This oil on canvas painting was done in 1931 by Salvador Dali when he was 28 years old. It can be viewed at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. The actual painting is fairly small measuring only 9.5”x13” in real life.
Surrealism is an art form that tends to be inconsistent and sometimes irrational. It is a form of painting that allows the subconscious mind to express itself. Surrealist works represent factors of surprise and unanticipated juxtapositions. Surrealism developed in the early 1920’s spreading rapidly around the world, and ultimately reaching the visual arts, music, film, and literature.
Salvador Dali was a Spanish artist born in Fiqueres, Spain on May 11, 1904. He is arguably one of the most famous surrealist icons today. In the 1920’s interactions with artists such as Picasso helped Dali develop and understand his passion with surrealism which then led to the first surrealist phase of his life. He is best acknowledged for his 1931 painting of the melting clocks featured in a landscape setting. This painting is called The Persistence of Memory, and it is one of Dali’s most well-known works of art.
The Persistence of Memory illustrates images more likely found in dreams rather than consciousness. The images in this painting have a dream-like quality emphasizing the subconscious mind. It embodies the concept of softness and hardness which was fundamental to Dali’s way of thinking at the time. Dali believed he could place himself in a meditative dream-state in order access his imagination. He often referred to his paintings as “dream photographs.” There are many theories to what the meaning of this painting is and what it represents. Dali, being a very bizarre and unusual man, never explained his paintings to the public with seriousness. Some believe the melting watches are a symbol of space and time recognizing Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. When Dali was asked if this was an accurate interpretation he replied that the watches were not in fact inspired by Einstein’s theory, but by his own perception of how camembert cheese melts in the sun.
It is believed that the strange monster-like figure in the middle of the picture is a portrayal of Dali himself. The figure symbolizes a creature that appears in our dreams where we as the dreamer cannot distinguish its exact form and configuration. The closed eye suggests to the viewer that the creature is possibly asleep, or in a dream-state. The clocks indicate time passing as one sleeps, or the persistence of time. The orange clock at the bottom left is covered in ants. Dali’s use of ants in his paintings was to represent decay, and decomposition. It is believed that many of Dali’s paintings were influenced by the scenery from his life in Catalonia, Spain, and the rocks represent the tip pf Cap de Creus peninsula in north-eastern Catalonia.
One of the reasons I chose this piece is because I thought it was very interesting how Dali was able to transport his dreams onto paper with such precision and realism in a surrealistic environment. I’m usually pretty good at remembering my dreams but I would never be able to draw it on paper with such accuracy, and even though I claim to dream in color, I can never remember any of the colors in my dream when I’m awake.
- What do you find interesting about this piece?
- Are these images really a depiction of Dali’s dreams, or does he just have a very creative imagination?
- What does the creature in the center of the photo look like to you?