It stirred controversy when it was purchased by the City of Glasgow for the sum of £8,200 in 1952, with some believing it a ‘retogressive’ extravagance the city could not afford.

Now valued at more than £60 million, Salvador Dalí's Christ of St John of The Cross is regarded as one of Scotland’s most treasured paintings and the greatest work of art in Glasgow’s civic collection.

It also proves a major draw for visitors to Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, helping make the museum and art gallery one of Scotland's most popular free attractions.

The painting is so famous that Glasgow City Council, which owns the image's copyright, hired lawyers in 2009 to chase companies that had reproduced it without paying, having estimated that unauthorised reproductions of the painting were losing the city thousands of pounds each year.

Now, The Herald can exclusively reveal that Dalí's masterpiece is set to leave Glasgow and return ‘home’ for the first time since it was purchased more than seven decades ago.

READ MORE: Orkney and Glasgow both in the running for Museum of the Year

The painting is to go on loan to The Dalí Theatre and Museum in Dalí’s home town of Figueres, in Catalonia, Spain, for a five-month period from November. 

The painting, which weighs 70kg and measures 205 cm × 116 cm, will be the focus of a new temporary exhibition - the largest the museum has hosted since it opened nearly 50 years ago. 

Jordi Mercader, President of the Dalí Foundation, said the painting will be accompanied by “a reinterpretation of the meaning the painting has in the author’s production”.

The exhibition will also showcase the comprehensive work by the Centre for Dalinian Studies - whose objective is to preserve, catalogue and study the documentary collection that it houses, as well as to foster research into the most diverse aspects of the oeuvre and life of Salvador Dalí.

HeraldScotland: Salvador DalíSalvador Dalí (Image: Getty Images)

A spokesperson for The Dalí Theatre and Museum told The Herald: “We are very excited to receive this iconic work. It will be at the Teatro-Museo Dalí in Figueres (Dalí's hometown) from November 2023 until the end of April 2024.”

The painting was originally scheduled to arrive at the museum in Figueres - where Dalí himself is buried in an unmarked crypt -  in November of 2020 but has been rescheduled due to the pandemic. 

Featuring a dramatic depiction of the crucified Christ which features no thorns, nails or wounds, the painting was inspired by a drawing Dalí was shown by 16th-century Carmelite priest John of the Cross, which is preserved in the Convent of the Incarnation in Avila in central Spain.

The seascape in the painting is the bay of Port Lligat, where Dalí lived and worked from 1930 to 1982.

Speaking about the painting back in 2005 after Herald readers voted it Scotland's favourite painting, British museum curator and art historian. Richard Calvocoressi said: “Dalí's Christ of St John of the Cross is justifiably one of the best-known and best-loved pictures in Scotland.

READ MORE: As Burrell Collection makes shortlist for top award, here's our 10 must-see objects

"Its purchase marked an extraordinarily imaginative gesture by Tom Honeyman and his colleagues on the City Council when the city was facing huge social problems - housing, health, employment - which might have been seen as higher priorities.

"But for many people, children especially, it was their first glimpse of modern art and also their first awakening, perhaps, that, in the hands of a master, painting could still express higher, spiritual ideals."

The forthcoming loan will represent the fourth time Dalí's Christ of St John of the Cross has left Glasgow since 2010, when it spent six months on display at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta at an exhibition on the surrealist artist.

The painting left Glasgow again in September of 2017 before returning to the city in the summer of 2018, having featured in a Dalí/Duchamp exhibition in London's Royal Academy of Arts before the exhibition travelled to The Dalí Museum in St Petersburg, Florida. 

The painting was then loaned by Glasgow Life Museums to The Auckland Project in County Durham from July to December last year alongside another Spanish masterpiece in El Greco’s Christ on the Cross. 

In March last year, Gary Smith, general secretary of the GMB, said council bosses should be prepared to flog Dalí’s masterpiece to settle Glasgow City Council's equal pay claims.

A spokesperson for Glasgow Life said: “Loans of objects are important for museums and help to build the international reputation of the city’s collection. Any loans of well-known works of art are publicised in advance to allow visitors enough time to plan accordingly.”