Dalí the Painter
The part of his work Salvador Dalí is most famous for is his painting. Here you can find a collection of his pictures from his early childhood on until the 1970s.
At the age of six, Dalí already showed immense talent.
Dalí's First Painting (1910)
Early Experimentations: Cubism and Impressionism
In the beginning of his artistic carreer Dalí experimented a lot with many different styles, among them cubism and impressionism. He mastered the art of drawing with such ease, that he used different styles only as a means to add color to the sketches. With this ability and with his inexhaustible dedication, Dalí created innumerable works, more than 1,000 paintings.
After some years of experimenting with different styles at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Madrid, Dalí found his defined style, Surrealism, which he would stick to for the rest of his life.
The Persistence of Memory (1931)
One of his first surrealist paintings became indeed Dalí's most famous work. Also called "Soft watches", it already contains some typical dalinian elements and symbols that appear regularly in his artwork: the soft in contrast to the hard, the melting watches, the landscape of Cadaqués, ants, and an abstract version of Dalí's face lying on the floor.
In a statement about the picture, Dalí said that the image of the soft watches had come to him while eating a very ripe camembert. Many critics have said that the melting watches symbolize the irrelevance of time. The Museum of Modern Art in New York once wrote, "[the watches are] irrational, fantastic, paradoxical, disquieting, baffling, alarming, hypnogogic, nonsensical and mad - but to the surrealist these adjectives are the highest praise".
The ants that seem to stream out of the orange watch in the bottom left corner can be found in many paintings as well as films of Salvador Dalí and represent death and decay.
Technically exquisite, The Persistence of Memory is one of what Dalí called his “handpainted dream photographs” and can simultaneously be read as a landscape, a still-life, and a self-portrait.
The Burning Giraffe (1936)
Dalí believed that The Burning Giraffe was a premonition of war (the Spanish Civil War began in 1936).
The painting contains the image of a giraffe with its back ablaze, an image which Dalí interpreted as "the masculine cosmic apocalyptic monster". He first used this image of the giraffe in flames in his film L'Age d'Or (The Golden Age) in 1930.
The Burning Giraffe appears as very much a dreamscape, not simply because of the subject but also because of the supernatural aquamarine color of the background. Against this vivid blue color, the flames on the giraffe stand out to great effect.
In the foreground, a woman stands with her arms outstreched. Her forearms and face are blood red, having been stripped to show the muscle beneath the flesh. The woman's face is featureless now, indicating a nightmarish helplessness and a loss of individuality. Behind her, a second woman holds aloft a strip of meat, representing death, entrophy, and the human race's capacity to devour and destroy. The women both have elongated phallic shapes growing out from their backs, and these are propped up with crutches - Dalí repeatedly uses this symbolism for a weak and flawed society.
The Visage of War (1940)
"The two most energetic motors that make the artistic and superfine brain of Salvador Dalí function are, first, libido, or the sexual instinct, and, second, the anguish of death," affirms the painter; "not a single minute of my like passes without the sublime Catholic, apostolic, and Roman specter of death accompanying me even in the least important of my most subtle and capricious fantasies."
This painting was done in California at the end of the year 1940. The horrible face of war, its eyes filled with infinite death, was much more a reminiscence of the Spanish Civil Was than of the Second World War, which, at the time, had not yet provided a cortege of frightful images capable of impressing Dalí. He himself wrote in The Secret Life:
"I was entering a period of rigor and asceticism which was going to dominate my style, my thoughts, and my tormented life. Spain in fire would light up this drama of the renaissance of aesthetics. Spain would serve as a holocaust to that post-war Europe tortured by ideological dramas, by moral and artistic anxieties... At one fell swoop, from the middle of the Spanish cadaver, springs up, half-devoured by vermin and ideological worms, the Iberian penis in erection, huge like a cathedral filled with the white dynamite of hatred. Bury and Unbury! Disinter and Inter! In order to unbury again! Such was the charnel desire of the Civil War in that impatient Spain. One would see how she was capable of suffering; of making others suffer, of burying and unburying, of killing and resurrecting. It was necessary to scratch the earth to exhume tradition and to profane everything in order to be dazzled anew by all the treasures that the land was hiding in its entrails."
The horror of this picture is further increased by the brown tonalities which dominate its atmosphere. Dalí stressed that this was the only work where one could see the true imprint of his hand on the canvas (at the bottom right).
Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee around a Pomegranate a Second Before Awakening (1944)
The first thing that strikes the onlooker in this painting is certainly the title. There have been several versions of the long and wordy name that Dalí invented for this artwork, among others: "One Second before Awakening from a Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee around a Pomegranate" and "Dream caused by the Flight of a Bee around a Pomegranate a Second before Waking up". The title once more shows the importance of dreams in Dalí's work.
The picture was painted while Dalí and Gala were living in America. The title explains the subject and content of the painting, which was taken from a dream that Gala reported to Dalí. He announced that this painting was the first illustration of Freud's discovery, that external stimuli could be the cause of a dream.
The catalyst for the dream, which is the pomegranate, floates in the air with the bee flying toward it. Behind the pomegranate Gala's dream unfolds over a sea of brilliant blue. A naked Gala lies asleep as she hovers over a stone; an allusion to the common floating feeling that can occur in dreams.
To the left of Gala is a huge pomegranate that spills seeds on to the sea below. Out of the pomegranate an angry, pink fish is emerging with a wide open mouth. A snarling tiger leaps out of the fish. From this tiger another emerges, its tail in the mouth of the previous one. The tigers are rushing toward Gala, their claws at the ready, but it is the bayonet, mirroring the sting of the bee, that will wake her.
