Art History Everyone Should Know: Surrealism, Dali, Bacon, Kahlo, Man Ray, Magritte

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René Magritte, The Treason of Images 1928-1929 oil/canvas 21"x28"
Form: Oil on Canvas. Magritte used very thin, smooth layers of paint in order to create the smoothest surface possible. Magritte was interested in blurring the lines between reality and fantasy, and he tried to achieve this visually by depending on Trompe L’oeil, fooling the eye. He would like the viewer to think that what they are seeing on the two dimensional surface actually exists before them in three dimensions.  Iconography: Magritte wants to challenge the viewer into questioning themselves about
what is fantasy and what is reality. Here, the viewer is presented with a carefully rendered picture of a pipe. Underneath he has written “this is not a pipe”. In reality, it is not a pipe, it is a painting of a pipe. However, when a viewer looks at the painting, their first reaction is “Ah! A pipe!” instead of “ Ah! A painting of a pipe!” This argument can very easily loop
around on itself, with the viewer arguing, quite rightly, that if it is made to look like a pipe then it is a pipe, an so on, but Magritte has ultimately won the argument by getting us to
think about our reality a bit more carefully.
Context:  Magritte was born in Belgium in 1898, in 1922, after serving in the Military; he
 worked as a graphic designer and became deeply inspired by the artist GeorgioDeChirico. He began selling paintings in 1923, but iit was not only 1926 that he created his first surrealist painting. In 1927 he moves to France and makes friends with some of the other notable surrealists, Miro, Breton and and Arp. In 1929 he stays with Dali in Spain for a short while, and it is there he creates the first version of The Treason of Images. He played around with a different style of painting, but it didn’t go over so well, so he stayed with his old style. In 1960 he met with Andre Breton, Man Ray, Marcel Duchamp and Max Ernst. He was firmly entrenched in the world of surrealism. He continued working up until his death in 1967.

André Breton, Object Poem, 1941
Form: Assemblage on drawing board, consisting of carved wood, an oil lantern, a framed photo, and a toy. It measures 46 X 53 X 11, and now resides at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. An assemblage is an artwork comprised of found objects, paint, whatever an artist deemed fit to put together in a meaningful way. Some pioneers of assemblage are Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, and Jim Dine.   Iconography: Breton made many different ‘object-poems’ throughout his career, he was a consummate and prolific poet, more so than an artist in the traditional sense. This work, while being shown, was meant to be viewed as though through the shutter of a camera, and the viewer would be able to open the
‘shutter’ by means of a lever. This would bring the viewer into an According to the online journal Center
 for Book Culture; “Breton was a dealer in art objects, particularly African, and the Surrealists were all
 passionate about the kind of bearing an object in the external world could have on their imagination, or on their inner world. (The definition Breton often gave of "objective chance," or the thing discovered by luck, like the found object, was that it was running across in the outside world of an answer to a question you were not aware of having.) So the Surrealists, wherever they were, would make expeditions to parks, but in particular to flea markets and to antique stores, in order to discover objects with primitive power, able to unleash those passions in their possessors.”  Breton was bringing the viewer into his world of objects and poetry, and allowing them a glimpse into how his thought processes worked. (To read the Adobe pdf file on ways in which optical devices affected how some art was displayed at this time period, go
Context: “Breton joined first in 1916 the Dadaist group, but after various quarrels continued his march
 forward: "Leave everything. Leave Dada. Leave your wife. Leave your mistress. Leave your hopes and
 fears. Leave your children in the woods. Leave the substance for the shadow. Leave your easy life, leave what you are given for the future. Set off on the road." He turned then to Surrealism and cofounded with Louis Aragon and Philippe Soupault the review Littérature. Very important for his literary work were his wartime meetings with Apollinaire. His MANIFESTE DU SURRÉALISME was published in 1924. Influenced by psychological theories, Breton defined Surrealism as "pure psychic automatism, by which an attempt is made to express, either verbally, in writing or in any other manner, the true functioning of thought. The dictation of thought, in the absence of all control by reason, excluding any aesthetic or moral preoccupation." In the Second Manifesto Breton stated that the surrealists strive to attain a "mental vantage-point (point de l'esprit) from which life and death, the real and the imaginary, past and future, communicable and incommunicable, high and low, will no longer be perceived as contradictions." (culled directly from;


