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When Dali Met Freud, One Century Ago

  • Sketch of Sigmund Freud by Salvador Dalí
January 15, 2019
Balasz Takac is alias of Vladimir Bjelicic who is actively engaged in art criticism, curatorial and artistic practice.

When looking closely at the artistic production made during the fruitful years of the interwar modernism, one may notice an array of references from both literature and science. That pervasion of natural and humanistic disciplines tells about how much artists were willing to transcend the chosen medium, if not physically, at least conceptually.

Although the common impression that the imaginary worlds of Salvador Dalí are just embodiment of his creative visions and nothing more, the 1938 painting The Metamorphosis of Narcissus claims the opposite. Namely, it stands as a solid proof of the connection between the artist and the celebrated Austrian neurologist Sigmund Freud.

In order to celebrate the 80th anniversary of their encounter, the Freud Museum‘s exhibition focuses on the effects of the same on Dalí’s above-mentioned painting.

Salvador Dali - The Metamorphosis of Narcissus
Salvador Dalí – The Metamorphosis of Narcissus, 1937. Oil on canvas, 51.2 cm × 78.1 cm (20.12 in × ​30 3/4 in) © Salvador Dalí, Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí, DACS 2018

The Meeting

In the early 1920s while still an art student in Madrid, Dalí read Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams. The artist was so triggered by the text that he embarked on the journey of self-interpretation which was expressed both in visual and written form. In 1933, Dalí analyzed the celebrated painting by Jean-François Millet, The Angelus, in an essay (later to become a book), where he explored his personal obsession with the painting.

After several attempts, five years later Dalí finally met Freud in London, after the respectable scientist fled from the Nazi-occupied Vienna. Famous Austrian writer Stefan Zweig organized the meeting, and Dalí’s friend and patron Edward James, the owner of the masterpiece The Metamorphosis of Narcissus, was also present. Dalí believed that the painting would provoke Freud in a debate on the psychoanalytical theory of Narcissism and would help him to present his concept of critical paranoia.

During the meeting, Freud allowed Dalí to create a sketch of him, so these drawings are on view as well, alongside Dalí’s poem with the same title as the painting, The Metamorphosis of Narcissus. On view there are also documents from the Freud Museum’s archive which clarify Freud’s perception of Dalí and their encounter. The central artifact of the exhibition is the painting itself loaned from the Tate; it is an important artwork which underlines the expensive influence of Freud not only on Dalí but on Surrealism in general.

Freud, Dalí and the Metamorphosis of Narcissus – Exhibition Trailer

Freud, Dalí and The Metamorphosis of Narcissus at The Freud Museum

The exhibition also includes the interpretation of the classical origin of the myth of Narcissus and specific place narcissism has in psychoanalysis.Freud’s other texts which were important to Dalí, such as the study of Wilhelm Jensen’s novel Gradiva are also in the show.

Art historian Dawn Ades, the curator of the highly successful Dali/Duchamp exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts, curated this exhibition. Undoubtedly, Ades decided to present a multilayered selection, as well an exciting accompanying public program in order to properly articulate the fascinating relationship between these two extraordinary figures.

Freud, Dali and The Metamorphosis of Narcissus will be on display at the Freud Museum in London until 24 February 2019.

Featured image: Sketch of Sigmund Freud by Salvador Dalí. All images courtesy of Freud Museum.