In the background we can see another one of Dalí's famous images, an elephant with enormously thin, long legs, carrying a pointed, phallus-like stone. The elephants in Dalí's work are a symbol of purity, strength, wisdom and immortality. Their extremely long legs represent the sublime; they allow the animals to enter in an intermediate dimension between the earth and the sky, between reality and spirituality.
Another well-known element is the cliffy Catalonian landscape of Cadaqués or Port Lligat, where Dalí lived together with his wife Gala.
Dalí's Nuclear Mysticism
After World War II, due to the beginning of the atomic age with the a-bomb of Hiroshima, Dalí became interested in nuclear physics and optical illusions. This period was also dominated by religious themes, which for him were no contradiction to science.
Melancholy, Atomic, Uranic Idyll (1945)
This painting is a collection of ideas and emotions about the atomic age. Apart from the war and military images, we can once more find certain elements that Dalí used repeatedly:
- ants (decay)
- elephants with long legs and obelisks
- androgynous angel
- the soft: a face with a plane and a watch
- the transcendent
- birth trauma
- eggs (symbols of life and fertility)
- water drops
The Temptation of St. Anthony (1946)
This painting is an example of Dalí's interest in religioun in his period of Nuclear Mysticism. It shows the holy Saint Anthony defeating himself with a cross in his hands from the various temptations of the devil. The temptations are depicted as animals with enlarged legs in Dalí's work.
The first animal is a horse, a symbol of power and voluptuousness, of aggressive carnality, of the unconscious desire and the sexual potential.
Behind it there are five elephants, all of them carrying something on their back. The first one carries a goblet with a naked woman, representing lasciviousness, eroticism and sexual pleasures, provoking the saint. However, the naked woman seems to lack the female genitals, which could be a hint to Dalí's castrating fear. The second elephant carries an obelisk, a clearly phallic symbol, but also one of spiritual elevation. The palace on the next two elephants' backs represent, together with the naked female torso, the earthly and carnal pleasures. The last elephant, who walks in the background, carries a tower, another phallic symbol, whose projection to the sky indicates the idealization of sexual desires. The clouds in the sky can be interpreted as an intermediate level that one has to pass to reach the spiritual. They also make up the soft element in this painting. In contrast to that, in the bottom left corner we find the hard element: a rock that Anthony is leaning on. In between the elephants' legs there is an androgynous angel figure floating just like everything in this picture seems to float.
It can be presumed that Dalí deliberately chose St. Anthony because he shared with him the experience of hallucinations and deliriums. The historic St. Anthony suffered states of trance because he consumed some special mushrooms.
Something quite strange is that the painting shows the moment in which it is not clear whether the horse will shy away from St. Anthony with his cross or will trample him down with his long legs and kill him.
Leda Atomica (1949)
This painting is a perfect example of Dalí's growing interest in the combination of natural science and religion. It mixes classical antiquity with Christian iconography, a style that was used in the Renaissance.
In the foreground a naked woman is sitting, or rather floating, above a high golden pedestal on the beach. Next to her there is a swan who is floating as well and who tries to kiss or touch her with his beak. The woman tries to caress the swan. Beneath her feet there are further small floating pedestals, a red book and a broken egg. On the right we can see a mathematic instrument, a wooden angular measure, and three drops of water. In the background we can see the cliffy landscape of Dalí's home in Catalonia, as in many other dalinian paintings.
It is interesting that everything in this picture is floating, even the sea floats above the sand. Nothing is in contact with anything else, following the physical intra-atomic theory (considering molecular movements: in an atom the particles float without touching other particles). And everything, even the sea, has a shadow, except for the woman and the swan.
If we want to understand Leda atomica, it may be good to know the Greek mythical story of Leda and the Swan. Leda, by the way, is interpreted in the form of Gala Dalí. According to the Greek myth, Leda was seduced by the God Zeus who was in love with her; Zeus was transformed in a swan in order to be able to seduce her without being recognized by anyone. But in the same night, Leda also slept with her husband Tyndareos, the King of Sparta. Both men made Leda pregnant that night and she gave birth to two eggs from which hatched four children.
Dalí sees himself in the swan because for him it is a dream to seduce Gala in form of a swan.
The posture of Gala represents purity and the sublime, just like the love that Dalí felt for her.
The painting synthesizes centuries of mathematic and symbolic tradition, especially Pythagorean. It is a filigree based in the golden ratio, but elaborated in such a way that the spectator does not realize it. Dalí calculated the harmony of the picture following the theories of the mathematician Matila Ghyka because Dalí was convinced that every artwork had to be based on calculation.
Dalí's Picture Puzzles
Unlike any other artist, Salvador Dalí knew how to reinvent himself and his painting. Above all he was interested in the playful character of art. Thus, it is no surprise that some of his paintings are constructed as picture puzzles. This kind of art exists since the Middle Ages, but no other artist has ever mastered it as virtuosic as the eccentric catalan. For Dalí the picture puzzle was the ideal possibility of expressing the problem of objects in space. Through the decomposition of the fixed structures it becomes obvious that there cannot be a fixed perspective on reality, following the principle of Surrealism to abolish the reign of logic.
Swans Reflecting Elephants (1937)
In this picture puzzle the onlooker can either see three swans swimming on the water or three elephants standing in front of the pond.
The Invisible Bust of Voltaire (1940)
If you take a close look, you can identify Voltaire's face on top of the broken goblet.
Gala Contemplating the Mediterranean Sea Which at Twenty Meters Becomes the Portrait of Abraham Licoln (1974-76)
The title already indicates what can be seen in this picture puzzle: the face of Lincoln, reduplicated in one of the squares beneath the window.