Max Ernst, Two Children are 
Threatened by a Nightingale 1924
Oil on wood with wooden elements 
69.8 x 57 x 11.4 cm 
The Museum of Modern Art, New York
Ernst "Frottage" image c1925

Max Ernst, The Virgin Spanking the Christ 
Child Before Three Witnesses: Andre Breton, 
Paul Eluard, and the painter 1926
Oil on canvas 196 x 130 cm 
Museum Lodging, Cologne
Excerpted from,
The rebel dreams of Oedipus Max. by Robert Hughes. Time, 4/22/91, Vol. 137 Issue 16, p87, 2p, 2c, 1bw
Like a conspiratorial uncle, the Surrealist speaks anew to the subversiveness of youth 
Every artist needs some source of inspiration. Max Ernst, the lyric German subversive who was born 100 years ago, had one that carried him through most of his life. He hated his father, a pious Catholic art teacher who worked in a school for deaf and mute children in a small forest town south of Cologne. Indeed, Ernst wanted to kill Papa and what he thought he represented: the authority of age, religion, the state and the image. 
At six, little Oedipus Max, the future Dadaist, had a dream, an obsessive vision: "I see in front of me a panel crudely painted with large black strokes on a red ground, imitating the grain of mahogany . . . In front of this panel a black and shiny man is making slow, comic and joyously obscene gestures. This strange fellow has the mustache of my father ... He smiles and takes out of the pocket of his trousers a large pencil made of some soft material . . . breathing loudly, he hastily traces some black lines on the panel of false mahogany. He quickly gives it new, surprising and despicable forms." 
New, surprising, despicable--not a bad thumbnail note for Ernst's own art, especially as seen by others. We have reason to thank the large soft pencil of the man with the mustache. Ernst was not a great formal artist, not by a very long chalk But in the 1920s and '30s especially, he was a brilliant maker of images. Their strength and edginess radiate like new in the centenary Ernst exhibit, organized by art historian Werner Spies, which is at London's Tate Gallery this month and moves in mid-May to Stuttgart's Staatsgalerie. Long after the art movements to which Ernst contributed have passed into history, his images continue to detonate in the mind like unexploded land mines left on the old battlefield of modernism. If the young love Dada and Surrealism, and early Ernst in particular, it is because of his healthy desire to murder Papa's culture.
His means for doing so was collage, which means simply "gluing." Ernst cut photos and engravings from magazines, catalogs, albums, marrying things that didn't belong together. Collage was a static relative of film cutting, then in its infancy. Seventy years later, America sees in collage because it grew up spinning the TV dial. No such fragmentation of images was built into the culture of France or Germany in the 1920s. The relations between image and thing seemed solid. Here was something to overturn, and collage was the lever. Ernst fell on the common vein of reproductory images like a miner discovering a virgin reef. 
Essentially untrained as a painter, he fell in with the German Expressionists in 1910-12 by sheer brightness of character. He knew August Macke, whose ideas about pantheistic nature were to reverberate in Ernst's work right up to its end. Macke was killed in the trenches. Ernst survived the war and emerged from its troglodytic lunacy with a deep hatred of Kaiser and country. 
His first collage painting, Celebes, 1921, is one of his funniest. It started life as an anthropological photo of an African corn bin. This reminded Ernst of an elephant. Then he saw a swollen human figure in it--a failed behemoth, which he associated with the absurd and nasty king of Alfred Jarry's proto-Surrealist comedy, Ubu Roil Add to that a dirty children's rhyme he remembered from his school days, which in English would have been a limerick; it concerned an elephant in Sumatra that tried to, well, connect with its grandmother. The naked woman in the foreground foreshadows the title of Ernst's great collage-narrative of 1929, La Femme 100 Tetes, or The Hundred-Headless Woman. She languidly beckons the dumb pachyderm to further erotic fiascoes. 
The technical question of who "invented" collage fades to unimportance when you look at what Ernst did with it. Some Surrealist collages look as dated as Victorian screens, but his tiny, rigorous visions never do. By making realities collide, he slips you into a parallel world whose features are both precise and ineffably odd, where things are not what they seem. Ernst loved images that enumerated things: mechanical and scientific drawing, illustrations from 1900 boulevardier magazines, old catalogs. Their factual neutrality made their paradoxes weirder. Sometimes this serves mainly Lyrical ends as in the Klee-like plant-personages that rear up on the tiny horizon of Always the Best Man Wins, 1920. And sometimes it discloses an erotic fury, a Dionysiac madness bursting the collar studs and corsets of life, as in the collage-narrative The Dream of a Little Girl Who Wanted to Become a Nun, 1929-30. In a secular age with its "therapeutic" religions, we find it hard to imagine the power of blasphemy to the Surrealists. All the same, Ernst came up with the funniest antireligious joke in modern art--the famous (and, alas, rarely seen) parody of a Renaissance Madonna, in which Mary is whaling Jesus on his bare bottom before a trio of witnesses, Andre Breton, Paul Eluard and Ernst himself. 
Ernst's work was continuously open to chance. The arresting drawings of his 1925 Natural History were made by laying sheets of paper on the wooden floor of his hotel room in a French seaside town and going over them with the (paternal?) soft pencil; the resulting images, altered and edited, received the name frottages, or rubbings. The name of the town, by an exquisite coincidence, was Pornic. 
His desire to freeze accident remained with Ernst until the end of his life. After he escaped from Europe to America in 1941--his ticket was paid by Peggy Guggenheim, who was sexually obsessed by Ernst--he lived for some years in Arizona, whose vast skies and mesas repeated the visions inscribed in certain Ernsts of the '30s like The Petrified City. There he made paintings by swinging a can with a hole in it over a canvas; these rhythmical dribbles were seen by Jackson Pollock. . .


