Author Archives: Paul Chimera


Titles of Dali’s Paintings often Intended to Confound

By Paul Chimera

Salvador Dali Historian


One of the fascinating, ingenious, and at times amusing aspects of the art of Salvador Dali is how he titled his works.

Some titles are so lengthy, verbose, and convoluted – or just impossible to remember – that alternative titles were adopted to abridge things and liberate writers like me from the laborious task of keystroking their names. Which I’m not sure anyone ever remembers with complete accuracy.

I think Dali chose his titles to further confound us. It added to the confusion he relished. It often injected the sense of humor he possessed, revealed cunningly in his work.

Let’s look at some of his interestingly titled works, spanning the humorous, the sexy, the naughty, the perplexing, the practical, and – to be sure – the long and confounding.

Speaking of long, the large masterwork of 1962, commonly shortened to Perpignan Railway Station (which was the site at which Dali claimed he had an ecstasy about painting in the third dimension), is actually titled:

Gala Look at Dali in a State of Anti-Gravitation in His Work of Art ‘Pop-Op-Yes-Yes- Pompier’ in Which One Can Contemplate the Two Anguishing Characters from Millet’s ‘Angelus’ in a State of Atavistic Hibernation Standing Out of a Sky Which Can Suddenly Burst into a Gigantic Maltese Cross Right in the Heart of the Perpignan Railway Station Where the Whole Universe Must Begin to Converge.


It's full title is the longest of Dali's works.

Its full title is the longest of Dali’s works.


Whew! Need to take a deep breath after that one! It’s Dali’s longest title.

One of his most widely reproduced and important works from his pure surrealism days was one whose title pointed out quite clearly the bizarre scene that was unfolding: Debris of an Automobile Giving Birth to a Blind Horse Biting a Telephone. This was Dali’s uniquely surrealist nod to Picasso’s iconic canvas, Guernica, and was mentioned by Merv Griffin when he introduced Dali as a guest on his show and wanted to amuse his audience with a bizarrely named Dali work.


Its title amused Merv Griffin.

Its title amused Merv Griffin.


Sometimes the titles of Dali works defied easy explanation. Three examples: Gala and the Angelus of Millet Preceding the Imminent Arrival of the Conical Anamorphoses; The Weaning of Furniture Nutrition; and Cardinal, Cardinal!


Why "Cardinal, Cardinal"?

Why “Cardinal, Cardinal!”?


In the just plain naughty category, among many, we have to mention these three: Young Virgin Auto-Sodomized by Her Own Chastity; Average French Bread with Two Fried Eggs without the Plate, on Horseback, Trying to Sodomize a Heel of Portuguese Bread; and Atmospheric Skull Sodomizing a Grand Piano. These provocative titles speak for themselves.

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But try saying these Dali titles without tripping over your tongue: Assumpta Corpuscularia Lapislazulina. That one’s a mouthful! Yet, when you break it down, you’ve got the assumption of the Virgin (Gala); a corpuscular pattern in the tiny cellular-like particles; and the blue hues of lapis lazuli.




Meanwhile, if Assumpta…is a mouthful, here’s a jaw-breaker: Galacidalacidesoxiribunucleicacid – mercifully also known as Homage to Crick and Watson.


Dali longest one-word title.

Dali longest one-word title.


Then there’s a charming title, Two Pieces of Bread Expressing the Sentiment of Love. Aww!




There are also unambiguous titles: The Horseman of Death; The Dream Places a Hand on a Man’s Shoulder; Autumn Cannibalism; Metamorphosis of Narcissus; Sleep; Apparition of Face and Fruit Dish on a Beach; Slave Market with Disappearing Bust of Voltaire; Group of Women Imitating the Gestures of a Schooner; The Face of War, The Sacrament of the Last Supper; Christ of St. John of the Cross.


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And ultra-puzzling titles: Barber Saddened by the Persistence of Good Weather; Honey is Sweeter than Blood; The Average Fine and Invisible Harp; Skull with its Lyric Appendage Leaning on a Bedside Table which Should Be the Exact Temperature of a Cardinal’s Nest; Masochistic Instrument; and, yes, even The Persistence of Memory – whose title no one has been fully comfortable understanding or explaining.


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One of the most humorous titles is surely The Chemist of Ampurdan in Search of Absolutely Nothing.


The Chemist of Ampurdan in Search of Absolutely Nothing 1936


And, since all good titles must come to an end – even though this one makes you wonder if it will ever end – we’ll close with a work commonly known as Apotheosis of the Dollar . . .




