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Dalì The persistence of memory

Dalì The persistence of memory is preserved today at the MOMA in New York. In his autobiography, Salvador Dalì, father of surrealism, tells how one evening he was working before dinner at a landscape work with rocky mountains in the distance immersed in the light of the sunset and an olive tree with cut branches. A story that could turn out to be insignificant if it were not then accompanied by an explanation of what during that dinner Dalì ate and how this had surreal effects on his work.

Today’s post is therefore dedicated to Salvador Dalì and his work The persistence of memory, the result of a Camembert cheese dinner.


Dalì and the paranoid-critical method

Thanks to his eccentric and non-conformist personality and his works similar to imaginary dreams Dalì is certainly remembered in the history of art as the most famous artist of Surrealism. However, he experimented with all the painting techniques before arriving at a sort of imaginary realism based on the method he defined as paranoid – critical.

Studying and using the ideas of Sigmund Freud on the concepts of dream and madness, Dalì produced obsessive images in which the reality that seems to be described in detail turns with complex optical illusions into something completely different and intriguing.

The elaboration of the works is divided into two phases. First one consists of the artist immersing himself in his own thoughts and living of his paranoia. The second one, on the other hand, serves to elaborate these sensations in a critical and rational way to get to represent them on the canvas in both forms creating surreal images made of illusions.


Dalì The persistence of memory. The artwork

And in this way the work The persistence of memory in 1931 was also realized, which according to Salvador Dalì was completed in just two hours, immediately after dinner. And following a reflection on the philosophical problem of softness caused by Camembert cheese.


Soft watches

In this work, Dalì brings his fantasies and his vision of life and time onto the canvas. Protagonists are the soft clocks that characterize it and that due to their shape no longer seem useful to their purpose, that of indicating the time. The idea is that of a time that is still indicated by the hand and therefore it is legible but at the same time, it is indeterminate, insignificant, irrational.


The sleeping head

One of the clocks, in the centre, is bent over a sleeping head. Some think it is the left profile of Dalì himself as if it were a rock. And it is not the first time that this form appears in his works. In fact it is also found in the Great masturbator and in the Enigma of desire, both of a couple of years before and that I had the opportunity to see in Monaco. Furthermore, the face is characterized by long eyelashes and thick eyebrows which in the symbolism of Dalì’s works represent the erotic character of the figures.



Another character of the work, made of details, are the insects. On one of the clocks on the left, in fact, dozens of ants are found, a symbol of decomposition and memento mori. Therefore a message of remembrance of death. It is said that Dalì was fixed with insects and with their representation because he was very struck as a child in finding in a Catalonian countryside, where he was born, a dead lizard eaten by ants. But these are not the only ones in fact flies are often found, always with the same meaning.


The olive tree

Another symbol of decay is the olive tree on the left of which Dalì speaks in his autobiographical story. The olive tree, typical of the regions of Spain in which he grows, is a symbol in the history of peace and prosperity but here it finds itself stripped without fruit. Seems apparently dry and dead and helps to give an air of desolation.


Dalì The persistence of memory. The debate

This work has been studied and analyzed by many critics and the debate is still open today. The symbolism of the elements is strong and the division on two contrasting planes certainly makes it magical. It is as if watching this work you perceive two separate worlds. The background made of an endless landscape of mountains and real sea even if far away. The first floor in the near shadow but irrational and absurd.


Of course, the strength of Dalì’s works has made him one of the most famous and appreciated artists in the world. So much so that he was also famous for his personality and in particular for his moustache. I don’t know if you’ve had the chance to see on Netflix one of the most popular series of last year, Money Heist, I’m looking at it now and I’m enjoying it.

In the first episode of the series during the implementation of the theft that is the heart of the story the thieves do not wear the typical horror film masks but the face of Dali. This becomes their face together with the red suits and accompanies them in their history.

Dalì either loves it or hates it, I love it. Let me know in the comments what you think and what is your favourite work or the one you have seen recently in a museum!


Carl Van Vechten, photo of Salvador Dalì, 1939 Library of Congress (public domain)


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