‘The Dream Approaches’ Emblematic of Dali’s Surrealism of the ’30s


By Paul Chimera

Salvador Dali Historian


If you could paint your dreams – if you first could remember them, that is – what would it look like? Salvador Dali had the unparalled ability to capture his dreams on canvas (as well as in Dali prints, watercolors, and drawings) for the great pleasure of the rest of us.


“The Dream Approaches” of 1932 is a good example of the purely surrealist, inspired canvases that made Dali’s output of the 1930s his best, according to many, though, as I’ve opined many times in this blog, I believe his post-surrealist works were equally impressive.


There’s a sort of haunting temperament to this painting – an atmosphere that’s dream-like, where time and space are at odds with our normal sense of reality. The luminescent sky – pre-dawn from all appearances – adds to the dream-like mood here, as morning is unfolding and, alas, the dream approaches.


Not surprisingly, Dali’s dream features some grim images and symbolism. Cypress trees – though commonly found in the region where Dali and Gala lived on the Costa Brava in Spain – are a traditional symbol of death, often associated with graveyards. Indeed, the foreground table may actually be a coffin, at which birds pick upon the white material draped over it.


The tower is seen in a good number of Dali’s surrealist paintings. As a child, he was drawn to a mill tower in Figueres; it would become a lifelong memory and a kind of landscape-based fetish fixture. Considered together – the tower and the cypress trees – they recall a haunting painting with which Dali was obsessed, and some of whose details appeared in several other great Salvador Dali paintings: “The Isle of the Dead” by the Swiss symbolist artist Arnold Bocklin.


Bocklin's "Isle of the Dead" influenced Dali

Bocklin’s “Isle of the Dead” influenced Dali


One of Dali’s paintings that nodded to the Bocklin work is “Cavalier of Death,” seen here, though there were several other Dali pictures, too, that clearly quoted the “Isle of the Dead” image.


Dali's "Cavalier of Death" nods to Bocklin's foreboding work

Dali’s “Cavalier of Death” nods to Bocklin’s foreboding work


The sexual suggestions in Dali’s paintings cannot be denied, of course. It’s not much of a stretch to consider the phallic nature of the tower and the vaginal nature of the curious cocoon-like form that appears on the left edge of the coffin in “The Dream Approaches.”


Meanwhile, as the often nonsensical nature of dreams would have it, to the left of the coffin is a block or table that at the same time serves as a body of water in which rocks are reflected and in front of which a naked man stands. His pose seems to suggest he’s puzzled by what this approaching dream means – as we generally all are – when we remember our dreams and nightmares, and try to make sense of them.



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