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The great artist Salvador Dali once said, “Surrealism is destructive, but it destroys only what it considers to be shackles limiting our vision.” He surely put this quote into practice when he created what some consider to be his greatest work, and what many consider to be his best known work: his 1931 masterpiece “The Persistence of Memory”.
Salvador Dali was born May 11, 1904 in Figueres, Spain. In 1922, Dali attended the Academia de San Fernando in Madrid, Spain. It was here where he began to experiment with different art styles, most notably Metaphysics and Cubism. After college, Dali soon joined the Surrealist Movement in 1929 where he associated with many other notable surrealist artists of the time, including Joan Miro, Pablo Picasso and Rene Magrite. Dali married his wife Gala Dali in 1934. In 1980, Dali’s body was ravaged with Parkinson-like symptoms, which especially affected his right hand. This was detrimental to his mental health and wellbeing, and he ultimately ended his artistic capacity. Dali died in 1989 of heart failure.
Throughout Dali’s life, he had many eccentric beliefs about time and space, ultimately leading him to create the Persistence of Memory. This painting started out as a simple landscape drawing, as described in The Secret Life of Salvador Dali (his autobiography). However, after ending a meal eating runny Camembert cheese, he “meditated on the philosophic problems of the super soft” and decided to take one last look at his work in progress. Just then, the image of two pocket watches hanging from the olive tree branches occurred to him, and his masterpiece was completed two hours later.
The artwork features a deserted landscape by the coast of a beach. There are four pocket watches being depicted in this image: one hanging over an olive tree branch, one slumped over a rectangular-prism shape, a non-melted one covered by ants, and a melted one laying over a head shape. Interestingly enough, this head shape, which is thought to be Dali’s side profile, had appeared in Dali’s earlier works such as The Great Masturbaor (1929) and The Enigma of Desire (1929). It is fascinating to note that none of the pocket watches tell the same time, which represents how time is relative while being in a dream.
As in all of his artworks, The Persistence of Memory features Dali’s painstakingly meticulous painting technique and attention to detail. The softness of the oil in this oil painting captures the essence of being in a dream-like state.
Dali used both space and shape in this piece of artwork. First, he used the element of shape by depicting the pocket watches as melting. The clocks are now irrational. Dali’s use of shape represents how time is relative and how, while in a dream-like state, the concept of time doesn’t even permeate to the subconscious. Next, Dali used the element of space in this piece of artwork by depicting the landscape as wide open and, seemingly, never-ending. The use of a desolate and barren landscape became somewhat of a cliche among surrealist artists of the 1930s and 1940s. In quite a few paintings, the use of a barren landscape is confusing. In The Persistence of Memory, it works well with the idea that dreams have neither limits nor bounds.
Dali uses unity and balance in this painting. First, he uses the property of unity by painting a few pocket watches. All of these pocket watches depict different times, but they are all unified by the fact that they don’t conform to the traditional laws of physics, due to the fact that they are melting. Next, Dali uses the property of symmetrical balance in this piece of art by painting different subjects around the painting. There are watches on the left side, but a humanoid-face figure in the middle and a large cliff to the right. This takes the viewers’ eyes to all different parts of the painting.
The Persistence of Memory is easily Dali’s most famous painting. What is represents and the techniques that Dali used to execute this piece of art have made this piece what it is: a masterpiece.
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