Narrator 1: 63. The Persistence of Memory by the Spanish artist, Salvador Dalí, 1904–1989. Painted in 1931. Oil on canvas, nine and a half inches high by 13 inches wide. 24 x 33 cm.
Narrator 2: This is a small, framed painting, only about the size and shape of a computer screen. But it’s a hauntingly strange and memorable image. In a dreamlike landscape, giant watches dominate the foreground. But they’re like no watch you’d find in the waking world: they’re soft, and they’re draped over other objects in the scenery like discarded clothing.
Beginning with the landscape, it seems to be a desolate coastal region. The bottom two–thirds of the canvas is occupied by a dark brown, flat expanse of sand that is deep in shadow. But the upper portion of the sand is a lighter brown, with the calm, light blue sea in the distance; and the top third of the painting has yellow sky that graduates into deep blue at the very top of the painting. The position of the objects in this painting will be indicated using the analogy of the face of a clock. At the top right, or at one o’clock, a sunlit high ridge of rocky land juts into the sea.
In the bottom left of the painting, from 7 o’clock to 9 o’clock is the corner of a brown wooden platform upon which the artist’s signature is barely visible. From it sprouts a grayish, withered tree: lopped off at the top, with not a leaf in sight, extending one thin branch out to the right. Over this branch is draped one of the watches. It’s an old–fashioned, silver pocket watch, with a blue face. It has no strap or chain, just a round knob for winding it up. It hangs half of the blue face outwards, like a big blue banana skin, with one hand shown pointing to the 6.
A second, similar pocket watch is draped over the edge of the platform below. It’s huge, almost the same size as the stunted tree above it. The lower half hangs limply over the edge, like an overripe cheese melting in the sun. It is gold with a blue face and the time reads 6:55. A fly sits just below the 12 and casts a shadow on the face of the watch. A third watch lies below and just to the left of it–a gold one, its face hidden in its case. It’s crawling with ants: an unexpected and disconcerting sight.
There’s one more watch, and it’s draped over the weirdest object of all. A monstrous, grayish, fleshy object lies on the sand in the lower middle of the canvas, like a beached whale. It seems to be a giant human face. A wrinkled brow is clearly visible, and a nose seen in profile points down to the bottom of the painting. A closed eye has immensely long lashes, like the legs on a centipede. Something soft oozes from the nose like a fat snail: is it a tongue? There are no other distinguishable human features. Over the cheek area of this grotesque creature—if it is a creature—the blue pocket watch is draped. The minute hand is at 12 o’clock.
Narrator 2: To hear the Collection Tour audio on this work, press 517.