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Born in 1904 (d. 23 January 1989), one of the most controversial and paradoxical artists of the twentieth century, the flamboyant Surrealist Spanish painter Salvador Dalí was a great, bizarre, eccentric artist, a magnificent self-publicist and controversial showman. The upturned waxed moustache became icons of his international persona. 

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What kind of art did Salvador Dalí do?

Until 1929, Salvedor Dalí focused on Cubism, Futurism, and on metaphysical painting work, in dialogue with Renaissance Masters Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, genius Pablo Picasso and Dadaist Max Ernst. Most of his works revolve around painting, sculpture work, graphic arts, film, design and photography. He also wrote fiction, poetry, autobiography, essays and criticism. 

During the 1930s, he became one of the most famous representatives of the Surrealist movement. The Persistence of Memory (1931) is one of the most famous Surrealist paintings ever made. 

After a trip in Italy, in 1937, his work took a turn towards what is commonly known as the "classical period" or the "Dalí Renaissance”. A change in his art form, along with the political beliefs (His public support for the Francoist regime) has made André Breton expelled him from the Surrealist art movement. Dalí chose to paint subjects that he considered spiritual; he was inspired by a fascination he had with the atomic bomb which he found particularly mystical and powerful. In 1958, Dali published his "Nuclear Mysticism" manifesto titled “Anti-Matter”, commenting on this newfound belief in science, the exterior world, and physics.

What is Surrealism by Salvador Dalí?

Major themes in Dali’s work include dreams, the subconscious, sexuality, religion, science and his muse and wife Gala. He often draws hallucinatory characters in a sort of dream sequence.

In the 1930s, the double images and visual, schizophrenic illusions were a major part of Dalí’s “Conquest of the Irrational”; a spontaneous method of irrational understanding based upon the interpretative critical association of delirious phenomena. 

Dalí also embraced the surrealist theory of automatism. His major contribution to the Surrealist movement is called the "Paranoiac-Critical Method" which is a form of mental exercise of accessing the subconscious parts of the mind to have an artistic inspiration. Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytical method - much admired by Dalí - made him explore the idea of inner subconscious within man. Dalí’s concept of critical paranoia - which he developed based on Freud's theory of paranoia - is fully detailed with the painting Metamorphosis of Narcissus, a visual discussion on the psychoanalytic theory of Narcissism. 

Common archetypes in Dalí's work are the soft melting pocket watch, a chest of drawers, as well as the crutch-like shapes. The Great Masturbator - aneminently autobiographical painting - is the quintessential symbol of his sexual obsessions and has even been commented upon by the artist himself in the best known of his literary works, “The Secret Life of Salvador Dalí”, published in 1942. Dalí generally called his paintings "hand-painted dream photograph”. 

What do Salvador Dalí paintings mean?

From the late 1920s, Dalí progressively introduced many incongruous images into his work which invite symbolic interpretation. He associated food with beauty and sex, the egg with hope and love; ants as death and decay; rhinoceros stand for chastity and the Virgin Mary.

Salvador Dali considered dreams and imagination as central rather than marginal to human thought. The iconography of most of his paintings may refer to dreams that Dalí himself had experienced, and the famous melting clocks may symbolize the passing of time as one experiences it in sleep or the persistence of time in the eyes of the dreamer. Time is relative, not fixed. Dalí's reaction to Einstein's coldly mathematical theory, led him to explore “liquid desires”, as we can see in The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory (1954).

What is a Salvador Dalí painting worth?

Portrait de Paul Eluard (1929) - an intimate portrait of the Surrealist poet Paul Eluard - was sold by Sotheby’s in 2011 at a London auction for $ 22.4 million. It became the most expensive of Dali’s canvases sold to date and the most expensive Surrealist work of art ever sold. Printemps Necrophilique (1936) was sold by Sotheby’s for $ 16.3 millions. Hovering between the $ 4 millions for My wife, naked looking at her own body, which is transformed into steps, three vertebrae of a column, sky and architecture (1945) - a unique anthropomorphiqueportrait of Dalí’s muse - and $ 20 millions, Dali's paintings are worth a fortune.

 

Salvador Dalí produced over 1,600 paintings, and here below you will find his 17 most important and representative works!

 

1. The Great Masturbator, 1929

The center of the painting has a distorted human face (Dalí’s profile) and a nude female figure (Dalí’s new muse, Gala) which represent the artist’s severely conflicted attitudes towards masturbation and sexual intercourses. He tended to associate sex with putrefaction and decay. “When I painted that rock that I entitled The Great Masturbator, I did nothing more than render homage to one of the promontories of my kingdom”. As the critique states, The Great Masturbatorresemble The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch.

 

Salvador Dalí, Face of the Great Masturbator, 1929, oil on canvas, 110 x 150 cm, © 2020 Salvador Dalí, Gala-Salvador Dalí Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

 

2. The of Persistence Memory, 1931

The most recognizable works of Surrealism includes the first appearance of what is perhaps Dalí’s most enduring image: the soft melting pocket watch. An unconscious symbol of the collapse of our notions of time and space, or, as Dalí suggested, the soft watches were not inspired by the theory of relativity, but by the Surrealist perception of a “Camembert melting in the sun”.

