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Surrealism and the Body

See how the Surrealists explored the human form and hidden desires.


Retrospective Bust of a Woman

Salvador Dalí
(Spanish, 1904–1989)

1933. Painted porcelain, bread, corn, feathers, paint on paper, beads, ink stand, sand, and two pens, 29 x 27 1/4 x 12 5/8" (73.9 x 69.2 x 32 cm)

The idea for this work began when Salvador Dalí discovered an inkwell illustrated with the praying couple (from Jean-Francois Millet’s painting The Angelus [1857–59]). He embedded the inkwell in a loaf of bread and placed them both on the portrait bust of a woman. A strip of images from an early cinematic toy called a zoetrope encircles her neck.

In 1931 Dalí described Surrealist sculpture as “created wholly for the purpose of materializing in a fetishistic way, with maximum tangible reality, ideas and fantasies of a delirious character.”1 Retrospective Bust of a Woman not only presents a woman as an object, but explicitly as one to be consumed. A baguette crowns her head, cobs of corn dangle around her neck, and ants swarm along her forehead as if gathering crumbs.

Salvador Dalí, The Secret Life of Salvador Dalí, translated by Haakon M. Chevalier (New York: Dial Press, 1942), 312

19th century motion-picture device, invented by William George Homer, in which a strip of paper with a changing sequence of images is placed in the bottom of a circular drum. The drum has slots cut at equal distances around the outer perimeter, through which a viewer peers while the drum is turned, producing a rapid succession of images and creating the illusion of movement.

A literary, intellectual, and artistic movement that began in Paris in 1924 and was active through World War II. Influenced by Sigmund Freud’s writings on psychology, Surrealists, led by André Breton, were interested in how the irrational, unconscious mind could move beyond the constraints of the rational world. Surrealism grew out of dissatisfaction with traditional social values and artistic practices after World War I.

A representation of a particular individual.

The Dog Ate My Artwork!
When this work was exhibited in 1933, Pablo Picasso’s dog is reputed to have eaten the original loaf of bread.