Salvador Dali Knew How to Make a Bread Loaf Penis-like!
By Paul Chimera
Salvador Dali Historian
Sometimes I believe scholars of the life and art of Salvador Dali overthink his surrealism. They ascribe profound meanings and esoteric psychoanalytic interpretations to aspects of his work that may or may not be plausible or necessary.
Me? I sometimes think Dali simply liked to shock. And, often, to be overtly sexual in the erotic and suggestive images that arose from many of his canvases – especially the purely surrealistic works that characterized most of his oeuvre from the decade of the ‘30s.
Case in point – today’s object of my riffing: “Catalan Bread,” painted by a 28-year-old single male with a predominant obsession commanding his thoughts: good old-fashion sex.
In this small, 9-1/2 inch by 13 inch canvas, lovingly executed, we find no ordinary loaf of bread, which was and is a staple on most dining tables – and became a frequently seen element in a disparate array of Dali paintings, watercolors, drawings and prints.
No ordinary Catalan bread loaf, that is, because this one is unabashedly phallic: erect and prophylactically ready for action! A white condom has been rolled into place on Dali’s pan-cum-penis (“pan” is “bread” in Spanish).
The string around the suggestive tip of the bread serves to keep the form up, perhaps suggesting that some people need a little assistance to get and keep it that way when it’s time for romance.
As our eye moves to the right, the loaf now becomes breast-like: rounded and with a quite prominent nipple-like protuberance. Seated on top is a bit of classic Freudian symbolism that appeared in many works by Dali from this period: the phallic pen inserted into the breast-like ink well. Some writers have also suggested that the appearance of ink wells was a reference to Dali’s notary father’s office, which may be – but the more sexual intonation makes more sense in the present picture.
The wonderfully elongated soft watch draped over the bread may be one of the earliest examples of Dalinian Continuity, a term I believe was coined by Dali patron and scholar A. Reynolds Morse, benefactor of the Salvador Dali Museum of St. Petersburg, Florida.
The Catalan artist carried the iconic timepiece over from a year earlier – from a tiny little oil painting (virtually the same dimensions as “Catalan Bread”) known as “The Persistence of Memory,” which was destined to become the most universally recognized of all works by Salvador Dali – and unquestionably the most popular surrealist picture ever created.
While Salvador Dali would go on to produce several more classic and reverent paintings featuring a basket of bread, “Catalan Bread” is without question a nod to this ubiquitous food staple but, more significantly, another expression of the artist’s irrepressible focus on things sexual.