. . . but in actuality is titled:


Salvador Dali in the Act of Painting Gala in the Apotheosis of the Dollar in Which You Can See on the Left Marcel Duchamp Masquerading as Louis XIV behind a Vermeerian Curtain Which Actually is the Invisible but Monumental Face of ‘Hermes’ by Praxiteles.


The Dali difference is part of what makes him a continuing phenomenon, more popular and collectible than ever.



(Images used under Fair Use provisions for journalistic purposes only)













Will Dali’s huge Masterworks one day be Exhibited Together?

By Paul Chimera

Salvador Dali Historian


One of my Dali dreams? To tour an exhibition of all of Salvador Dali’s “masterworks” in one mind-blowing exhibition!


I believe it was Salvador Dali’s leading collector (and benefactor of the Salvador Dali Museum, first in Beachwood, Ohio, then when it relocated to St. Petersburg, Florida), Reynolds Morse, who coined the term “masterwork” to describe certain Dali paintings.


His criteria were two-fold: the work had to be at least 5 feet long in one direction, and it had to have intellectually preoccupied Dali for at least a year. Morse and his wife Eleanor owned five of them: Velazquez Painting the Infanta Margarita with the Lights and Shadows of His Own Glory; Nature Morte Vivante; Discovery of America by Christopher Columbus; The Ecumenical Council; and The Hallucinogenic Toreador.


Later, when the Morses set up the present, permanent museum in St. Pete, Florida, the masterworks Homage to Crick & Watson, and Portrait of My Dead Brother, were added to the mix. (I’m not sure if the large “Lincoln” canvas technically qualifies as a masterwork or not.)


I’ve fantasized with fellow Dali aficionados about there one day being an exhibition of all the masterworks together. What a show that would be!


Reynolds Morse called it the “Dali Movement,” and this would illustrate about as convincingly and conclusively as possible just how immense such a movement was.


The closest I’ve come (so far) to having all of Dali’s masterworks to enjoy in a single exhibition was when Dali: The Late Years was mounted in Atlanta, Georgia’s High Museum of Art in 2010-2011. Exhibited together were The Madonna of Port Lligat, Christ of St. John of the Cross, Asumpta Corpuscularia Lapislazulina, and the incomparable Santiago El Grande.


Today you’d have to travel to Stockholm to see The Enigma of William Tell; to Nova Scotia to see Santiago El Grande; Figueres to see Apotheosis of the Dollar; Japan to see The Battle of Tetuan; New York City to see Corpus Hypercubus and Madonna of the Ear; Washington, D.C. to see The Sacrament of the Last Supper. And that itinerary goes on.


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So you get the picture: these great works are scattered around the globe. Alas, maybe having all these remarkable masterpieces – masterworks, that is – together in one venue might just be too much. Too overwhelming. Too much genius in one place. Oh, to dream. Something Salvador Dali did with masterful results!



(Images used under Fair Use provisions for journalistic purposes only)






Dali’s Technique Self-Described as ‘Hand-Painted Color Photography’

By Paul Chimera

Salvador Dali Historian


Salvador Dali specialist and friend Elliott King, Ph.D., again finds himself mentioned here, due to his recent sojourn to the land of the rising son. He has shared a little about the wealth of great Dali paintings he finally got to see in person while visiting Japan.


One little-known work is the controversial but wonderful portrait Dali painted of Ann Woodward in 1953, a woman dubiously famed as an American socialite best known as a murder suspect for the death of her husband, who’d planned to divorce her. She was never convicted of the crime.


A smaller crime, of sorts, is that Ms. Woodward didn’t particularly care for Dali’s portrayal of her, but subsequently lost out when Dali successfully sued her for non-payment of the commission.


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But this is something of a digression from what I wish to focus on today: the photographic realism of Dali’s technique.


The Woodward portrait inspires my thinking about the truly remarkable technical skill Salvador Dali possessed. You can clearly see in the photo of the Woodward portrait Elliott is examining how bright, precise and, well, photographic the work is. It looks like “hand-painted color photography.” Which is precisely how Dali defined his technique.


Here, in no particular order, are just a few of the works of Salvador Dali that illustrate pretty conclusively that he wasn’t kidding when he likened his technique to color photography. He knew such an exacting treatment of his subjects was the only path to making the unreal seem real.


Consider White Calm of 1936. While it reminds some of a postcard, the point is that post cards are usually photographs of something – and this scene was painted painstakingly enough to emulate a color photo. Its title couldn’t be more fitting.


White Calm: a photo-postcard?

White Calm: a photo-postcard?


Another painting of the same year that exudes extraordinary photographic realism is Geodesic Portrait of Gala. This painting has always intrigued me.


Hand-painted color photography

Hand-painted color photography


Perhaps it’s because Dali chose not to show her face, which was unusual. Or it might just be the superb handling of the jacket she favored – a handling that is indeed photographic in its realistic treatment. So photographic that, at times, I used to wonder: is it a painting or a photograph?


In Sun Table, also of 1936, the floor tiles, the table, the glasses, the silhouetted figure of the boy – it all tested our perception, making us wonder if what we’re seeing is a painting or a photo.


Is it a painting or a photograph?

Is it a painting or a photograph?


What better way to depict a dreamscape, or other imagery mined from our subconscious, than to do so with razor-sharp realism? This is why Alfred Hitchcock said he selected Dali to create the dream sequence in Spellbound; dreams are usually vivid and sharp, Hitchcock reasoned, not murky.


There’s nothing murky about the 1935 oil, The Angelus of Gala. The more we contemplate this perfectly painted work, the more it appears we’re looking at an actual photograph of Gala from behind, don’t you think?


Photo-realism ahead of its time

Photo-realism ahead of its time.


Original Sin (1941) has always intrigued and puzzled me. It’s so different from most anything else Salvador Dali painted.


As real as a photograph.

As real as a photograph.


But its depiction of a pair of old, battered shoes, and a jeweled snake encircling a wonderful likeness of a woman’s ankle, approaches the exactness of an actual photograph. It’s Dali’s technical mastery at an astounding level of precision.


Here are a host of other great Dali pictures that further exemplify his “hand-painted color photography” definition of his technique:




Portrait of Gala with Rhinocerotic Symptoms (above) truly looks like a collage, as if Dali painted a Nuclear-Mystical version of Gala’s neck and upper body and then placed a cut-out photograph of her onto the canvas. Not the case, of course; it’s all the result of Dali’s photographic painting technique.


This detail of Santiago El Grande is surely one of the most realistic depictions ever of a horse's head.

This detail of Santiago El Grande is surely one of the most realistic depictions ever of a horse’s head. The human portrait is similarly lifelike.



The sheer veil especially makes this oil portrait of Madame Ortiz de Linares almost look like a color photograph of the lady.

The sheer veil especially makes this oil portrait of Madame Ortiz de Linares look like a (“hand-painted”)color photograph of the lady.



Everything in the monumental Corpus Hypercubus is painted with exquisite, breathtaking photographic precision.

Everything in the monumental Corpus Hypercubus is painted with exquisite, breathtaking photographic precision.



Anyone who has seen the iconic Sacrament of the Last Supper in America's capital knows that the photographic precision in this work practically knocks viewers off their feet.

Anyone who has seen the iconic Sacrament of the Last Supper in America’s capital knows that the photographic precision in this work practically knocks viewers off their feet.



The cobalt blue water in the left corner of Dali's amazing Tuna Fishing masterwork bends our perception of what is painted and what is photographed; this is all the careful handiwork of the Maestro.

The cobalt-blue water in the left corner of Dali’s amazing Tuna Fishing masterwork bends our perception of what is painted and what is photographed; this is all the careful handiwork of the Maestro.



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The above images of Gala all capture various aspects of her likeness and form with the accuracy and believability of a camera lens.



Dali from the Back Painting Gala from the Back Eternalized by Six Virtual Corneas Provisionally Reflected in Six Real Mirrors was a stroke of painterly genius from Dali in 1973. It doesn't get much more photographic-like than this.

Dali from the Back Painting Gala from the Back Eternalized by Six Virtual Corneas Provisionally Reflected in Six Real Mirrors was a stroke of painterly genius from Dali in 1973. It doesn’t get much more photographic-like than this.



Among the many superbly photographic-like portraits Dali painted is this one of Count Theo Rossi di Montelera (Duke of Urbino) -- looking as much like a photograph as a photograph of him might look like!

Among the many superbly photographic-like portraits Dali painted is this one of Count Theo Rossi di Montelera (Duke of Urbino) — looking as much like a photograph as a photograph of him might look like!



Nature Morte Vivante -- the most photographic of all Dali paintings?

Nature Morte Vivante — the most photographic of all Dali paintings?


In my view, Dali’s remarkable Nature Morte Vivante of 1957 is his most photographic-like painting. I enjoyed closely examining this oil on canvas when I was publicity director of the original Dali Museum of Beachwood, Ohio. From the bottle and water, to the leaf and knife, to the tablecloth and cauliflower, this masterful work — in the permanent collection of The Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida — is a preeminent example of how Dali’s stunning technique was able to make the unreal seem real.

Hand-painted color photography indeed.



(Images used under Fair Use provisions for journalist purposes only)






Dali’s Preparatory Studies give Insight into Masterpieces that Followed

By Paul Chimera

Salvador Dali Historian


Everything Salvador Dali did was calculated. Well-thought-out. Purposeful. Deliberate. Carefully crafted.


Nowhere is this more evident than in the studies (a.k.a., preparatory sketches) he made in the process of creating masterpieces. In some cases the studies are mini-masterpieces in themselves. At least I think so, and I bet others share that view. We’ll look at some here.


Dali cared about exactitude. He was a scrupulously disciplined painter. He strove for perfection – the very thing he cautioned us never to worry about, because, he advised, we would never achieve it! But Dali tried. And his fine studies are part of the proof.


It’s possible, for some Dali collectors – whether their thing is paintings, drawings, prints, watercolors, or sculpture – to find the artist’s studies actually more appealing than the finished paintings themselves.


One example might be Dali’s truly superb study for the great 1936 oil, Soft Construction with Boiled Beans; Premonition of Civil War. While some studies are often swiftly rendered sketches simply to establish a general direction for the artist, this one is essentially a finished drawing in its own right.


DE00048_0 salvador-dali_-premonition-de-la-guerre-civile-2-1936-



Even smaller details – the figure’s gnarled foot, for instance – evolved from preliminary sketches of it in different forms and from different angles.




And there’s something wonderful about a drawing. A certain spontaneity about it that you obviously don’t get in a painting. Many collectors and aficionados like that. It gives us insight into how the artist was imagining what was to come. It’s a glimpse into his or her early vision. Here’s a study for Dali’s first version of Madonna of Port Lligat, alongside the finished oil.


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In short, Dali’s studies illustrate how much he cared about approaching the perfection he knew no one could achieve.


One of Dali’s earliest visions was the double-imagery he achieved in what I believe is his first double-image oil painting: The Invisible Man of 1929. Look at how a 25-year-old Dali carefully constructed the linear perspective lines that would hold his vision together as he prepared to paint a quite complex and extraordinarily accomplished canvas.


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Another exceptional study was the one Dali created for his 1954 Soft Watching at the Moment of First Explosion This is another case where the study itself is rather masterful. Similarly, his study for the painting Tristan and Isolde is, in itself, quite compelling in its sort of roughly hewn look.


2007_63_Soft-Watch-Exploding_web Soft-Watch 1944_14 dalitristanisolde


Here’s the maestro’s great Metamorphosis of Narcissus with one of its pencil studies:




Metamorphosis of Narcissus 1937 Salvador Dal? 1904-1989 Purchased 1979


And look at the many studies Dali created during the process of developing one of his most ambitious works – a painting I keep coming back to as perhaps the single greatest of all the magic Dali performed on canvas: his 1970 Hallucinogenic Toreador. Just about all the key elements in this masterwork – from the Venus de Milos to the shape of the toreador’s face to the image of Gala and even down to the morphology of those plump flies – was first worked out in preliminary studies.

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Unlike so many of the other artists working during Dali’s time, the Catalan master invested painstaking efforts to ensure that what came off of his easel were works truly worthy of being called masterpieces. Works that reached near-perfection.


(Images used under Fair Use provisions for journalistic purposes only)





Dali’s ‘Anti-Protonic Assumption’ a Mystical Masterpiece

By Paul Chimera

Salvador Dali Historian


I wish blogs could somehow give readers an actual tactile sensation of how certain paintings by Salvador Dali can make a person feel. I don’t know about you, but there’s something about certain Dali’s that stir my sense of awe, wonderment, and passion more than others.


It’s hard to describe, and even more so to understand, unless you’ve felt it yourself. Even then, such works can leave us with the unresolved mystery of just why we connect with them so strongly. And why, from a physical, tactile perspective, they can literally make the hair on your arms stand up! (That happened to a Dali expert recently; read further for the tingly details!)


One such work occupies this blog’s spotlight today. It’s a rarely seen, seldom considered, not widely exhibited, unique and spectacular little 1956 gem called Anti-Protonic Assumption.




This approximately 24 inch x 28 inch oil on canvas was painted when Salvador Dali was completely drenched with excitement and wonder over new discoveries about the nature of matter, thanks to hard-working nuclear physicists.


The title alone gives us an essential key to what this painting meant to Dali. According to a web source, an antiproton “is the antiparticle of the proton. Antiprotons are stable, but they are typically short-lived, since any collision with a proton will cause particles to be annihilated in a burst of energy” (italics mine).


Who better than Salvador Dali to express pictorially an antiprotonic “burst of energy”! Especially when he could wrap the idea around an image of his beloved wife, Gala, and his burgeoning belief that science was pointing more and more to the truths of Christianity.


And we see Gala not once, but twice in this painting, which hangs in the Morohashi Museum of Modern Art in Fukushima, Japan. (Ironically, the Morohashi owns another masterful Dali painting that also features Gala’s portrait twice: The Battle of Tetuan of 1962).


First, of course, in Anti-Protonic Assumption, we see Gala as the ascending Madonna figure, bursting with energy, her body explosively composed of hundreds of dazzling atomic-like particles. The form of those particles echo the outsized rhinoceros horn on the left side of her elongated, El Greco-like body, representing Dali’s obsession with the fact that the rhino horn is a naturally occurring logarithmic curve.


Detail of Anti-Protonic Madonna

Detail of Anti-Protonic Assumption


Gala’s huge crown or halo adds sovereignty to an already exalted figure, at a time when Gala and Dali were still an inseparable pair. The crown here also relates to Dali’s fascination with a dramatic slow-motion film made with high-speed photography years ago of a splashing drop of milk, creating the same kind of crown effect.




The center of the crown above Gala also appears a bit like an oculus, with light streaming through – reminiscent of Dali’s Raphaelesque Head Exploding of 1951.


A comparison surely must be made between Anti-Protonic Assumption and Dali’s much, much larger 1952 picture, Assumpta Corpuscularia Lapislazulina.


Assumpta Corpuscularia Lapislazulina (detail)

Assumpta Corpuscularia Lapislazulina (detail)


The second appearance of Gala in Anti-Protonic Assumption is seen in the lower right. Her pose is quoted directly from the classic painting, Virgin of the Rocks (1483), by Leonardo Da Vinci.


Leonardo's Virgin of the Rocks

Leonardo’s Virgin of the Rocks


Dali’s veneration of the Renaissance masters was well understood, and here he nods both to Leonardo directly and El Greco more subtlety in the elongation of the central figure of Gala.


“It is so detailed!” enthused Dr. Elliott King, a Dali expert and friend, who just returned from an eye-opening Dali adventure in Japan.


King with the "Queen"

King with the “Queen”


King was talking about Anti-Protonic Assumption, adding: “It’s really lovely, and the blues and pinks are bright.” He noted there is slight impasto on the flowers coming out of the tomb/box. “It blew me away…seeing it in person was a surprise…it may be my new favorite painting.”


(Images used under Fair Use provisions for journalistic purposes only)



Dali’s Massive ‘Battle of Tetuan’ is a Jewel for Japan

By Paul Chimera

Salvador Dali Historian


My friend, Dr. Ellliott King – a widely respected Salvador Dali expert – has just returned from a very special trip to Japan, and now he finally got to check off a major bucket list item: seeing in the flesh the remarkable Dali masterwork, The Battle of Tetuan.


This gigantic 1962 oil on canvas is one of Dali’s most complex and powerful images, chockablock with references to history, numerology, and mystery. The surrealist touches are here, of course – the huge flying horse, the elongated Ghost of Vermeer of Delft leg, the appearance of a general’s arm brandishing a sabre.


The Battle of Tetuan was fought in 1860, near Tetuan, Morocco, between a Spanish army sent to North Africa and the tribal levies which at the time made up the Moroccan Army. The battle was part of the Spanish-Moroccan War of 1859-1860.


Battle of Tetuan by Mariano Fortuny, to whom Dali's version is in homage.

Battle of Tetuan by Mariano Fortuny, to whom Dali’s version is in homage.


I recall several conversations with Elliott King about how I, too, saw Battle of Tetuan in person, back around 1992, at Christie’s auction house in New York City. It sold that night for upwards of $2 million.


Unfortunately, the painting was hung in an anteroom through which auction guests had to pass in order to enter the main room. The massive painting was hung on a left wall, and a very narrow passageway was set up between the wall and a guard rail. As a result, you had to look up, straining your neck in order to see the work. You actually got the feeling you were being trampled by all those horses!




This made it next to impossible to view the work properly, given the low and restrained vantage point. Many people filed down the entranceway to the auction space completely unaware that the great Dali picture was there at all.


Indeed, I didn’t realize it myself at first. When I did, I’d wished there’d been an opportunity to study it from a proper distance. I would rather have examined and enjoyed the painting all evening than attend the sales activity in the adjoining room (albeit I did get to meet singer/song writer Carly Simon, who was attending the auction).


Here we see a photo of Dr. Elliott King, his wife, and others at Japan’s Morohashi Museum of Modern Art in Fukushima, with the Battle of Tetuan as a dramatic backdrop. The museum owns a number of additional Salvador Dali paintings of exceptional importance, including Anti-Protonic Madonna.


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I’ve yet to see Anti-Protonic Madonna in person. From the excitement Elliott has expressed in a brief Facebook note (he has not returned from Japan as of this writing), it is much more colorful and far more spectacular in the flesh than anyone can imagine from seeing simply a book reproduction.


Detail of Anti-Protonic Madonna

Detail of Anti-Protonic Madonna


In an upcoming blog post, I hope to talk more about Dr. King’s trip to Japan’s world of Dali, and in particular his take on both Battle of Tetuan and Anti-Protonic Madonna.


Salvador Dali’s Full Plate of ‘Fried Eggs!’

By Paul Chimera

Salvador Dali Historian


Sunny-side up! Fried eggs. They were a fetishistic obsession for Salvador Dali. They seemed to turn up everywhere. And like so many things in this genius’s life, there were multiple meanings and interpretations associated with these popular breakfast items throughout his surrealist feasts on canvas.


One suggestion is that the soft, gooey, gelatinous consistency of fried eggs reminded Dali of what he claimed was his vivid memory of his intrauterine days before the “traumatism of birth” (referencing a book of the same name by Dr. Otto Rank, which Dali loved). Dali’s description of his pre-natal existence appeared in his autobiography and was quoted by Orson Wells in the television documentary, Salvador Dali: A Soft Self-Portrait.




“Already at that time,” Dali wrote in The Secret Life, “all pleasure, all enchantment for me was in my eyes, and the most splendid, the most striking vision was that of a pair of eggs fried in a pan, without the pan…The eggs, fried in the pan, without the pan, which I saw before my birth were grandiose, phosphorescent and very detailed in all the folds of their faintly bluish whites….”




Another element in exploring the symbolism of Dali’s ubiquitous fried eggs was his lifelong fascination/fetish with the concept of the hard and the soft. In this case the relatively hard, protective shell watching guard over the soft interior egg.


This hard and soft motif was seen in his obsession with such items as lobsters, sea urchins, and crayfish – the latter of which he fancied served with a generous slathering of chocolate sauce!


One author advanced the belief that the sticky and slimy nature of fried eggs was reminiscent of milk and semen. Most anything is plausible, I suppose, especially knowing that sex was never far from the top of Dali’s mind!


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There are at least two other theories we should consider, and they both pertain to Salvador Dali’s wife, Gala. One is that two fried eggs ineluctably resemble female breasts. This seems perfectly consistent with Dali’s normal interest in his wife’s bosom; its petite size made such an association perhaps all the more viable.


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Finally, two other twin body parts sort of echo two fried eggs – on a plate or otherwise: Gala’s eyes.




Dali likened them to the image of fried eggs – further noting that her trenchant, piercing gaze could penetrate a stone wall.


(Images used under Fair Use provisions for journalistic purposes only)





Is the ‘Wounded Watch’ the Body of Dali Himself?

By Paul Chimera

Salvador Dali Historian


I sense there’s a tendency among Dali aficionados to focus only on the artist’s works up to 1970, the year he painted his last truly great and inspired masterpiece, The Hallucinogenic Toreador of 1970 (Salvador Dali Museum, St. Petersburg, Florida). Dali’s post-1970 pictures – those works he still managed to produce during his increasingly tenuous physical and mental health – are, I fear, often overlooked.


If my hunch is correct, why is that?


I think a big reason is that this body of work has not been widely reproduced in books, much less examined to any serious degree. What’s more, they’re admittedly lacking in the sharp and precise detail, and vibrant color palette, that typified and added to the appeal of Dali’s earlier works.