 

Salvador Dalí, The Persistence of Memory, 1931, Oil on canvas, 9 1/2 x 13" (24.1 x 33 cm), © 2020 Salvador Dalí, Gala-Salvador Dalí Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

 

3. Soft construction with Boiled Beans, 1936

Six months before the Spanish Civil War began, and his friend, the poet Federico García Lorca was executed by a Fascist squad, Dalí created this piece as a premonition of the horrors of the conflict. "The prophetic power of his subconscious mind” designed the monstrous creature very realistically yet with surreal concepts: a beautiful light blue Catalan sky and melancholy boiled beans. A poignant metaphor of love, eating, and the war. 

 

Salvador Dalí, Soft Construction with Boiled Beans (Premonition of Civil War), 1936, Oil on canvas, 99.9 x 100 cm, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia (Pennsylvania). The Louise and Walter Arensberg Collection, © Salvador Dalí, Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí, Figueres, 2007.

 

4. The Burning Giraffe, 1937

Dalí painted Burning Giraffebefore his exile in the United States, which was from 1940 to 1948. The blue female figures, described as "Femme-coccyx" (tail bone woman), have bodies filled with secret drawers only to be opened through psychoanalysis. A kind of allegory which serves to illustrate our numerous narcissistic masks. In the distance, the giraffe with its back on fire is an apocalyptic premonition of war.

 

Salvador Dalí, The Burning Giraffe, 1937, oil on canvas, 35 x 27 cm, © 2020 Salvador Dalí, Gala-Salvador Dalí Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

 

5. Metamorphosis of Narcissus, 1937

This painting is from Dalí’s paranoiac-critical period and depicts his interpretation of the Greek myth of Narcissus who felt in love with his own reflection into a pool. In Dalí's painting, Narcissus will fade into the stone hand until “he is completely invisible”, contrary to the myth in which he turns into a flower, failing to grasp his ownimage. A poem was exhibited alongside this painting, published by Éditions Surréalistes.

 

Salvador Dalí, Metamorphosis of Narcissus, 1937, Oil paint on canvas, Support: 511 × 781 mm, frame: 820 × 1092 × 85 mm, Tate Collection, © Salvador Dali, Gala-Salvador Dali Foundation/DACS, London 2020.

 

6. Swans Reflecting Elephants, 1937

In his 1935 essay "The Conquest of the Irrational”, Dalí explained his tendency to include the hallucinatory forms, double images and visual illusions in his paintings during the Thirties. Swans Reflecting Elephantsuses the reflection in a lake to create the double image seen in the painting. the swans' bodies become the elephants' ears, and the trees become the legs of the elephants. This astounding art was stolen by the Nazis in France and Belgium between 1940 and 1944 and went online in bid in 2010.

 

Salvador Dalí, Swans Reflecting Elephants, 1937, private collection, © 2020 Salvador Dalí.

 

7.Apparition of Face and Fruit Dish on a Beach, 1938

A deliberately illusionary silver fruit bowl of human shapes: the fruits suggest wavy hair, the dish's bowl becomes the forehead, the eyes of the large face - a shell on the right eye and a boat on the left side - are formed by background objects lying on the sandy beach. Second iterations of the fruit dish and face appear further in the distance. The endless enigma and the repetition of shapes are frequent motifs in Dalí's surrealist works.

 

Salvador Dalí, Apparition of Face and Fruit Dish on a Beach, 1938, oil on canvas, 114.8 cm × 143.8 cm (45.2 in × 56.6 in), Ella Gallup Sumner and Mary Catlin Sumner Collection, © 2020 Salvador Dalí.

 

8. The Face of War, 1940

The trauma of the end of the Spanish Civil War and the Second World War have inspired Dalí. At that time, he was living in California. The disembodied face - with identical faces replicated in its mouth and eye sockets, in what can be called an infinite process - has a gruesome and desperate expression. Biting and tangled snakes slip into a desert habitat, typical of Dali's production.

 

Salvador Dalí, The Face of War, 1940, oil on canvas, 64 cm × 79 cm (25.2 in × 31.1 in), Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam, © 2020 Salvador Dalí.

 

9. Geopoliticus Child Watching the Birth of the New Man, 1943

Reproduced on the cover of the record album Newborn by the American rock band James Gang, Geopoliticus Child Watching the Birth of the New Man is said to be one of Dalí’s masterpieces. As Dalí was emerging out of the “new” nation, the United States, during his exile from 1940 to 1948, this “new” man is scrambling out of an egg while a mother and her Geopoliticus Child watch, pointing. Its symbolism is more canonical: “protection, placenta, Catholicism, Egg, Geography changes its skin in historic germination.”

 

Salvador Dalí, Geopoliticus Child Watching the Birth of the New Man, 1943, Oil on canvas, 18 in x 20 1/2 in, The Dalí Museum, Gift of A. Reynolds & Eleanor Morse, Worldwide rights © Salvador Dalí. Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí (Artists Rights Society), 2017 / In the USA © Salvador Dalí Museum, Inc. St. Petersburg, FL 2017.

