The Colossus of Rhodes (Dalí)

The Colossus of Rhodes
El Coloso de Rodas, Le Colosse de Rhodes
The Colossus of Rhodes (Dalí).png
ArtistSalvador Dalí
Year1954 (1954)
MediumOil on canvas
Dimensions68.8 cm × 39 cm
(27.1 in × 15.4 in)
LocationKunstmuseum Bern
AccessionG 82.007

The Colossus of Rhodes is a 1954 oil painting by the surrealist artist Salvador Dalí. It is one of a series of seven paintings created for the 1956 film Seven Wonders of the World, each depicting one of the eponymous wonders. The painting shows the Colossus of Rhodes, the ancient statue of the Greek titan-god of the sun, Helios. It was ultimately not used for the movie, and in 1981 was donated to its present location in the Kunstmuseum Bern.

Painted during Dalí's late period, two decades after his popular 1930s surrealist movement heyday, The Colossus of Rhodes is emblematic of his shift from the avant-garde to the mainstream. After financial pressures imposed by his move to the United States in 1940, and influenced by his fascination with Hollywood, Dalí shifted focus away from his earlier exploration of the subconscious and perception, and towards historical and scientific themes.

Dalí's rendering of the Colossus is heavily influenced by a 1953 paper by Herbert Maryon, a sculptor and conservator at the British Museum. Maryon proposed a hollow Colossus of hammered bronze plates, placed alongside the harbour rather than astride it. He further suggested that it used a hanging drapery to give the statue a stable tripod base. These elements were all incorporated by Dalí.


The Colossus

Engraving showing an imagined Colossus of Rhodes, standing astride the harbour with a galleon passing between its legs
Sixteenth-century engraving by André Thevet imagining the Colossus astride the harbour and a galleon passing beneath

The Colossus of Rhodes was a monumental statue of the Greek sun god, Helios, that stood by the harbour of Rhodes for more than half a century in the third and fourth centuries BC.[1] According to first-century BC historian Diodorus Siculus, it was constructed under the direction of Chares of Lindos to commemorate the city's victory over Demetrius Poliorcetes, who from 305 to 304 BC laid siege to Rhodes; Helios, patron saint of both the city and island of Rhodes, was chosen as the honoree.[2] The statue stood until the 226 BC Rhodes earthquake, when, according to Pliny the Elder, writing three centuries later in his Naturalis Historia, it buckled and fell.[3] In his ninth-century AD Chronographia, Theophanes the Confessor recorded that its ruins remained until 652–53, when Muawiyah I conquered Rhodes, and the Colossus was sold for scrap.[4] Beginning with lists formed by Diodorus and other writers, the Colossus has come to be recognized as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World: the others are the Lighthouse of Alexandria, the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, the Statue of Zeus at Olympia, the Temple of Artemis, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, and the Great Pyramid of Giza, the only wonder still in existence.[5]

There are no extant contemporary depictions of the Colossus; the only evidence is textual, much of it summary and postdating the Colossus by centuries.[6] Imagination has filled in for documentation; by the fourteenth century, writers described a Colossus standing astride the harbour—a span then thought to be some 400 metres.[7]

Scientific attempts to re-envision the Colossus have persisted since the eighteenth century.[8] One more recent theory, which heavily influenced Dalí, is contained in a 1953 paper by Herbert Maryon,[9] a sculptor and British Museum conservator known particularly for his reconstruction of the Sutton Hoo helmet.[10][11] On 3 December he presented his paper The Colossus of Rhodes to the Society of Antiquaries of London.[12][13] The paper suggested that the statue was hollow, and stood aside the harbour rather than astride it.[12][13] Made of hammered bronze plates less than 116-inch (1.6 mm) thick, Maryon said, the Colossus would have been supported on its base by a third point of support in the form of hanging drapery.[14][13] Although the paper was not published until 1956,[15] two years after Dalí created his painting, newspaper articles about Maryon's 1953 presentation proliferated quickly and internationally.[13][16]