René Magritte, The Rape 1934
Form: Oil on Canvas. Magritte used very thin, smooth layers of paint in order to create the smoothest surface possible.
Magritte was interested in blurring the lines between reality and fantasy, and he tried to achieve this visually by depending on
Trompe L’oeil, fooling the eye. He would like the viewer to think that what they are seeing on the two dimensional surface
actually exists before them in three dimensions. (same as above for Magritte.) Iconography: This is the head of a woman, but instead of a face the viewer instead sees her naked torso. He has also extended the neck and stylized the hair, two of the assets a woman posses that are considered attractive and feminine. Magritte wanted to make the unconscious external, and in knowing this, the viewer can then look at this work on a number of different levels.To begin, he is commenting on what men may be thinking about a woman, even as they are looking into her eyes. An undercurrent of sexual tension and possibility that exists in the mind of a man when he interacts with a woman. By the title, he acknowledges that even these thoughts are a violation, and in some cases having the thoughts to an extreme level may lead to the act itself. On a more violent level, the viewer is also asked to ponder the way in which an act such as rape leads to the dehumanization of a woman. The act of rape reduces a woman to an object, it strips her of her identity and leaves her feeling branded and shakes her feeling of identity and self worth. Disturbing to look at, it leads into even more questions of the female as an object in both society and art historical terms, as evidenced by the existence of the phrase ‘male gaze’. 
Context: This painting was so disturbing that when it was shown in Brussels it was hidden behind a velvet curtain to avoid
scandal. Magritte was not a womanizer, nor was he necessarily overtly obsessed with eroticism. He was married in 1922 and
stayed married to the same woman throughout his life, she was his model and a source of inspiration. Indeed, in many of his
early works, women appear to be a dominant theme, but not in any bit the most mildly erotic of manners. Taking these facts
into consideration it may safely be surmised that this work was not meant to titillate, instead it was meant to spark dialogue,
either socially or internally, on how men view women. 

Man Ray, 
Ingres' Violin 
(Le Violin d'Ingres), 1924
Form: Photograph. A gelatin print that was painted, and then photographed again. According to the Encyclopedia of
Photography, Man Ray was; “A tireless experimenter with photographic techniques who participated in the Cubist, Dadaist, and
Surrealist art movements, Man Ray created a new photographic art which emphasized chance effects and surprising
juxtapositions. Unconcerned with "Craft," he employed solarization, grain enlargement, and cameraless prints (photograms) which he called "Rayographs" - made by placing objects directly on photographic paper and exposing them to the light. Man Ray was, with Moholy-Nagy, the most significant maker of cameraless photographs in the 1920s and 1930s. As a painter, sculptor, and filmmaker, as well as a photographer, Man Ray brought his diverse techniques to bear upon one another in the attempt to create "disturbing objects. His life and art spoke of freedom, pleasure, and the desire for extended awareness and means of expression.” Iconography:  According to the Getty museum, where this work resides; “Man Ray was an admirer of the paintings of
Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres and made a series of photographs, inspired by Ingres's languorous nudes, of the model Kiki in a
turban. Painting the f -holes of a stringed instrument onto the photographic print and then rephotographing the print, Man Ray
altered what was originally a classical nude. He also added the title Le Violon d'Ingres , a French idiom that means "hobby." The
transformation of Kiki's body into a musical instrument with the crude addition of a few brushstrokes makes this a humorous image, but her armless form is also disturbing to contemplate. The title seems to suggest that, while playing the violin was Ingres's
hobby, toying with Kiki was a pastime of Man Ray. The picture maintains a tension between objectification and appreciation of
the female form.”
Context: It may also be added that Ingres created paintings of ‘exotic’ women, women of the Far East, as in Odalisque, who were seen as objects for the pleasure of men. Man Ray is playing on art historical themes as well as sexual ones. Unlike Magritte, his works were not subtly erotic, they were very much overly erotic.


