Time and Change in 10 Salvador Dalí Paintings

October 23, 2016

Bizarre, outstanding, versatile, eccentric, absolutely mind-boggling and endlessly interesting; these are all the words we can describe Salvador Dalí paintings as well as the man himself, one of the most prolific and celebrated artists in history. Associated with Cubism, Futurism and above all the great Surrealism movement, the Spanish painter and showman created a magnificent portfolio of artworks transcending the conscious and deeply immersed the fantasy, the surreal, the nightmare and the paranoia, yet always on the fine line between madness and genius. Inspired by a wonderful variety of themes and theories, Salvador Dalí embraced symbolism and gave it a new definition, employing the concepts of time and metamorphosis through the incredible technique of pittura metafisica. Salvador Dalí once stated:

The difference between false memories and true ones is the same as for jewels: it is always the false ones that look the most real, the most brilliant.

Salvador Dalí was one of the greatest students of Sigmund Freud, as he considered imagination and dreams to be of the biggest importance for the human thought; this reflected the most through his the Paranoiac-Critical method he invented, a form of mental exercise of accessing the subconscious parts of the mind to have an artistic inspiration. Among the many inspirations he referenced in his paintings, there are great masters like Raphael and Velàsquez, historical and classical art periods, his wife and muse Gala, the wonders of nature, even nuclear physics and the discoveries of science. In all of these notions, Dalí saw and highlighted time and change as the two crucial, irrefutable and consistent elements upon which all of humanity lies, often intertwining them with the obsessive themes of death, eroticism, and decay.

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One of the most famous artists of all time, Salvador Dali paintings and other works were often discussed by Picasso Editors’ Tip: Dalí: The Paintings

Picasso called Dalí "an outboard motor that’s always running." Dalí thought himself a genius with a right to indulge in whatever lunacy popped into his head. Painter, sculptor, writer, and filmmaker, Salvador Dalí (1904-1989) was one of the century’s greatest exhibitionists and eccentrics—and was rewarded with fierce controversy wherever he went. He was one of the first to apply the insights of Sigmund Freud and psychoanalysis to the art of painting, approaching the subconscious with extraordinary sensitivity and imagination. This publication presents the entire oeuvre of Salvador Dalí paintings. After many years of research, Robert Descharnesand and Gilles Néret finally located all the paintings of this highly prolific individual. Many of the works had been inaccessible for years—in fact so many that almost half the illustrations in this book had rarely been seen.

Here are the ten Salvador Dalí paintings of change and time.

The Persistence of Memory, 1931

By far the most popular Surrealism painting in the world, even though by then Salvador Dali wasn’t a part of the art movement anymore, The Persistence of Memory continues to offer numerous representations, meanings, symbolics and interpretations. The unforgettable imagery of the melting clocks, the well-known rock at Cap de Creus in Catalonia which looks like a head, the leafless olive tree, the swarm of ants, the deserted landscapes of Cadaqués and his beloved homeland - all of the elements that Dali would use throughout his entire career are there. The artwork is often thought to be a self-portrait in a dreaming state, in which the melting clocks symbolize the passing of time as one experiences it while sleeping. Another popular opinion about the painting suggests that Dalí was incorporating an understanding of the world introduced by Albert Einstein's theory of special relativity. Asked whether this was in fact the case, Dalí replied that the soft watches were inspired merely by the surrealist perception of a ”soft, extravagant, solitary, paranoiac-critical Camembert cheese of space and time” melting in the sun. In the 1970s, Dali revisited his soft timepieces in sculptures like Dance of Time I, II, & III, Nobility of Time, Persistence of Memory, and Profile of Time. He also brought them into lithographs.

Featured image via art9b.wikispaces.com.

The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory, 1954

As small in size as The Persistence of Memory, measuring only 25.4 x 33 cm (10 x 13 in), the sequel to the famous painting came to life some 23 years later, showing the well-known landscape disintegrating into atoms. While the first work was created under the heavy influence of Freud and his dream analysis, the second reflected on Dalí’s fascination with the science of the atomic age and the exterior world of physics, guided by theoretical physicist, Dr. Heisenberg. The original scenery has been flooded with water, breaking down both what’s underneath and above its surface. The ground is now split into brick-like shapes, floating beneath the atomic missiles that suggest humanity could bring about its own destruction. The artist added another melting watch, possibly brought on by the water, and an image of a fish, which seems to be reflecting the rock self-portrait underneath, as the symbol of life. In a way, the painting represents Dali’s loss of interest for Surrealism and the announcement of his newly discovered interest in nuclear physics and religion.

Featured image via dalipaintings.net

Sleep, 1937

Also known as Le Sommeil, Dalí’s 1937 Sleep is another artwork depicting sleeping and dreaming, the unconscious. Here, we see a large, soft, bodyless head sleeping supported by crutches, which became trademark in the painter’s work, as the symbol of the fragility of the supports which maintain “reality”. We can feel the intensity of the painting as everything is propped up by the crutches - even the dog on the left side of the canvas. Dali once described sleep as ”a heavy monster that was held up by the crutches of reality”, and this work seems to perfectly illustrate that notion. Sleep was painted for Edward James, a British millionaire who was Dalí's patron from 1936 to 1939.