Salvador Dalí

The Colossus of Rhodes came from of Dalí's longstanding fascination with Hollywood.[17] He viewed the industry as a surrealist medium, and described Walt Disney, Cecil B. DeMille and the Marx Brothers as "the three great American Surrealists". In his 1937 essay Surrealism in Hollywood, he wrote that "Nothing seems to me more suited to be devoured by the surrealist fire than those mysterious strips of 'hallucinatory celluloid' turned out so unconsciously in Hollywood, and in which we have already seen appear, stupefied, so many images of authentic delirium, chance and dream."[18]

For the 1956 Cinerama film Seven Wonders of the World, a travelogue featuring Lowell Thomas, Dalí was commissioned to create seven paintings: The Colossus of Rhodes,[19] The Pyramids,[20][21][note 1] The Statue of Olympian Zeus,[22] The Temple of Diana at Ephesus,[23] The Walls of Babylon,[24] and two versions of the same wonder, The Lighthouse of Alexandria[25] and Lighthouse of Alexandria.[26][27][28] In 1955 he produced a further version of The Walls of Babylon,[29] and painted the last wonder, The Mausoleum at Halicarnassus.[27][note 2] The paintings for the film were made, yet went unused.[30]


The painting shows the Colossus of Rhodes standing on a base of unworked ashlar.[31] The viewer's perspective is from below the statue's base, which both gives the point of view of a boat approaching the city, and emphasises the statue's extreme height and size.[32] A piece of drapery hangs around the waist of Helios and from his left arm, falling down to touch the ground behind him.[13] The statue appears to be made of bronze, and has a segmented construction entirely composed of numerous individual plates.[13][33] Helios raises his right hand to shield his eyes from the sun over which he reigns, giving what the art historian Eric Shanes termed "a vaguely Surrealist touch" to Dalí's work.[32] In the lower right is signed "Salvador Dalí / 1954".[19]


Dalí's most recognized works are dated before 1940, when he was preoccupied with the subconscious and the nature of perception.[34] The Persistence of Memory, the work with which he is most identified, was painted in 1931,[35] and represented a decade that saw Dalí firmly within the avant-garde.[36] His move to the United States in 1940 brought financial pressures, but brought to the fore his flair for showmanship, which helped develop his relationship with Hollywood.[37] The end of World War II introduced a focus on the historical, scientific, and religious to Dalí's work.[37]

The Colossus of Rhodes exemplifies Dalí's preoccupations with cinema, history, and science, and his loosening grip on surrealism.[32] It is only marginally surrealist—the god of the sun shields himself from his domain—and resembles a poster,[32] befitting a work commissioned for a movie.[27] Nor does Dalí offer a particularly original take on the Colossus, which is heavily influenced by Maryon's suggestions.[13] Compared with Maryon's paper, wrote the scholar Godefroid de Callataÿ, the painting "does not look extremely original".[13] Dalí copied the likeness of the Colossus put forth by Maryon, clearly depicting hammered plates of bronze, and showing the same tripod structure of a figure supported by a piece of drapery.[13]


The painting is in the collection of the Kunstmuseum Bern, where it forms part of the 1981 Georges F. Keller bequest.[19] In the 1980s and 1990s it was exhibited in Europe and North America:[19] at the Museo de Arte Moderno in Madrid during 1983, at the Staatsgalerie Stuttgart in Stuttgart during 1989, at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Humlebaek from 1989 to 1990, and later in 1990 in Montréal, at the Musée des Beaux-Arts.[19]

Several of the other paintings in the Seven Wonders of the World series have come up for sale. The Statue of Olympian Zeus was sold by Sotheby's in 2009 for $482,500,[38] and is now in the collection of the Morohashi Museum of Modern Art.[22] In 2013 Sotheby's sold The Temple of Diana at Ephesus for $845,000;[39] it is now in a private collection.[23] The Walls of Babylon was offered by Sotheby's in 2014 with an estimate of £300,000–400,000, but was bought in.[28] Dalí's thematically similar 1955 paintings have been auctioned. Christie's sold The Mausoleum at Halicarnassus for $1,325,000 in 2016,[27] and Walls of Babylon in 2001 for £168,750.[40]


Black and white ink sketch showing three versions of the Colossus
First Version of The Colossus of Rhodes (1954)

