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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

A three-dimensional work of art made by a variety of means, including carving wood, chiseling stone, casting or welding metal, molding clay or wax, or assembling materials.

A pre-cinematic device consisting of a cylindrical drum with evenly spaced vertical slits cut into its sides. Its interior held a paper strip printed with sequential drawn or photographic images, which would appear animated when the drum was spun.

An artistic and literary movement led by French poet André Breton from 1924 through World War II. Drawing on the psychoanalytic theories of Sigmund Freud, the Surrealists sought to overthrow what they perceived as the oppressive rationalism of modern society by accessing the sur réalisme (superior reality) of the subconscious. In his 1924 “Surrealist Manifesto,” Breton argued for an uninhibited mode of expression derived from the mind’s involuntary mechanisms, particularly dreams, and called on artists to explore the uncharted depths of the imagination with radical new methods and visual forms. These ranged from abstract “automatic” drawings to hyper-realistic painted scenes inspired by dreams and nightmares to uncanny combinations of materials and objects.

A representation of a particular individual, usually intended to capture their likeness or personality.

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.