David, Madame Recamier, 1800

René Magritte, Madame Recamier, 1939
Form: Both works are oil painting, David using glazing to build up warmth and enhance
depth. Magritte using very much the same techniques to create a smooth, perfect surface.  Iconography: David was very interested in painting history scenes, scenes that re-enacted
events from antiquity. There was a revival in the late 1700-early 1800’s of an interest in
classicism and seriousness in painting, in a backlash against the frivolity of the Rococo. Even in his portraits, David brings a feeling of the Renaissance. Painters have always built their visual vocabulary on the works of previous generations of artists, and Magritte was no exception. However, in keeping with his surrealist bent and sly wit, he is able to both poke fun at, and masterfully duplicate the style of, Davids Madame Recamier. By duplicating the
colors and style of the work, he is showing himself to be a truly skilled artisan. By having a
coffin instead of the woman, Magritte is making two statements. First; that if one were looking at the David painting, they are looking at someone who is dead, long gone in time.
Second, he is pointing out that this genre of painting is ‘dead’, overused and done with. It is
almost a tradition in painting for each new generation of up-and-coming artists to proclaim
that “painting is dead!”, or at least the paintings of the generations who came before them.
Context: Again we see Magritte’s wry wit and ability to juxtapose what may seem to be, at
first, unrelated objects and make them fit within a narrative. 

TheBrokenColumn44c.JPG (35046 bytes)
The Broken Column, 1944
Form:  Oil painting on canvas. Kahlo was a self-taught, or ‘naïve’ painter, and as such usually lacks the purely technical skills that academic painting reflects. However, because she listened to her own muse, her paintings convey a sense of  her own personal truth; they are interwoven in with her life, reflecting not only the tragedies and suffering she endured, but also showing the tradition of folk and retablo painting from her native Mexico. Interestingly to was the fact that while she was embraced by the surrealists, she did not consider her work to be surreal, while she spent time with them and appeared in surrealist shows, “She had, however, conceived a violent dislike for what she called 'this bunch of coocoo lunatic sons of bitches of surrealists.' She did not renounce Surrealism immediately. in January 1940, for example, she was a participant (with Rivera) in the International Exhibition of Surrealism held in Mexico City. Later, she was to be vehement in her denials that she had ever been a true Surrealist. 'They thought I was a Surrealist,' she said, 'but I wasn't. I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality.'”
Text from Edward Lucie-Smith, "Lives of the Great 20th-Century Artists"
Iconography: In 1925 Kahlo was involved in a serious bus accident that fractured her right leg as well as her pelvis. The result of this accident was a lifetime of pain and surgery. In 1944 she underwent more surgeries for both her spine and her crippled foot. By the time she painted this work she had been in and out of hospitals so many times it is almost hard to count. The first symbol, the column, is in the place of her spine. She has chosen to portray a roman Ionic column, a symbol both of Greek classicism, which she would have understood as an artist, but also of strength, as columns are the support structures for ancient forms of monumental architecture. In her painting, the column is cracked through in many places and seems to disintegrating. While she has done many paintings which show her physical traumas, this seems particularly meaningful as it appears that she is telling the viewer that her strength, her ‘backbone’ so to speak, is failing her. She is bare chested, and a variety of sharp looking nails pierce her skin. The only thing holding her together is a hospital corset, reminiscent of the body cast she was confined to after her bus accident in 1925. Behind her is desert, so dry that the ground itself is cracked and parched, it is as if there is no solace for her to be found anywhere. Most poignant of all is how she gazes out past the viewer with tears in her eyes,she has painted a desolate picture reflecting the truth of her life at that time. Context: It was in 1944 that Kahlos’ health truly began to deteriorate. She would pass away ten years later in 1954, and her work steadily deteriorated due to a mixture of pain, prescription medicines, and alcohol. 

