‘The Soft Watch’ Forever a Symbol of Salvador Dali!
By Paul Chimera
Dali Writer & Historian
It’s high time we returned in this blog to Salvador Dali’s signature image – the soft, melting watch. But this time the floppy watches first seen and best known in Dali’s 1931 “Persistence of Memory” are now giving way to a new altered state in “La Montre Molle (‘The Soft Watch’).
In 1954 – the year this popular canvas was painted – Dali was back in Spain after his self-imposed 1940s exile in the United States. Having delved into all manner of projects in the States – including collaborations with Alfred Hitchcock and Walt Disney – in “The Soft Watch” we see Dali returning to a very familiar scene. And a very successful one!
At this period in his career, Dali was becoming deeply immersed in a new way of interpreting the world around him, owing to the explosion of the atomic bomb and emerging revelations in nuclear physics. “The Soft Watch” is one of the best examples of how Dali bridged the divide between the “old” Dali and the “new Dali.”
Capitalizing on the success and enormous popularity of his soft watches, in the present work he now reflects back on “Persistence of Memory” with a pocket watch not so much melting over a ledge but floating slightly above it, but still maintaining a similar look to its appearance in “Persistence.” Even a fly appears on the timepiece, as it did in the iconic 1931 canvas. And the rocky terrain seen in the lower right distance fairly well echoes that seen in “The Persistence of Memory.”
Now, however, he incorporates his new vision into an old standby, expressing his understanding of and fascination with particle physics by showing the watch “exploding into 888 pieces,” as he announced effusively to host Robert Q. Lewis when he appeared on the American TV game show, “The Name’s the Same.”
Some of those exploded pieces are in the shape of rhinoceros horns – a reference to his obsessive observation that the curve of a rhino horn is one of nature’s rare instances where one can find a perfect logarithmic spiral. That mathematical detail figured significantly in Dali’s painting, as he became increasingly interested in constructing his paintings along classic mathematical lines.
Take a close look, in fact, at the gold edge of the watch. There’s a sense of movement created by the swirl of rhino horns, and that is exactly what science was discovering at this time: that matter is discontinuous and, at the sub-atomic level, is actually a galaxy of fast-moving electrons and protons.
It comes as no surprise, then, that in 1954 Dali painted the ultimate example of his Nuclear Mystical lens through which he was now seeing the world: “The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory,” one of the super-star paintings in the permanent collection of the Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida.