Hitler as a Wet Nurse? Anything’s Possible in a Dali Dream Painting!
By Paul Chimera
Salvador Dali Historian
In the 1930s especially, it can confidently be said that Salvador Dali was a painter of dreams. While such a description may at first seem overly obvious, it really bears closer study. Why? Because so much of our understanding of Dali’s paintings, as well as many a Dali drawing, Dali print – indeed, anything this genius created – hinges on an appreciation of the man’s dream world.
A reminder of this fact should also bring us back to the very premise of Surrealism as an art form: its members endeavored to explore the subconscious mind – a phenomenon of the human condition lorded over by Sigmund Freud, and given tangible form in his seminal book, Interpretation of Dreams. That hugely important book became a virtual bible to the Surrealists in general and Salvador Dali in particular.
In the canvas I’m taking a brief look at today, “The Specter and the Phantom” of 1934, two main phenomena prevail. One is what I’ve been talking about here – dreams, and how they held sway over Dali’s thoughts, which then became deftly transferred to canvas.
The most prominent image here is a wet nurse sitting in a puddle, inexplicably situated on an expansive open plain or beach that shows no other signs of water. This image appeared in several other Dali paintings as well, and we know it is suggestive of images Dali painted of – brace yourself – Adolf Hitler!
Such a realization surely seems shocking at first blush. But Dali freely admitted that the intrusive presence of Hitler in the real world also made a tenacious appearance in Dali’s dream world. Keep in mind that, as a true Surrealist, Dali felt obligated to stay loyal to whatever his dreams turned up, without any self-filtering. Dreams were what they were, and no one could change them – nor should they – when endeavoring to faithfully represent them on canvas.
Consequently, several depictions of the Furor appeared in Dali’s paintings. And sometimes, such as in the image of the nurse in “The Specter and the Phantom,” a suggestion of the fleshy back of Hitler was conveyed – in this case even with a small cut taken out of her back, emphasizing the fleshy, perhaps edible nature of Hitler’s back.
Yeah, dreams can be kind of weird.
Again, this all pivots around a major tenet of Surrealism: its denizens were to be free to explore and express their subconscious minds, their dreams, without restraint, censure or judgment. At least that was Salvador Dali’s genuine pledge to the cause.
Meanwhile, the second main phenomenon in “The Specter and the Phantom” resides in the large cloud mass. Admirers of Dali’s art were constantly claiming they saw this or that image in his works – even when he himself never intended such alleged images.
In the present case, do you see a seated person? A face? A skull? Something else? A phantom? A specter?
It’s all ultimately conjecture…interpretation…illusion. Or, put another way, it’s all a dream – painted as only Salvador Dali could do it so convincingly.