In 1976, German lawyer Peter Ackermann made a momentous purchase: He bought 60,000 ceramic tiles designed by Salvador Dalí. And he didn’t have a clue what to do with them.
The events that led to the purchase trace back to years earlier, when one of Ackermann’s clients was struggling financially and couldn’t afford to pay his legal fees. In lieu of payment, he offered to arrange a meeting between the lawyer and the Spanish artist Dalí, with whom the client had a connection through his wife, an old friend of Gala Dalí, the Surrealist’s wife. Ackermann took him up on the offer.
Months later, while on business in Paris, where Dalí lived, Ackermann met with the client’s wife, and together they went to Restaurant Lasserre, one of Gala’s favorite spots. They had a waiter deliver their business cards to the table where the Dalís were dining.
“They waived me to their table and we had some nice conversation,” Ackermann recalls.
“Fortunately, I spoke French (you don’t speak English or German to Salvador Dalí), and they invited me for tea the next day in their apartment at Le Hotel Meurice.”
A photograph picturing Ackermann kneeling beside Dalí immortalizes that meeting. (“That’s what you should do when you’re in the presence of the god of the Surrealists,” says Ackermann.) In the image, Dalí sits in a large armchair wearing a tiger-striped robe and a stoic expression. They exchanged pleasantries and discussed art and work, Ackermann recalls. Before departing, the lawyer agreed to work with the Dalís’ secretary on some of the artist’s financial deals.