Salvador Domingo Felipe Jacinto Dali I Domènech (11 May 1904 – 23 January 1989) was a Spanish surrealist artist known for his technical competence, accurate draftsmanship, and his work’s startling and unusual visuals.
Dali was born in Figueres, Catalonia, Spain, and had his official art education in Madrid. From an early age, he was influenced by Impressionism and the Renaissance masters, and he grew more interested in Cubism and avant-garde movements.
In the late 1920s, he became more interested in Surrealism and joined the Surrealist group in 1929, quickly becoming one of its prominent exponents. The Persistence of Memory, his most renowned piece, was created in August 1931 and is one of the most famous Surrealist paintings.
Dali spent the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939) in France before moving to the United States in 1940, where he found economic success.
In 1948, he went to Spain, where he declared his return to the Catholic faith and established his “nuclear mysticism” style, which was inspired by his interests in classicism, mysticism, and modern scientific advancements.
Dali’s creative repertory comprised painting, graphic arts, cinema, sculpture, design, and photography, which he worked on alongside other artists at times. He also authored poetry, fiction, autobiography, essays, and criticism.
Dreams, the subconscious, sexuality, religion, science, and his closest personal connections are all major topics in his writing.
Salvador Dali Most Famous Paintings
1. The Persistence of Memory
The Persistence of Memory is a 1931 artwork by Salvador Dali that is well recognized as a masterpiece of Surrealism.
The artwork was first presented at the Julien Levy Gallery in 1932 and has been in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City since 1934, when it was given to the museum by an unidentified donor.
It is well-known and regularly mentioned in popular culture, and is occasionally referred to by more descriptive terms such as “Melting Clocks,” “The Soft Watches,” or “The Melting Watches.”
Dali returned to the theme of this painting with the variation The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory (1954), which depicted his earlier famous work systematically fragmenting into smaller component elements, as well as a series of rectangular blocks that reveal additional imagery through the gaps between them, implying something beneath the surface of the original work.
The Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida presently houses this piece, whereas the original Persistence of Memory is housed in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
Late in his career, Dali also created lithographs and sculptures based on the concept of soft timepieces. Persistence of Memory, Nobility of Time, Profile of Time, and Three Dancing Watches are among the sculptures.
2. Metamorphosis of Narcissus
Metamorphosis of Narcissus (1937) is an oil-on-canvas work by Dali that shows his rendition of the Greek fable of Narcissus. It was originally named Métamorphose de Narcisse. Dali started painting in the spring of 1937 in Zürs, Austria, amid the Austrian Alps.
According to Greek mythology, Narcissus’ beauty attracted practically everyone who saw him, and both men and women followed him, but he turned down all approaches.
One of his fans, a nymph called Echo, fell passionately in love with him and faded away when he rejected her, leaving just her voice. Taking pity on Echo, the goddess Nemesis persuaded Narcissus to look into a pool.
Narcissus fell in love with his own reflection after seeing his own face mirrored in the water. Narcissus faded away because he was unable to accept his own image, and in his place sprouted the flower that bears his name, the narcissus.
Dali’s painting portrays Narcissus crouching by a lake, his head resting on his knee, and a stone hand grasping an egg mimicking the contour of his body on the right.
A narcissus bloom grows from the split egg. A group of Narcissus’ spurned suitors stands in the painting’s middle ground. A third Narcissus figure is resting among the mountains in the backdrop.
3. Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee Around a Pomegranate a Second Before Awakening
The painting’s full title is Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee Around a Pomegranate a Second Before Awakening, although a shorter variant title is Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee.
It was created in 1944, and the lady in the artwork, who seems to be sleeping, is thought to depict his wife, Gala. The picture is presently on display in Madrid’s Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum.
This “hand-painted dream snapshot,” as Dali referred to his works, depicts a coastline with vast horizons and tranquil waves, maybe Port Lligat, with Gala as the focus of the image.
Dali displays two suspended drops of water and a pomegranate, a Christian symbol of fertility and resurrection, next to the nude figure of the sleeping lady, which levitates atop a flat rock floating above the sea. A bee, a creature that typically represents the Virgin, hovers above the pomegranate.
In the top left corner of the artwork, what seems to be a yelloweye rockfish breaks out of the pomegranate, spewing forth a pouncing tiger preparing to assault Gala and a rifle with a bayonet about to sting her in the arm.
Above them is Dali’s first usage of an elephant with long flamingo legs, which may be seen in subsequent works like The Temptation of St. Anthony. The elephant holds an obelisk on its back, which was inspired by Bernini’s Elephant and Obelisk in Rome’s Piazza Santa Maria sopra Minerva.
4. Lobster Telephone
The Lobster Telephone (also known as the Aphrodisiac Telephone) is a Surrealist artefact designed by Salvador Dali in 1936 for the English poet and surrealist art collector Edward James (1907–1984).
Dali teased in his 1942 book The Secret Life of Salvador Dali about why, when he ordered for a grilled lobster at a restaurant, he was never given a boiled telephone.
The piece is a mash-up of a standard functioning telephone with a plaster lobster. It measures roughly 15 30 17 cm (6 12 6.6 inches).
This is a typical Surrealist object, created by combining objects that are not generally connected with one other, resulting in something both whimsical and scary. Dali thought that such things may expose the unconscious’s hidden wants.
