‘The Persistence of Memory’ – Salvador Dali

The Persistence of Memory

Salvador Dali did a painting in 1931 named ‘The Persistence of Memory’ it was first shown at the Julien Levy Gallery in 1932. The Museum of Modern Art in New York City has had this painting in its collection since 1934. It is one of his most recognizable works.

Salvador Dali introduced the image of a soft melting pocket watch in his surrealist piece ‘The Persistence of Memory’. At the time Dali had a theory of ‘softness and hardness’ which is portrayed in this painting.

Dawn Ades the author of Dali had written “The soft watches are an unconscious symbol of the relativity of space and time, a Surrealist meditation on the collapse of our notions of a fixed cosmic order”. This interpretation suggests it was inspired by Albert Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity however Dali claimed this was not the case in fact it was a surrealist perception of a Camembert cheese melting in the sun.

Dali used a strange ‘monster’ in some period pieces to represent himself almost as though it is a self-portrait in abstract from. This painting in the middle of the composition you can see a recognisable human figure that is possibly a representation of the strange ‘monster’. The strange ‘monster’ is also recognised as a ‘fading’ creature. It is almost as though the viewer is looking into a dream where they cannot pinpoint an exact form or composition. The way the creature has been painted makes it look like it too is in a dreamlike state.

In the bottom left of the painting there is an orange clock covered in ants. Ants reoccur in a lot of Dali’s paintings often representing death or female genitalia. In this painting the iconography could be a reflection of a dream experience that Dali once had. The clocks could represent the passing of time during sleep or the persistence of time.

In this painting the “exactitude of realist painting techniques” have been used to portray imagery that is most likely to be found in dreams than in waking consciousness.

The landscape in the painting has been modelled after Cap de Creus Peninsula in north-eastern Catalonia. There is also a reference to Mount Pani. A lot of the landscapes in Dali’s work have been influenced by his life in Catalonia.

Salvador Dali

Salvador Dali is a Spanish surrealist painter born in 1904 Figueres, Spain. Dali is best known for his surreal work involving striking and bizarre images. His best well-known piece is The Persistence of memory completed in 1931. Not only has Dali created paintings he has also done film, sculpture, and photography, in collaboration with a range of artists in a variety of media. Dali was highly imaginative, had unusual and elaborate behaviour.

World War II 

In the 1940’s World War II hit Europe, Dali then moved to the United States. In 1942 he published his autobiography ‘The Secret Life of Salvador Dali’. Dali’s ideas about painting changed because of World War II. He became obsessed with the splitting of the atom and leader of the German scientists Werner Karl Heisenberg who failed to develop an atomic bomb.

In 1951 Dali did a painting named ‘Raphaelesque Head Exploding’. The painting was of Raphaelesque head that had blown apart into many pieces floating around like cascading atoms. The surrealist side to the painting was the flying particles that have been made to look like tiny rhinoceros horn. Dali said these are symbols of chastity. Dali named his new style ‘Nuclear Mysticism’.

Before the Spanish Civil War began Dali painted ‘Soft Construction with Boiled Beans’ which was a premonition of Civil War. In this painting Dali has painted a tormented figure tearing itself apart, Dali called it “a delirium of auto strangulation.” The painting was a powerful anti-war statement.


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