Salvador Dali and His Famous Painting "The Persistence of Memory"

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Salvador Dali

Salvador Dali

Salvador Dali was born in Figueras Catalania, Spain. His older brother was also named Salvador. Sadly he died of gastroenteritis 9 months before. While still only young, he was told by his parents that he was his elder brother’s reincarnation. He appears to have gone through life with this belief. Dali’s father was a middle class lawyer and a strict disciplinarian. His mother is a more genteel person; who encouraged his artistic abilities.

In 1917 Dali had an exhibition of his charcoal drawings. His father organised the exhibition in the family home. This was after attending art school. Dali had discovered modern painting on a summer vacation trip. He had his first public exhibition in 1919; his talents on display at a relatively young age.

Alas, tragedy struck when Dali was only 16 years old. His beloved mother died of breast cancer. The year was 1921. His mother had been a gentle balance to his father’s authoritarian ways. Dali was heartbroken; although he did not resent his father’s remarriage. This was to his late wife’s sister. He loved his aunt and there was no family conflict over this change in circumstance.

In 1922 he moved to Madrid to study at the School of Fine Arts. He was seen as a little eccentric, wearing his hair long and enjoyed dressing as the English aesthetes of the late 19th century. He enjoyed his individuality. His friends were poets and other artists while studying there.

He drew much attention when he began experimenting with Cubism. He had learnt of this art form from magazines and a catalogue given to him by a fellow artist and family friend Ramon Pichot. At the time there were no cubist artists in Madrid and Salvador Dali was still an unknown artist. Then in 1924 for the first time; he illustrated a book.

Dali admired Pablo Picasso and in 1926 he met him when he visited Paris. Picasso was to influence Dali’s work over the next few years. Dali had by this time been expelled by the Academia. He did not believe anyone in his faculty was competent enough to examine him! He was already beginning to be controversial and this would continue throughout his life. His skills were recognised by some; but many did not understand his experimentation with new methods they had not previously encountered. So in 1949 he returned to Catalonia, his beloved birthplace.

The Persistence of Memory

The Persistence of Memory

One example of Dali’s most popular and famous painting is “The Persistence of Memory“. This painting demonstrates the extensive symbolism Dali used in his work. The “soft watches” are meant to suggest Einstein’s theory of relativity. Dali was attempting to express that time is not fixed; only relative. It has been purported that Dali received his inspiration while staring at a piece of Camembert cheese.

This famous work of art is painted on canvas, with oils. It is dated 1931. In true surrealist style; on examining this painting it may seem irrational. However there has been an attempt at interpretation by art lovers and art critics who enjoy Dali’s works.

On observation you will note that the watches appear fluid and soft. They melt slowly on rocks and a tree branch. This is to illustrate our preoccupation with time. It is also meant to subvert the notion of a rule-bound order in nature. Although this painting took Dali only a few hours to complete; it has depth and makes a statement.

On closer examination, more can be discovered that Dali was trying express. “The Persistence of Memory” background scenery is from Port Lligat. Dali often depicted this scenery in his work. This scene is a fantasy placed over a scene of the ocean. Under the central watch is an image of a human figure; though some would say it represents Dali’s head. There are also ants in the bottom left hand corner. A watch is covered with ants. Dali used this illustration to get his message across that not only is time relative, it is also being devoured and is melting away.

Critics of Surrealism would say that this style lacked substance and depth. They also accuse Salvador Dali of lacking reason for his works. Dali did not pretend that many of his works came through dreams and with some from hallucinatory drugs. He was passionate about his art; but grew tired of the opposition from other surrealist painters who were initially supportive of his work. In later years others would not include him in their inner circle due to his reluctance to become involved in their political stance.

Art lovers and art critics are keenly divided. While “The Persistence of Memory” remains one of his most famous and popular painting; its interpretation will continue to be debated by art lovers over the world. Salvador Dali remains as controversial in death as in life. He would not be disappointed.


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