Dali associated lobsters and phones with sexual overtones. The telephone occurs in paintings such as Mountain Lake from the late 1930s, while the lobster appears in drawings and patterns, frequently connected with sensual pleasure and suffering.
5. The Great Masturbator
The Great Masturbator (1929) is a Salvador Dali artwork from the surrealist era that is presently on exhibit in the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia in Madrid.
The painting’s center features a deformed human face in profile facing downwards, based on the shape of a natural rock formation near Cap de Creus on Catalonia’s seashore.
A similar profile may be found in Dali’s more renowned work, The Persistence of Memory, which was completed two years later.
There have been comparisons to Hieronymus Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights. The Great Masturbator resembles a picture on the right side of the left panel of The Garden of Earthly Delights, which is made up of rocks, plants, and small creatures that resemble a face with a large nose and long eyelashes.
Dali retained the picture in his personal collection, which was shown at the Dali Theatre and Museum in Figueres until his death, when it was transferred to the Madrid museum.
6. Swans Reflecting Elephants
Swans Reflecting Elephants (1937) is a picture by Dali during his paranoid-critical era. It is an oil on canvas painting depicting one of Dali’s renowned double images. Dali’s “paranoia-critical technique,” which he proposed in his 1935 article “The Conquest of the Irrational,” included the use of double images.
He described his approach as a “spontaneous way of irrational cognition based on the interpretive critical connection of delirious experiences.” Dali employed this technique to create the hallucinogenic shapes, double images, and visual illusions that dominated his paintings throughout the 1930s.
Swans Reflecting Elephants, like the previous Metamorphosis of Narcissus, utilizes a lake’s reflection to produce the double image shown in the picture. In Metamorphosis, Narcissus’ reflection is employed to mirror the contour of the hand on the right of the image.
The three swans in front of dismal, leafless trees are mirrored in the lake, such that the swans’ necks form elephant trunks, the swans’ bodies become elephant ears, and the trees become elephant legs.
7. The Temptation of St. Anthony
The Temptation of St. Anthony was painted in 1946, and it is considered a predecessor to the corpus of Dali’s work known as the “classical phase” or the “Dali Renaissance.”
Many surrealistic aspects are included in the artwork, which is characteristic of his work. It was significant since it was the first of his works to show his interest in the intermediaries between Heaven and Earth. The picture is presently housed in Brussels, Belgium, in the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium.
The title, The Temptation of St. Anthony, hints to the painting’s significance and symbolism. Various temptations occur to Saint Anthony in this picture (the naked man in the painting). One of them is represented as a horse, symbolizing power and voluptuousness.
The elephant’s shape, carrying on its back the golden cup of passion in which a naked lady stands, accentuates the composition’s sensual aspect.
The other elephants are carrying structures on their backs; the first is hauling an obelisk inspired by Bernini’s in Rome, while the second and third are carrying Palladian-style Venetian edifices.
The animal parade is the painting’s main point since it is the biggest feature, drawing the viewer’s attention to temptation.
In the backdrop, another elephant lifts a great structure with phallic connotations, while in the sky, a few parts of the Escorial, a symbol of temporal and spiritual order, can be seen.
Saint Anthony must resist all temptations by using his cross to fend off the vision. The saint appears nude, implying his vulnerability and contrasting it with the strength of the cross, which must vanquish his temptation.
8. The Elephants
Dali’s elephants are a reoccurring topic in his works, first appearing in his 1944 piece Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee Around a Pomegranate a Second Before Awakening, as well as The Temptation of Saint Anthony and Swans Reflecting Elephants.
The Elephants differs from the other paintings in that the animals are the primary focus of the work, with a barren graduated background and lack of other content, whereas most of Dali’s paintings contain a great deal of detail and points of interest (for example, Swans Reflecting Elephants, which is slightly more well-known within Dali’s repertoire than The Elephants). The stork-legged elephant is one of Dali’s most well-known works.
9. Christ of Saint John of the Cross
Christ of Saint John of the Cross is a 1951 artwork that is at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow.
It represents Jesus Christ on the cross floating above a body of water under a black sky, complete with a boat and fisherman.
Although it depicts the crucifixion, it lacks nails, blood, and a crown of thorns because Dali was persuaded by a dream that these aspects would detract from his representation of Christ.
The significance of presenting Christ at the extreme angle shown in the artwork was also given to him in a dream.
Dali had Hollywood stuntman Russell Saunders hanging from an above gantry to examine how the body would look from the required perspective and to imagine the force of gravity on the human body in order to construct the image of Christ. The body of water represented is the bay of Port Lligat, Dali’s home at the time of the painting.
10. The Burning Giraffe
The Burning Giraffe (1937) is an oil painting on panel that is on display in the Kunstmuseum Basel.
Before his exile in the United States from 1940 to 1948, Dali painted Burning Giraffe. Although Dali professed himself apolitical (“I am Dali, and only Dali”), this artwork depicts his personal struggle with the conflict in his own country.
A giraffe with its back on fire can be seen in the distance. Dali utilized the burning giraffe motif for the first time in his 1930 film L’ge d’Or (The Golden Age). It reappears in the 1937 painting The Invention of Monsters. This artwork was characterized by Dali as “the macho cosmic apocalyptic monster.” He saw it as a sign of impending conflict.