Salvador Dalí. The Persistence of Memory. 1931. Oil on canvas, 9 1/2 × 13" (24.1 × 33 cm). Given anonymously. © 2024 Salvador Dalí, Gala-Salvador Dalí Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

The artist, author, critic, impresario, and provocateur Salvador Dalí burst onto the art scene in 1929 and rarely left the public eye until his death six decades later. The auspicious occasion was the debut in Paris of Un Chien Andalou, a film Dalí made in collaboration with Luis Buñuel. Filmed in Paris, Un Chien Andalou strung together free-associative vignettes and made full use of the avant-garde technique of montage, including, most famously, a scene of a razor slicing into a woman’s eye.

The film catapulted Dalí to the center of the Surrealist community. An artistic and intellectual movement begun by André Breton in 1924, Surrealism championed the unconscious as the primary motor of human behavior, coupling this with an aspiration to political revolution. Although Dalí’s association with Surrealism was late-coming and short-lived (he would be expelled from the group in 1934), his arrival jolted new life into the movement.

Dalí’s chief theoretical contribution to Surrealism was his elaboration, in the early 1930s, of the “paranoiac-critical method”—a process, he wrote, to “systematize confusion and thereby contribute to a total discrediting of the world of reality.”1 The method described a deliberately disoriented state of mind that would allow an individual to connect unrelated things, forging fresh avenues of thought and creation. Around the same time, he also published several essays naming and defining the so-called “Surrealist object”: an object “functioning symbolically,”2 usually constructed from found items or readymade materials, and redolent with psychological power. His Retrospective Bust of a Woman was one such object. Beneath its seemingly haphazardly embellished portrait bust of a woman pulsed a rich network of associations, from references to consumption (corn cobs and a baguette) to putrefaction (an ant swarm, a recurrent motif in Dalí’s work).

The Persistence of Memory, perhaps his most famous painting, was an overnight sensation on its first exhibition in New York, in January 1932. (It had remained unsold when first exhibited in Paris the previous summer.) The gallerist and early champion of the Surrealists Julien Levy proclaimed the painting “10 by 14 inches of Dalí dynamite,” and an image of it was reproduced in nearly every review.3 Years later, Dalí would recount its genesis, claiming that the “soft watches” had their origin in the remains of a “very strong Camembert” cheese.4

Rendered with the artist’s meticulous attention to detail, the painting’s three pocket watches hang flaccidly from a denuded tree branch, a ledge, and a bestial form that, on closer examination, resembles Dalí’s own distorted face. As sunlight hits the distant cliffs and glassy water, ants teem on the surface of the single closed watch, and a fly alights nearby—suggesting rot and waste in an otherwise pristine landscape. With its uncanny juxtaposition of the ordinary and the bizarre, and its suggestion of time arrested or out of sync (the watches all point to different numbers), The Persistence of Memory possesses an eerily dreamlike quality. It showcases Dalí’s interest in exploring how the mind interprets reality and the primacy of sexuality to the human psyche—lines of inquiry that would remain constant throughout his career.

Natalie Dupêcher, independent scholar, 2017

  1. Salvador Dalí, “L’Âne pourri,” in La Femme visible (Paris: Éditions Surréalistes, 1930), 11; repr. as “The Rotting Donkey,” ed. and trans. Haim Finkelstein, The Collected Writings of Salvador Dalí (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 223.

  2. Salvador Dalí, “Objets surréalistes,” in Le Surréalisme au service de la Révolution 3 (1931), 16-17; repr. as “Surrealist Objects,” ed. and trans. Haim Finkelstein, The Collected Writings of Salvador Dalí (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 231.

  3. Julien Levy, Memoir of an Art Gallery (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1977), 80.

  4. Salvador Dalí, The Secret Life of Salvador Dalí, trans. Haakon M. Chevalier (New York: Dial Press, 1942), 317.

Wikipedia entry
Salvador Domingo Felipe Jacinto Dalí i Domènech, Marquess of Dalí of Púbol (11 May 1904 – 23 January 1989), known as Salvador Dalí ( DAH-lee, dah-LEE, Catalan: [səlβəˈðo ðəˈli], Spanish: [salβaˈðoɾ ðaˈli]), was a Spanish surrealist artist renowned for his technical skill, precise draftsmanship, and the striking and bizarre images in his work. Born in Figueres, Catalonia, Spain, Dalí received his formal education in fine arts in Madrid. Influenced by Impressionism and the Renaissance masters from a young age he became increasingly attracted to Cubism and avant-garde movements. He moved closer to Surrealism in the late 1920s and joined the Surrealist group in 1929, soon becoming one of its leading exponents. His best-known work, The Persistence of Memory, was completed in August 1931, and is one of the most famous Surrealist paintings. Dalí lived in France throughout the Spanish Civil War (1936 to 1939) before leaving for the United States in 1940 where he achieved commercial success. He returned to Spain in 1948 where he announced his return to the Catholic faith and developed his "nuclear mysticism" style, based on his interest in classicism, mysticism, and recent scientific developments. Dalí's artistic repertoire included painting, graphic arts, film, sculpture, design and photography, at times in collaboration with other artists. He also wrote fiction, poetry, autobiography, essays and criticism. Major themes in his work include dreams, the subconscious, sexuality, religion, science and his closest personal relationships. To the dismay of those who held his work in high regard, and to the irritation of his critics, his eccentric and ostentatious public behavior often drew more attention than his artwork. His public support for the Francoist regime, his commercial activities and the quality and authenticity of some of his late works have also been controversial. His life and work were an important influence on other Surrealists, pop art and contemporary artists such as Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst. There are two major museums devoted to Salvador Dalí's work: the Dalí Theatre-Museum in Figueres, Spain, and the Salvador Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida, U.S.
Information from Wikipedia, made available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License
Getty record
Spanish, Catalan
Artist, Author, Cinematographer, Designer, Writer, Jewelry Designer, Graphic Artist, Illustrator, Painter, Sculptor
Salvador Dalí, Salvador Dali, Salvador Felipe Jacinto Dalí, Salvador Felip Jacint Dalí Domènech, Salvador Dalí y Domènech, Salvador Felipe Jacinto Dalí y Domènech, Salvador Dalí i Domènech, Salvador Felipe Jacinto Dalí Domènech, Salvator Dalí, Salvador Dalí Domènech, Salvador Dalm y Domenech, Салвадор Дали, Сальвадор Дали, 萨尔瓦多・达利, 达利萨尔瓦多, Felip Jacint Domènech
Information from Getty’s Union List of Artist Names ® (ULAN), made available under the ODC Attribution License


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