A theatrical and provocative persona among the Parisian Surrealists, Salvador Dali was obsessed with depicting what he called his own hallucinations. He made some fifteen hundred prints over the course of his lifetime, fifty-seven of which were created during the 1930s, the key decade for his artistic development and the period when Surrealism gained widespread recognition. Most of Dali's prints from this era appeared as illustrations and frontispieces in books by André Breton, Paul Eluard, and Tristan Tzara, among others, reflecting the artist's close association with the movement's literary figures.
In 1930 Dali was invited to illustrate Les Chants de Maldoror, an 1869 text rediscovered by the Surrealists in the 1930s that told a nightmarish tale of an unrepentantly evil protagonist. The book was filled with scenes of violence, perversion, and blasphemy. Dali, who worked in a method he called "paranoiac-critical," used a stream-of-consciousness process to access hallucinations and delusions. These personal visions, rather than scenes described in the prose poem, became the subjects of his illustrations.
The individual prints Dali executed in the 1930s, made predominately at the workshop of Roger Lacourière, were experiments in intaglio and were never published as editions. Limp Cranes and "Cranian" Harp, composed as an accumulation of sketches, juxtaposes an array of Dali's quintessential motifs—soft watches, mutating shoes, and the stretched harp and deformed skulls referred to in the title. The harp and skull were, for Dali, evocative of melancholy and death. He claimed that his particular obsession with skull imagery was rooted in a childhood memory of encountering an encephalitic whose skull had been deformed by disease.
Publication excerpt from an essay by Harper Montgomery and Sarah Suzuki, in Deborah Wye, Artists and Prints: Masterworks from The Museum of Modern Art, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2004, p. 98.