Featured image via dalipaintings.net

The Great Masturbator, 1929

While looking at The Great Masturbator, one of Dali’s largest works, the new elements seem to be popping out of the composition constantly. It all starts with the popular rock formation on Cap de Creus, which is prolonged to form a head facing downwards. On the back of it, a woman resembling his then new muse, Gala, emerges in sexual ecstasy, ready to perform a fellatio on the male figure only seen from the waist down. The painting features a grasshopper and a swarm of ants, which Dalí referred to as a motif representing his sexual anxiety. Has the artist gone through a transformation from the great masturbator to the great lover, with the appearance of Gala in his life? The rock-head continued to appear in future artworks as well, becoming the symbol of his paranoiac-critical interpretations of his unique world.

Featured image via museoreinasofia.es

Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee around a Pomegranate a Second Before Awakening, 1944

It is another one of Dalí’s “hand-painted photographs” in which we see Gala as a reclining nude hovering over a rock at Pont Lligat in a dreaming state. Although he started exploring nuclear fission and atomic energy just when this piece was painted, dreams were still at the core of his creation. A bee, symbolizing the Virgin, flies above aa pomegranate, a Christian symbol of fertility and resurrection, out of which there is a Yelloweye rockfish bursting out, subsequently giving life to a raging tiger, who then spews out another tiger, who then disgorges a bayonet about to pierce Gala’s arm. In the background, Dali depicts an elephant for the first time, in this version with long flamingo legs and based on Bernini’s Elephant and Obelisk in Rome’s Piazza Santa Maria sopra Minerva. The painter illustrates ”Freud's discovery of the typical dream with a lengthy narrative”, in which any of the nightmareish elements can cause the subject to wake up.

Featured image via dalipaintings.net

The Burning Giraffe, 1937

The chest of drawers seen in the two blue female figures depicted by Salvador Dalí in The Burning Giraffe are another reference to the study of Sigmund Freud, one which claims that the human body, which in Greek times was merely neoplatonical, is now filled with secret drawers only to be opened through psychoanalysis. The female figures, which Dalí on a later date described as "Femme-coccyx" (tail bone woman), are in part stripped off their skin down to the muscular tissue, while the protagonist of the painting, the giraffe, stands in the background with a fire burning on its back. The Surrealist painter described this image as ”the masculine cosmic apocalyptic monster” and he believed it to be a premonition of war. The work, again, features the crutches as support systems which show a personal struggle with the battle in his home country.

Featured image via dalipaintings.net

Spider of the Evening, 1940

A weeping putto, recalling the one of Felicia Rop’s Pornocrates, sits in the bottom left corner of the canvas, witnessing the demise of the war. From the bare olive tree, which once stood as the emblem of peace, the melting figures play the sad song of destruction, while the cannon barrel emerging from the edge of the painting pours out the familiar symbols of the European art, such as The Winged Victory of Samothrace. The entire scenery cries with loss, immersed in darkness and shadows, allegorizing the emotional effects of a great human upheaval. Spider of the Evening appears to be an extended, much more hostile version of The Persistence of Memory, as well as Dalí’s magnificent representation of terror, which we could previously witness in the works dedicated to the Spanish civil war.

Featured image via dalipaintings.net

Geopoliticus Child Watching the Birth of the New Man, 1943

At the peek of World War II in Europe, Salvador Dalí expressed his devastation and the psychological impact it had on him during his stay in the United States at that moment, through this particular work. His initial notes for the work read: ”parachute, paranaissance, protection, cupola, placenta, Catholicism, egg, earthly distortion, biological ellipse. Geography changes its skin in historic germination.” Indeed, it shows the birth of a New World to come after the raging war, referenced through the classical figure emerging from an egg representing the Earth, as well as the two other figures witnessing it all. The man about to be born seems to be based on John Everett Millais’s 1849 painting Isabella. The artwork also stands in direct opposition to the desperate imagery of Dali’s earlier piece, Spider of the Evening, which oozes in a more pessimistic atmosphere.

Featured image via dalipaintings.net

Swans Reflecting Elephants, 1937

One of the best known examples of Dalí’s Paranoiac-critical period, Swans Reflecting Elephants is a proper double-image, evoking the painter’s ”spontaneous method of irrational understanding based upon the interpretative critical association of delirious phenomena.” He used this method to depict hallucinatory forms and visual illusions that were the main theme of his paintings during the whole decade of the 1930s. In a still body of water, another recurring element in his oeuvre, three swans are reflected in the lake so that their heads become the elephants’ heads and the lifeless trees behind them form their bodies. The reflections in the water would always served him well in the depiction of change, as we could also witness in Metamorphosis of Narcissus.

Featured image via dalipaintings.net

Metamorphosis of Narcissus, 1937

In this case, perhaps the most famous example of transformation, Salvador Dali interprets the famous Greek myth of Narcissus. It was the first Surrealist work to offer consistent interpretation of an irrational subject, in this case the death and fossilization of Narcissus. In the painting, as explained by the Surrealist genius himself, the image of Narcissus is suddenly transformed into a hand which rises out of his own reflection, holding an egg, a seed, a bulb about to give birth to the new narcissus - the flower. Beside it, we see the limestone sculpture of the hand, the fossil hand of the water holding the blown flower. Dalí insisted that the viewers see the painting while reading his poem, which was published the same year in a small book by the artist, and to be regarded in a state of "distracted fixation" whereby the image would disappear as it was being watched.

Featured image via tate.org.uk. All images used for illustrative purposes only.

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