FridaatHF_c.JPG (39373 bytes)
Henry Ford Hospital, 1932
Form:  Oil on metal, figurative work that is displaying an experience in an impossible way, using visual metaphors and diagrams. Kahlo often painted on tin, as it was, and still is, the ground on which Mexican folk artists paint their devotional retablos, which are paintings used for prayer or miracles. Iconography: Frida wanted children, but because of the bus accident she could not physically carry a child in her womb. She discovered she was pregnant while she and Diego were in New York in 1932, but suffered a terrible miscarriage. According to “Kahlo’s paintings are never comforting and rarely pleasant. Kahlo went to the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit when she miscarried a baby, and this Surrealist painting shows Frida lying down naked in a hospital bed with six items floating around her, including a fetus, a pelvis, and a lower spinal chord. Blood and fertility, recurrent themes in her artwork, figure prominently in this piece. In the background, Detroit’s industrial skyline suggests Kahlo’s abhorrence for the city she considered metallic, polluted, and unfriendly. A tear is flowing down her cheek to reveal her sadness due to her inability to have children.”  Broken down to the parts, the iconography is stated on the Kansas City University website as such; “A snail, said to symbolize the slowness of the miscarriage, a drawing of a pelvis, said to implicate her damaged parts as cause of the loss; an orchid, representing both the gift given by Diego and as symbol of her external genitalia; an autoclave, a sterilizing device such as is used in a hospital, and a medical model of a lower, female torso. The bed, which states the hospital by name, appears on a desert of concrete, against the industrial backdrop of a modern city: Detroit. Her giant tear, and the large pool of post-partum blood are testament to her pain and loss, her loneliness and alone-ness in this industrial city that is not home. It is interesting to note that Rivera was not unaffected - a fetus appears, surrealistically, as part of the mural he was painting at the time.” 
Context: “In 1932 Rivera was commissioned to paint a major series of murals for the Detroit Museum, and here Kahlo suffered a miscarriage. While recovering, she painted Miscarriage in Detroit, the first of her truly penetrating self-portraits. The style she evolved was entirely unlike that of her husband, being based on Mexican folk art and in particular on the small votive pictures known as retablos, which the pious dedicated in Mexican churches. Rivera's reaction to his wife's work was, however, both perceptive and generous: Frida began work on a series of masterpieces which had no precedent in the history of art - paintings which exalted the feminine quality of truth, reality, cruelty and suffering. Never before had a woman put such agonized poetry on canvas as Frida did at this time in Detroit.”
FridaFrida39.JPG (38071 bytes)
The Two Fridas, 1939
Form:  Oil on canvas, figurative work representing the two sides of Kahlos’ life.  Iconography: Frida has painted two sides of herself, connected by their hearts and clasping hands. She is sitting in front of an ominous dark sky and flat barren ground. She is representing the two sides of herself, one dressed in the clothing of her native, rural Mexico, and the other clothed in a traditional European dress. Kahlo had spent years following Diego back and forth from Mexico to the States for his various shows and exhibitions, and here she seems to be saying that the two Fridas’ that she is, the one in the States, and the one in Mexico, have to depend on each other. In the left hand of the Mexican Frida, she holds a small portrait of Diego, and the heart is whole. In the right hand of the American Frida she holds a pair of forceps which clamp a bleeding vein shut, and the heart is bisected. The Eurpean style dress has also been ripped open to expose the heart, while the heart on the Mexican Frida seems to rest easily on top of the cloth. The Mexican Frida appears much more whole and healthy. It is not disguised that Frida preferred her life in Mexico to the one she lived with Diego when she was in the states. 
Context: At this period in time Kahlo and Diego had gone through a divorce, her health kept deteriorating, and
she was drowning her sorrows in alcohol. One of her health problems, perhaps compounded by her alcohol abuse, was circulatory. She had spent much of her time in America in hospitals, which could account for her loathing of the country, and at this time Diego was in San Francisco working on yet another commission. Her love of the Mexican folk-wear is described historically as such; “A strikingly handsome woman, the diminutive, dark-haired Frida was known to stop traffic in San Francisco, New York and Paris in her long fiestalike dresses."Where's the circus?" children purportedly asked as they followed her down New York City streets. Frida maintained this affectation throughout her adult life, partly to please Rivera who liked seeing her in her native costumes, but also to hide a shorter right leg caused by childhood polio.” (

Hello Dali!

