Salvador Dalí's "Femmes aux papillons" previously belonged to Eleanor Lambert.

NOW YOU SEE IT: A Salvador Dalí painting that belonged to the late fashion publicist Eleanor Lambert was sold at Christie’s Tuesday for $939,000 to an unidentified buyer.

The winning bid for the 1953 “Femmes aux papillons” painting was well above the $600,000 to $800,000 preauction estimate. Dalí had envisioned a group of figures in colorful frocks that were reminiscent of colorful butterfly wings and he had given the artwork to Lambert. The gift appeared to have been well-protected considering she was the sole owner. Lambert, who died at the age of 100 in 2003, lived in an apartment adorned with art. With  her estate’s approval, the piece was the cover lot of the Impressionist and Modern Art Works on Paper sale at the auction house.

Dalí and Lambert were connected through the years. In addition to making her mark in fashion, the New York-based executive represented a fleet of artists including Dalí, Jackson Pollock, Cecil Beaton, Thomas Hart Benton, Isamu Noguchi and George Bellows. Just as struggling fashion designers sometimes compensate publicists with clothing, a few of the artists Lambert worked with would periodically offer art in lieu of a monthly retainer. Lambert also had a hand in starting the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Art Dealers Association of America.

Lambert set the stage for the Council of Fashion Designers of America and started the International Best Dressed List in the Fifties. She recruited Dalí to design butterfly imagery for posters and scarves in 1950 for the International Silk Convention — another group that she was tied to. Later in that same decade, Dalí agreed to create sets for the March of Dimes fashion shows that Lambert orchestrated.

Surrealism was a source of inspiration for scores of fashion designers. Dalí’s personal fashion connections included Coco Chanel and Elsa Schiaparelli both of whom he befriended in the Thirties and collaborated with. The artist’s creative talents were also enlisted by Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and other influential magazines.

Dali’s extension into fashion was an easy stretch. He once said, “The modern artist should participate in every kind of extracurricular activity. Michelangelo designed the dress for the Pope’s Swiss Guards. It is all propaganda of your imagination, no?”

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