‘First Days of Spring’ a Snapshot of Dali’s 25-Year-Old Mind
By Paul Chimera
Salvador Dali Historian
I so want to get a jump on spring! Can you blame me; it’s late January, and I’m based in Buffalo, New York. So the title of Salvador Dali’s 1929 surrealist painting, “The First Days of Spring,” strikes a welcome chord with me and hopefully with readers of this blog, which is brought to you twice weekly by The Salvador Dali Society, Inc.
Of course, while spring represents nature’s renewal, with the appearance of daffodils and tulips and warmer, sunnier weather, we don’t exactly get that sun-shiny feel in Dali’s “First Day of Spring” canvas, which hangs in the Salvador Dali Museum, St. Petersburg, Florida.
Instead, spring is probably a metaphor for an awakening of a different kind. And if you think I’m going to say sexual awakening, you’d be right.
At age 25, Salvador pulled no punches in laying out, in a vast expanse devoid of any landscaping, his fantasies, clearly of a sexual – and maybe a little perverse – nature. Such a quest – to present a kind of hand-painted snapshot of his fantasies and fetishes – was completely consistent with Surrealism as an art form: essentially the transcription of one’s dreams and subconscious world onto canvas.
Just as dreams often involve disparate elements in unnatural space and time, here in “The First Days of Spring,” we find all manner of seemingly unrelated objects and actions positioned about the scene.
Two of those objects are autobiographical: a black and white photo of Dali as a small child, glued to the middle of the canvas on the stairs; and, to the right of that collage, the famous head profile with closed eye derived from a specific rock formation at Cape Creus in Spain, giving birth to Dali’s “Great Masturbator” obsession. Stairs, according to Freud’s findings about dream meanings, represent intercourse. And the grasshopper affixed to the aforementioned profile conveys the literal fear young Dali had of the clinging insect.
Some have suggested that the seated man off alone at left, facing away from the viewer, is Dali’s estranged father, while the bearded man at far right may have less than pure intentions with the young girl who seems to be lured toward him.
Dali was heavily influenced, of course, by Sigmund Freud, and one of the Austrian psychoanalyst’s contentions was that fish were a phallic symbol, accounting for the fleshy red fish prominent in the painting’s foreground.
Then, to the left of the fish-penis are two blatant sexual references: a woman with breasts exposed, and whose head looks like a vagina, while her necktie looks similar to the folds of female genitalia. The man to her right has hands that form a vaginal orifice about to be penetrated by a finger, under which two silver balls appear.
Little question what was on Dali’s mind at this time! He intended to lay it out bare. His philosophy of “concrete irrationality” is authentically expressed in this important early surrealist masterpiece. Irrational elements of a largely sexual nature are concretely executed with the technical precision for which he was renowned.
The bigger picture is that “First Days of Spring” is a kind of snapshot (“hand-painted color photography,” as Dali defined his technique) of the fetishes, fantasies, perversions, neuroses, obsessions and preoccupations that informed the young mind of a man destined to be one of the most successful artists of all time.
And by the way, 31 days until spring!