But there are exceptions. And I’ll be spotlighting some of them in future blog posts.


I want today to consider a 1974 oil titled The Wounded Soft Watch. While so many of Dali’s works of the 1930s and well beyond were inscrutable, the works in his waning creative years seem far clearer and direct in their symbolism.


Is the wounded watch Dali himself?

Is the wounded watch Dali himself?


Is there really any other way to interpret The Wounded Soft Watch than to see it as a metaphor for the impending physical failure of the artist himself? Although Dali still appeared in pretty solid shape at this point in his life (he was 70) – and indeed I myself was in his presence in 1974 at the St. Regis Hotel in New York City, and he looked fit – it would not be much longer before his health began to slide.


Can we not, therefore, view the watch in the present painting as the body of Dali himself, wounded and requiring the help of four crutch-carrying assistants? Indeed, the watch itself has a kind of human-like shape to it, doesn’t it?


For Dali, of course, it was not enough to have just any four individuals rescue this limp watchman – this embodiment of the man who invented the concept; two of them had to be angels, one gallantly on horseback.


Meanwhile, the landscape is devoid of distractions. No vegetation. No other people. No buildings or rocks or surrealist props. The focus is intended to be entirely upon the wounded Dali soft watch…the wounded Dali watch…the wounded…Dali.


Is this interpretation plausible? You’ll have to decide for yourself. Admittedly, Dali wasn’t normally prone to discussing or acknowledging his physical deficits. He never wanted to show weakness of body, mind, or spirit.


And yet, in his final years, that wasn’t as true as in his younger days. His remarkable painting, Bed, Chair and Bedside Table Ferociously Attacking a Cello (1983), is an example: it lays bare the reality of Dali’s personal torment – and his awareness of it.


Dali's personal torment, exposed.

Dali’s personal torment, exposed.


In future posts, from time to time, I want to examine several other of the very last works of Salvador Dali. They should by no means be a life unexamined.



(Images used under Fair Use provisions for journalistic purposes only)


Dali will Always Be Remembered First for those Withering Watches

By Paul Chimera

Salvador Dali Historian


Salvador Dali will forever be remembered, first and foremost, for those soft, melting watches — his signature dish, served up like warm Camembert cheese.


Dali made the droopy clock famous when, at the ripe age of 27, he painted The Persistence of Memory.


Dali's best known work and one of history's greatest.

Dali’s best known work and one of history’s greatest.


Little did he know that comparatively tiny work would become so big in the annals of art history. I believe it can be said with complete confidence that this Salvador Dali gem is not only the most famous surrealist picture of them all, but is destined to be considered one of the most famous artworks of all time.


The meaning of Dali’s limp watches has varied dramatically; no one knows for sure, and even Dali admitted he often didn’t understand his own works. He claimed he was chiefly inspired by a clump of Camembert cheese melting in the sun, when he was deciding how to finish this dreamscape.


It’s been suggested that the limp timepieces connote the way time seemed to stand still in the little-changed village of Port Lligat, where Dali and his wife lived virtually all their lives. Others advance the plausible idea that time is almost always distorted in dreams. And that Dali hated mechanical things. And the scientific perspective that perhaps Dali was commenting on Einstein’s theory of relativity.


As it turns out, soft watches – or watches and clocks that are at least somewhat misshapen – actually don’t appear in all that many Dali paintings. I’m not sure there were more than perhaps 25 canvases in which the altered timepiece appears.


A partial list includes: Anthropomorphic Bread; The Enigma of William Tell; Surrealist Poster; Singularities; The Dream of Venus; Nativity of a New World; Melancholy, Atomic, Uranic Idyll; Soft Watch at the Moment of First Explosion; The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory; Celestial Ride; The Hour of Monarchy; Self-Portrait; Wounded Soft Watch.


300px-DisintegrationofPersistence anthropomorphic-bread_painter-salvador-dali celestial-ride-1957_painter-salvador-dali hour-of-the-monarchy_jpg!Large salvador-dali-soft-watch-at-the-moment-of-first-explosion-c-1954_u-L-E2ISL0 singularities_jpg!Large the-enigma-of-william-tell the-dream-of-venus_painter-salvador-dali wounded-soft-watch


And as it turns out, none of the large, great masterworks Dali painted – wall-sized canvases that took upwards of a year to paint, and span the years 1950 – 1970 – include a single soft watch.