Dalí created at least one study, First Version of The Colossus of Rhodes, before his final work.[41] The 1954 ink-on-cardboard work measures 25 by 35.3 cm (9.8 by 13.9 in), and includes three sketches of the Colossus.[41] It was displayed from 3 November 2010 to 30 April 2011 at New York City's Time Warner Center as part of the exhibition Dalí at Time Warner Center: The Vision of a Genius, where it was also for sale.[42]

Lithographs replicating The Colossus of Rhodes are also frequently offered for sale.[43] Owing to what Shanes called Dalí's "exploitative and/or lackadaisical attitude", the trade in these works is "in chaos".[44] Dalí, eschewing the custom of limited printings with plates that were then destroyed, signed some 40,000 to 350,000 blank sheets of paper, which were then printed with his works.[45] Coupled with rampant forgeries of an easily faked signature, this—termed by Shanes "one of the largest and most prolonged acts of financial fraud ever perpetrated in the history of art"—caused the lithographs to become virtually worthless.[46]


  1. ^ The Gala-Salvador Dalí Foundation catalogue raisonné and the Fundación AMYC, which holds the work, list The Pyramids as a 1957 work.[20][21]
  2. ^ The Gala-Salvador Dalí Foundation catalogue raisonné does not list The Mausoleum at Halicarnassus. It sold in 2016 for $1,325,000 at Christie's, which led off its description by asserting that "Nicolas and the late Robert Descharnes have confirmed the authenticity of this work."[27]


  1. ^ de Callataÿ 2006, pp. 42–44.
  2. ^ de Callataÿ 2006, pp. 42–43.
  3. ^ de Callataÿ 2006, pp. 43–44.
  4. ^ de Callataÿ 2006, p. 44.
  5. ^ Maryon 1956, p. 68.
  6. ^ de Callataÿ 2006, pp. 40–41.
  7. ^ de Callataÿ 2006, pp. 47–48.
  8. ^ de Callataÿ 2006, p. 51.
  9. ^ de Callataÿ 2006, pp. 53–54.
  10. ^ Easby, Jr. 1966.
  11. ^ Maryon 1947.
  12. ^ a b Maryon 1956, pp. 72–75, 79–81.
  13. ^ a b c d e f g h i de Callataÿ 2006, p. 54.
  14. ^ Maryon 1956, pp. 72–75.
  15. ^ Maryon 1956.
  16. ^ Badoud 2012, pp. 34–36, 36 n.129.
  17. ^ King 2007, pp. 59–60.
  18. ^ King 2007, p. 59.
  19. ^ a b c d e Catalogue Raisonné 689.
  20. ^ a b Catalogue Raisonné 693.
  21. ^ a b Arte Moderno y Contemporáneano.
  22. ^ a b Catalogue Raisonné 695.
  23. ^ a b Catalogue Raisonné 1149.
  24. ^ Catalogue Raisonné 692.
  25. ^ Catalogue Raisonné 690.
  26. ^ Catalogue Raisonné 691.
  27. ^ a b c d e Christie's 2016.
  28. ^ a b Sotheby's 2014.
  29. ^ Catalogue Raisonné 1148.
  30. ^ King 2007, p. 60.
  31. ^ Beristain & Descharnes 1983, p. 205.
  32. ^ a b c d Shanes 2012, pp. 224–225.
  33. ^ Badoud 2012, pp. 34–36.
  34. ^ Shanes 2012, pp. 47–48.
  35. ^ Shanes 2012, pp. 35–36.
  36. ^ Shanes 2012, pp. 53, 57.
  37. ^ a b Shanes 2012, pp. 48–53.
  38. ^ Sotheby's 2009.
  39. ^ Sotheby's 2013.
  40. ^ Christie's 2001.
  41. ^ a b Sabater y Bonany 2010, p. 31.
  42. ^ Sabater y Bonany 2010, pp. 1, 31.
  43. ^ Los Angeles Times 1985.
  44. ^ Shanes 2012, p. 57.
  45. ^ Shanes 2012, pp. 54–57.
  46. ^ Shanes 2012, pp. 48, 54–57.


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