Dali's Doodles: The Surrealist's Manservant Reveals a Very Personal Collection of Gifts in Paris

Enrique Sabater with Salvador Dalí, 1970
(Courtesy Enrique Sabater Collection)

He was Salvador Dali's secretary, advisor, accountant, driver, bodyguard, confidant, and best friend. Enrique Sabater's duties could range from negotiating the artist's payments to running out to buy moustache wax, and he has called the time he spent in Dali's employ, from 1968 to 1981, "some of the best years of my life." Dali was at the peak of his fame, and he gave Sabater a remarkable collection of sketches, photos, engravings, watercolors, and other materials. In Paris's Espace Dali, Sabater has curated a very personal show, on view through May 10, that draws from his vast collection.

Upon entering this dark little museum at the top of Paris's hillside Montmartre neighborhood, the first thing the visitor notices is the eclectic range of items that Dali signed and gave to Sabater, including Bristol board, manuscript pages, photos, menus, and greeting cards. The exhibition documents a narcissistic art at which Dali excelled, considering his signature as a work of art in and of itself, a stylistic and almost cabalistic symbol.

While this art of the signature can prove repetitive, it also allows for all kinds of whimsical experiments. The most insignificant item can become a pop and surrealist palette for spur-of-the-moment compositions that reveal Dali's creative obsessions and personal concerns. He scribbled drawings onto pages of the Bible, "The Divine Comedy," Hemingway novels, and monographs on his own artwork. There are also some sketches for significant works, the creation of which Sabater saw first-hand. This is the case for "Original Study for the Sculpture the Sun God Rising from the Waters of Okinawa." Dali made the sculpture for the 1975 World's Fair in Okinawa and asked Sabater to take it to Japan by ship.

Clearly, the works seen here are a bit outside Dali's official oeuvre. But what makes this modest-sized exhibition so charming is Sabater's sincere affection for Dali, his real nostalgia for a lost friend. A black-and-white photo of Dali seen on a theater stage, flooded with lights, symbolizes the artist as entertainer, perhaps using self-parody as a way of protecting the seriousness and the coherence of his art. In the exhibition materials, Sabater describes how Dali would wait for journalists while painting very calmly, asking his secretary to let him know five minutes before the guests were due to arrive, so that he could put on his "interview suit" — a white tunic or some other flamboyant costume.

To see works from Dali's secretary's collection, click the slide show.