Which brings us back to that tiny little approximately 9 inch x 12 inch oil on canvas of 1931, purchased back then for $250 and given to its long-time home, the Museum of Modern Art in New York.


Dali's best known work and one of history's greatest.

Undoubtedly the MoMA’s most popular work.


Without question it is the single most universally recognized picture by Salvador Dali. When I read other writers’ opinion that Persistence of Memory is “probably” Dali’s best-known work, I roll my eyes; there’s no probably about it. No other work by Dali is better known.


There are many single works that have earned the stature of artistic icons. Leonardo’s Mona Lisa. Michelangelo’s David. Munch’s The Scream. Van Gogh’s Starry Night. Picasso’s Guernica.


Of all the many and varied works by Dali – delightful watercolors, dynamic oils, imposing sculptures, innovative holograms – it’s that little painting of soft watches in a dream-like landscape, painted 87 years ago, that shall forever be his most famous. History’s memory will always persist in this fact.



(Images used under Fair Use provisions for journalistic purposes only)



Dali’s Preoccupation with Death borne of Early Tragedies

By Paul Chimera

Salvador Dali Historian


Was Dali too focused on death? And if so, why? Intriguing questions. Of course, “too” is a relative term. How overboard Dali may have gone in his preoccupation with death-related images is a matter of perspective. But there’s little debate that it most certainly sprang from some very early influences in his life – two in particular.


We know Salvador Dali the artist was the second Salvador Dali. His birth was predated by the birth and, only 21 months later, the tragic death of his brother – the first child, the first son, the first Salvador. Dali’s grieving parents kept a picture of their lost son on the wall, next to the image of the dead Christ on the cross.


Dali the artist – born exactly nine months after the demise of the brother he never knew – never quite got over feeling like he was the first Dali, reborn. So he fought aggressively to establish his own unique identity in an attempt to free himself from the memory of the first child, which hung like a thick, dark cloud over Dali’s grieving parents.


And then – like a MOAB bomb on top of an already decimated scene – Dali’s mother dies of cancer when Dali was a vulnerable 16 years old.


Any wonder Dali and death were never far apart?


Hence, Dali’s lifelong preoccupation with “the great tragedy of death,” as he put it. Indeed, Dali insisted he would defeat death by one day having himself frozen. He reportedly was offering a substantial sum of money to any researcher who could effectively advance the science of cryogenics, such that Dali could be assured his frozen body would one day be brought back to life.


That never happened. But what did was a remarkable body of provocative, thought-provoking works – paintings, drawings, prints and more – that focused in some fashion on the grand conundrum facing the human condition: the issue of death. Some of the many include…


Dali’s and Luis Bunuel’s surrealist cinema classic, Un Chien Andalou, which included this scene of a dead donkey…




The Enigma of Desire, which featured the repeated phrase “ma mere” (my mother), in a young artist’s pain brought to canvas.


Salvador Dali - The Enigma of Desire


Woman Sleeping in a Landscape, which makes us wonder if the woman is sleeping or deceased.


Asleep or deceased?

Asleep or deceased?


Geological Destiny, whose skulls are a traditional symbol of death.




Atavism of Twilight, in which the male figure quoted from Millet’s Angelus – a painting with which Dali was obsessed, and which itself Dali believed originally included not a basket on the ground but a child’s coffin – has become a skeleton, suggesting that the woman – whom Dali saw resembling a praying mantis – has devoured her mate, as a female mantis does after copulation.




Specter of Sex Appeal, where little Salvador looks up in horror at a huge, gruesome figure that looks like death personified.




Morning Ossification of the Cypress, where the flying horse is reduced to dead-cold stone.




Atmospheric Skull Sodomizing a Grand Piano. This is a quintessential example of the appearance of the two great themes that permeated so much of Dali’s surrealism: death and sex.




The Horseman of Death is an extraordinary painting, aptly named and inspired by Arnold Bocklin’s haunting painting, The Isle of the Dead, on which Dali based a number of his paintings of the 1930s.




The Face of War – skulls again – express poignantly the endless futility and savagery of war.




And, alas, Portrait of My Dead Brother. While the boy depicted is clearly much older than the first Salvador, I depart from most other scholars/experts/specialists – call us what you will – in that I actually see a more than passing resemblance to Salvador # 1. Here’s a photo of the ill-fated boy. What a beautiful child he was.


salvador-dali-portrait-of-my-dead-brother-1963 2


(Images used under Fair Use provisions for journalistic purposes only)