Hype, you expect it in advertising, as in “America runs on Dunkin.” But you don’t see it coming in the Art world. Until you do.

What a crock

Last week, an Art News headline touted a never seen drawing like this: “Unpublished Dali Drawings Shed Light on Surrealist’s Connections to Works by Old Masters.” Unless you count imitating artists of the past, that’s vintage hype.

An Artnet News headline made a similar claim: “A Previously Unknown Salvador Dalí Drawing Reveals the Surprising Methods Behind One of the Artist’s Most Famous Paintings.” The painting is The Last Supper.

The “methods” amount to copying. What a crock.

Drawn and quartered

The focus of this Dali news is a preparatory sketch for the painting held in the National Gallery of Art. Art historian Jean-Pierre Isbouts, who intends to publish a book about the found sketch this spring, told Artnet News that Dali owes a lot to the Old Masters - especially Da Vinci.

By way of explanation, Isbouts said the sketch “is an almost exact copy of Leonardo da Vinci’s rendition” except instead of everyone seated on one side of the table, Dali set them on all sides. “I can show you Byzantine mosaics that have an identical composition,” Isbots added.

There’s no good answer

OK, let’s stop here. Given all of Dali’s copying, why are these art journals frothing over a drawing said to be “an almost exact copy” of Leonardo’s imagery?

It’s certainly not because the painting rendered from the drawing is worthy of attention. (Read on).

To hear Dali biographer Meryl Secrest tell the story of the painting in her 1986 bio Salvador Dali, “Some influential voices were raised in horror when it went on exhibit at the National Gallery.” American theologist Paul Tillich, spoke out when he was a professor of philosophy at Harvard School of Theology, saying he was “outraged” by the painting, calling it “sentimental and trite.” I’d add shameless.

According to Secrest, Dali modeled the face of Jesus after his wife Gala’s features.

The hits keep coming

Then there are the words of the former director of the Cleveland Museum of Art Sherman Lee, who called the painting “the most overrated individual work in American museums.” Secrest reported that after all the brickbats came in, the National Gallery moved the painting to a less conspicuous spot.

And she quoted chief curator, Sidney Freedburg saying, “The painting is one of Dali’s less admired canvases.

Why oh why

So again, the question is, why are art journals talking about this work, let alone loading it up with lofty frames of reference to Leonardo and the Old Masters? Why ballyhoo a preparatory drawing said to be “almost an exact copy” of Leonardo’s work for a painting that garnered so many thumbs-down?

Even if we overlook Dali’s imitating ways, and all the art experts who’ve pooh-poohed his version of The Last Supper, it’s hard to shut eyes to Mrs. Dali as Jesus. Classing Dali a latter-day Leonardo is tantamount to the Dunkin Donuts boast, “America runs on Dunkin.” Hype is hype.

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