Musement takes a look at eight of Salvador Dalí’s most representative paintings.
Salvador Dalí Domènech (1904–1989), along with Pablo Picasso, was one of the most important Spanish artists of the 20th century. A surrealist painter, as well as a writer, decorator, sculptor and thinker, Dalí, a multifaceted character, had an eccentric personality that was known well beyond Figueres, his birthplace. Inspired by the subconscious, his work is closely linked to his own story and is found throughout the world. Most of his paintings are housed in Spain at the Dalí Theater-Museum in Figueres, the Salvador Dalí House in Port Lligat, and the Gala Dalí Castle in Púbol.
1. The Persistence of Memory, 1931
Did you know that the Persistence of Memory, Dalí’s most famous work, was painted in just a couple of hours? And that the artist was inspired to paint it after having eaten Camembert cheese for dinner? The wavy clocks (representing the deformation of time with the landscape of a sunrise in the village of Port Lligat) render this oil painting emblematic of the artist.
2. Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee Around a Pomegranate a Second Before Awakening, 1944
This surrealist oil-on-wood painting is captivating because of the harmony of the figures and colors within the composition. Freudian theory has gained popularity when it comes to explaining its symbolism. In other words, the painting expresses Dalí’s willingness to represent the subconscious through images created while sleeping. Thus, the work depicts his muse, Gala, asleep and levitating amid tranquil scenery while a bee that provokes her dream. The upper part features a bayonet in front of two pouncing tigers, one of which is emerging from a fish that has emerged out of a pomegranate.
3. The Temptation of St. Anthony, 1946
Here, St. Anthony is portrayed as a kneeling beggar in the desert, protecting himself from lurking temptations by raising his cross. These temptations are represented, first of all, by a horse and a line of deformed elephants with extremely long legs. The horse represents the temptation of triumph while the woman on top of the first elephant represents the temptation of sex, and the pyramids of the two elephants in the back represent the temptation of greed.
Where: Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, Brussels
4. Figure at the Window, 1925
Dalí had not yet adopted the surrealist style that so defines his early work. In this initial stage of experimentation and learning, the artist used realism to represent his 17-year-old sister Anna Maria gazing out a window with her back to the viewers. Blue tones predominate as she invites us to contemplate the panorama through the window with her. This was painted during a family vacation in Cadaqués.
5. Christ of Saint John of the Cross, 1951
The Christ of Saint John of the Cross stands out for its perspective of a crucified Jesus painted from above, making his head the central point of the work. Demonstrating his great technical ability with chiaroscuro, Dalí was also able to depict the bay of Port Lligat at the bottom of the painting with a mystical air and two fishermen who, in reality, are famous painters.
Where: Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow
6. The Great Masturbator, 1929
With a strong biographical component, The Great Masturbator reveals Dalí’s obsessions, specifically with sex, which we could guess simply by the work’s title. A close glimpse shows that the artist represents a human head mixed with yellow-shaded rocks. Amongst the painting’s most important elements is the grasshopper, an insect that terrified Dalí since childhood, on the figure’s mouth. The hook represents ties with his family who wanted him to return to a traditional lifestyle, while the lion symbolizes his sexual desires.
7. Metamorphosis of Narcissus, 1937
This Dalí work revolves around the Greek myth of the young Narcissus who fell in love with his own reflection after the goddess Aphrodite punished him for rejecting the nymph Echo. Narcissus drowned trying to kiss his own reflection in the water of the lake, and a flower with his name sprouted from his body. Although Dalí did not strictly adhere to the myth, its psychoanalytical concept of narcissism derived from it to represent the libido over the body itself inspired him.
Where: Tate Modern, London
8. Sleep, 1837
This oil on canvas depicts a sleeping head—a soft structure held up by crutches. It evokes sleepiness, an important component of surrealism due to its connection with the subconscious world. However, it is said that Dalí’s inspiration for this work was the anguish provoked during the Spanish Civil War and the desire to free himself from the horror through sleep.
Where: Edward James Collection