 

10. Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee Around a Pomegranate a Second Before Awakening, 1944

This painting is an example of Sigmund Freud’s influence on Dalí: the naked woman’s - Gala, the subject of the scene - abrupt awakening from her peaceful dream in a seascape. Around the sleeping woman levitate a pomegranate, a Christian symbol of fertility and resurrection, a bayonet, which symbolizesthe stinging bee and the Virgin, two threatening tigers, a phallic symbolism and an elephant with long flamingo legs. The whole scene is intended to express the typical dream with a twisted narrative.

 

Salvador Dalí, Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee around a Pomegranate a Second before Waking, 1944, Oil on panel, 51 x 41 cm, © Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid.

 

11. The Temptation of Saint Anthony, 1946

Dalí painted The Temptation of St. Anthonyin 1946, in response to a film production companycontest. The painting contains many surrealistic elements typical of his work and, furthermore, it was the first of his pieces to use classicism realism to bring him closer to the divine. A parade oflevitating elephants with exaggerated, long legs is the largest element in the painting, turning the viewer's focus towards the temptation.

 

Salvador Dalí, The Temptation of St. Anthony, 1946, oil on canvas, 89.7 x 119.5 cm, © 2020 Salvador Dalí, Gala-Salvador Dalí Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

 

12. The Elephants, 1948

These two elephants - symbols of desire, phantom reality and distortion - are a recurring theme in the works of Dalí and the primary focus of the work, without any other relevant detail. The obelisks on the backs of the elephants are believed to be inspired by Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s sculpture in one of the major Christian churches in Rome. The barren, orangey background contrastthe idea of weight and space.

 

Salvador Dalí, The Elephants, 1948, oil on canvas, private collection, © 2020 Salvador Dalí.

 

13. Galatea of the Spheres, 1952

The name Galatea refers to a sea nymph of Classical Mythology renowned for her virtue, while the painting depicts the bust of Gala (Dalí's wife and muse) composed of a series of spheres, as atomic particles, seemingly suspended in time and space. It illustrates the discontinuity of matter, with a combination of Renaissance Art and the image of the explosion of the first atomic bomb.

 

Salvador Dalí, Galatea of the Spheres, 1952, Oil on canvas, © Salvador Dalí, Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí, Figueres, 2014.

 

14. The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory, 1954

Dalí returned to the theme of The Persistence of Memorywith thisvariationwhere the landscape has been flooded with water. Greatly interested in nuclear physics, Dalí replicates it as the breakdown of matter into atoms - his "favourite food for thought” -, with items suspended. His interest in quantum mechanism and religion led him to different aesthetic approaches. 

 

Salvador Dalí, The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory, 1952 - 1954, oil on canvas, 25 x 33 cm, © 2020 Salvador Dalí, Gala-Salvador Dalí Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

 

15. Meditative Rose, 1958

The painting itself is an enigma, reminiscent of a natural Om symbol hanging against the sky above a desolate landscape. "In the Surrealist period I wanted to create the iconography of the interior world and the world of the marvelous, of my father Freud. Today the exterior world and that of physics, has transcended the one of psychology. My father today is Dr. Heisenberg”, Dalí said. Absent are the stretched forms, dreams and nightmares of his Surrealism Period.

 

Salvador Dalí, Meditative Rose, 1958, Oil on canvas, 36 x 28 cm, private collection, © Salvador Dalí, Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí, Figueres, 2014-

 

16. The Hallucinogenic Toreador, 1969-1970

By combining symbolism, optical illusions and Surrealist, familiar motifs, Dalí used his paranoiac-critical method to create a multi-leveled oil painting within a bullfighting ring. He dedicated this piece to his muse and wife Gala as a pictorial representation of her deep dislike for traditional Spanish bullfighting. Dalí decided to incorporate twenty-eight times the silhouetteof the Venus of Milos - using negative spaces to create the hypnotic image - after a visit to New York.

 

Salvador Dalí, The Hallucinogenic Toreador, 1968-1970, © Salvador Dalí Museum, Florida.

 

17. The Swallow's Tail - Series of Catastrophes, 1983

Completed in May 1983, The Swallow's Tailis Dalí last painting. It was the final part of a series based on the mathematical catastrophe theory of French academic René Thom. "The most beautiful aesthetic theory in the world” suggested that in 4D space there are seven possible equilibrium surfaces or "elementary catastrophes”. Dalí uses the form of the cello, to which he attributes symbolic functions of sentiment, the pain of a wounded ego pain and the beauty of a swallow’s tail.

 

Salvador Dalí, The Swallow's Tail, 1983, oil on canvas, 73 x 92.2 cm, Dalí Theatre and Museum, Figueres, Spain, © 2020 Salvador Dalí.

 

Cover image: Salvador Dalí, Meditative Rose, 1958, Oil on canvas, 36 x 28 cm, private collection, © Salvador Dalí, Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí, Figueres, 2014

Written by Petra Chiodi

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