The Horseman of Death by Salvador Dali 1935

Salvador Dali, possibly the face of surrealism? What is Surrealism? Surrealism is an avant-garde movement in art and literature, developed in the 1920’s, that sought to release the creative potential of the unconscious mind. Something I like to think I became concerned with at an early age. As a child I was sent to a private catholic school and was mostly exposed to classic religious imagery. When I first saw ‘The Persistence of Memory’ by Dali I was completely floored.Never before had I seen something that felt so surreal and dreamlike. Naturally I wanted more and my interest in art and its symbolism began.

Dali’s painting skills have been attributed to the influence of the renaissance masters. His skills also extended into film, photography and sculpture. Dali was a man of luxury, claiming to have a “love of everything gilded and excessive.” Dali was also a public figure, often found to be acting with grandiosity  His behavior made him more known for how he acted than his art in some circles.

I’ve chosen this particular work of art because it reminds me so very much of the tarot card of death, something I’ll be talking more about in my final project. The card is of course symbolic of a death whether it be a person or relationship or the end of a job, But also symbolizes a rebirth. And as a phoenix rises from ashes Dali shows us that even as death heads towards the tower a new beauty of life and light is just around the corner.

In my research about this painting I found that Dali’s use of the tower was meant as a sexual metaphor (Surprise!) The tower was symbolic of Dali’s erotic daydreams with cypress trees hiding them just outside of view. Cypress trees as well as towers were recurring themes in dali’s work. The horseman is seen here the horse is rotting away to skeleton while the horseman himself seems to have lost his flesh many years ago. Dali chose not to use too much color here and in doing so sharpens the objects in the foreground and mutes the colors scaling backworks in the composition to create distance. I personally feel Dali could have chosen to add another subject or some more story as to why the horseman is headed to the tower. I also think some use of color in the horse could really have given the flesh a more lifelike eerie quality. Not that dali didn’t do a good enough job on his own.

Hell I like to dream guys how about you?



What do you like about the painting?

What do you think Dali was trying to express?

What was your first experience with surrealism like?

What is the importance of tapping into our subconscious?


Link to image

All of his works


Anthony Robertelli



13 thoughts on “The Horseman of Death by Salvador Dali 1935

  1. This artist is a favorite of mine. He was a bit eccentric in many ways, and I’m sure, was fun to watch.

    I like his art, in general, as it portrays reality in a manner that is … skewed. It is what George A. Romero did to horror/zombie films. I like this painting and his portrayals within it. It can be said Dali is a dark and twisted person with sick thinking, but, I must counter that. Dali is just creating work through his own perceptions, what he sees of the world is, possibly, a representation of how he views society, the world or humanity.

    Dali was my first experience with surrealism, going back to my high school days (think stone age). I had his posters and prints, I took a printing class and did all sorts of stuff with Dali images – silk screens photo lithography … I was mad with Dali.

    I try to get into the unconsciousness, subconscious mind through a variety of ways. Automatic writing, yoga, meditation, being in nature settings … these all aid in getting into that part of the mind and spirit that is not always present or available to us. Woe aren’t always mindful of our immediacy, living in the moment. Instead, we live for the moment, getting us into trouble before we know it. Art has a way of capturing that – Dali a master.

  2. When I first saw your post I had no idea who the artist was then I googled him and I realized that one of his works is in the textbook “the persistence of memory” is probably my favorite painting of his. The clocks remind me of candle wax melting not sure if he was meant to let the viewers know if he was trying to show that time is running out but there is also a really nice landscape in the back. I’ve had my cards read before although I have never had the death card show up I have seen it before and now that I think about it this really does look similar to the death card. I also think that those cards can also be seen as a form art because of how much color and texture the cards have. Well to answer your first question I definitely like to dream it helps you escape from everyday life. To answer your second question what I like about this painting is how there is a huge piece of rock dividing this rainbow which might represent life and the other side being death. I also like is how much detail the dead horse has even though its half dead half alive because it looks like it still has flesh to it, what also drew my attention is how detailed the head of the horse is I can see all of his teeth and also ribs overall this is an awesome painting it definitely picks at your brain.

  3. i have seen some of Dali’s works in previous classes and I’ll be quite honest, I never really liked his works. As I read the meaning behind his works I understood his paintings but just by taking one look at them I could never configure what it was about and even for myself to take a guess on the interpretation of them were hard. But interestingly enough, I was suprized that this painting was created by him. I would have never expected Dali to create such a distinct and inspiring piece of work. What I like about the painting most is the setting of where the dead horse and man are, It looks strong and majestic at the same time. I would also agree with Carla, I think that the rock dividing the rainbow represents life and death. Great piece to show the class. thankyou!

      • I love this painting. It is fascinating, and makes me imagine so many different things. The man on the horse makes me think of a knight who will never die. I was confused by the background on the right. Is it a brown sea or a desert? If it is a desert, is that why the horse is mostly bones, and the man is only bones? Dali clearly had a very vivid imagination and a creative ability to show us his imagination.

  4. This is a very unique piece with an interesting perspective. I like the fact that the intended objective of the horseman remains a secret. It helps to bring out the idea that death really is an unknown experience. The lack of intensity in the colors of this painting really does create an eerie and mysterious effect. I also like the rainbow shown in the background, it adds a touch of light and almost a sense of hope to this image of death.

    • Wow I love what you said about the horseman representing an unknown. like art most things in life are just symbols left up for you to throw around. I love the idea of such a solid grim symbol being able to open up such a blank slate like that.

  5. The Persistence of Memory is what stands out the most for me when I think of Dali. As a teen I remember being fascinated with Rene Magritte’s Time Transfixed, as well. I liked the tarot card reference. When I was growing up in the sixties, tarot card readings were very popular. There was so much interest at that time with astrology– the dawning of the age of Aquarius–that it seemed to go hand in hand. If I remember, the death card represented transition which was not such a bad thing. There are plenty of things in life we are probably better off shedding and moving on to something much better for us. Maybe this painting is a kind of transition. Nice post!

  6. This threw me for a loop for sec but I finally got a chance to see the painting. when I pulled it up I thought about the headless horsemen dont ask why. I dont know anything about this artist or his work but I like the piece. Great job!

  7. I’ve always enjoyed Dali’s work. His dreamlike depictions of the seemingly random always evoke the greatest emotions from delight to disgust to confusion to fear. This piece combines all of these into one grotesquely beautiful painting.

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