gallery in New York, along with the artist’s paintings, and The Maze was later adapted into a feature film. These images appeared simultaneously in art galleries and in widely circulated media accessible to the public.
While Dalí received numerous commissions for graphic work in the 1940s, the collaboration with Sandoz resulted in a cohesive body of work that aligns with the artist’s thematic interests and compounds surrealist imagery with popular appeal. The correspondences between text and image reveal a shared fascination with the uncanny: rich with descriptions of grotesque rituals, death and decay, and unexplained occurrences, each story propels the reader through a series of improbable, yet fascinating scenarios. A doctor in chemistry, Sandoz’s approach to storytelling was informed by his scientific knowledge and his experiences as an avid world traveler. These qualities surely resonated with Dalí, whose multidisciplinary interests and perspectives characterize his artistic production during the ‘40s and beyond.
Although these books are often grouped together with other illustration projects, this essay will focus on the Dalí/Sandoz collaboration. I will examine the artist’s use of emblematic Dalinian motifs and classical elements in relation to the texts and in the context of his broader artistic production and public reception at the time. Informed by period reviews, correspondence, and primary sources, the essay explores the nature of the collaboration between artist and author and provides a more nuanced understanding of each of the four books, positioning this body of work as an accomplished contribution to the intersection of surrealism and popular culture in the American context.