Excerpts from,
Baby Dali. by Robert Hughes. Time, 7/4/94, Vol. 144 Issue 1, p68, 3p, 3c, 1bw HTML Full Text
Was any painter a worse embarrassment than Salvador Dali? Not even Andy Warhol. Long before his physical death in 1989, old Avida Dollars -- Andre Breton's anagram of his name -- had collapsed into wretched exhibitionism. Genius, Shocker, Lip-Topiarist: though he once turned down an American businessman's proposal to open a string of what would be called Dalicatessens, there was little else he refused to endorse, from chocolates to perfumes. He was surrounded by fakes and crooks and married to one of the greediest harpies in Europe: Gala, who made him the indentured servant of his lost talent even as he treated her as his muse.  Nevertheless, Dali was an important artist for about 10 years, starting in the late 1920s. Nothing can take that away from him. Other Surrealists -- especially Max Ernst and Dali's fellow Catalan Joan Miro -- were greater magicians; but Dali's sharp, glaring, enameled visions of death, sexual failure and deliquescence, of displaced religious mania and creepy organic delight, left an ineradicable mark on our century when it, and he, were young. Dali turned ``retrograde'' technique -- the kind of dazzlingly detailed illusionism that made irreality concrete, as in The First Days of Spring, 1929 -- toward subversive ends. His soft watches will never cease to tick, not as long as the world has adolescent dandies and boy rebels in it. . .
Surrealism was fascinated by childhood, viewing it as the primal forest of the imagination -- the place where all the id's most succulent and aggressive life-forms ran rampant, before civilization paved them over. Hence you could suppose that Dali's own childhood would be rich in suggestion about his mature work. And so it was, in a way; but not the way he meant it to be. 
In his mythomaniac autobiography, The Secret Life of Salvador Dali, he took pains to spin out a fiction of his early originality. He wanted people to think he'd been found like Moses in the bulrushes, a miracle child: Salvador, Saviour. In part this did correspond to the truth. As Ian Gibson's fascinating catalog essay on Dali's early life makes clear, little Salvador was a horribly spoiled brat. Cosseted, deferred to, aware that a tantrum could get him anything he wanted, he grew up with serious delusions of creative omnipotence -- which, as time went by, coexisted with equally serious problems of sexual impotence, caused (or so he said) by a book with lurid illustrations of the effects of venereal disease that his father had shown him. Dali turned out to be the exact opposite of Picasso's phallicism. He was thrilled by softness, flaccidity. ``Nothing,'' he wrote, ``can be regarded as too slimy, gelatinous, quivering, indeterminate or ignominious to be desired.'' . .
Dali went to art school in Madrid in the early 1920s. ``I'll be a genius,'' he wrote in his diary two years before that. ``Perhaps I'll be despised and misunderstood, but I'll be a genius, a great genius.'' Cold and diligent, he figured out all his poses and provocations in advance. Politically, too, he wanted to be shocking; later Dali would turn into an archconservative, the living national treasure of Franco's long regime, but in the 1920s -- the years of Primo de Rivera's dictatorship -- he was a vehement parlor red. He even did jail time, briefly, when he was arrested as a reprisal against his father's left-wing political activity.
There was, however, nothing particularly revolutionary about his paintings. Seeking a credible genius costume, he did versions of Cubism, of De Chirico's pittura metafisica, and developed his dry, classicizing realism in such images as Seated Girl Seen from the Back, 1925. It is an easy matter to go through this early work identifying, here and there, what would grow and what would not: how the taste for smoothly curved profile and deep black relief that he got from Amedee Ozenfant's decorative Cubism, for instance, turned into Dali's later fondness for writhing, spookily dark shadows cast by figures on a flat ground-plane, the idealized desert of his paintings. Dali's obsession with Picasso reached a height of imitative flattery with his pastiches of the older painter's massive ``classical'' women in white fluted dresses. Likewise, when Dali the Surrealist was pupating, there was hardly a trope in his pictures of 1927-28 that didn't come out of Andre Masson, Ernst, Miro or Yves Tanguy.
But his originality as an artist began with his peculiar experiences of the natural world, such as the contorted rocks at Cape Creus, near his boyhood home, sculpted into fantastically ambiguous shapes by tide and weather; like faces seen in the fire, these were the foundation stones of what Dali called his ``paranoiac-critical method'' of seeking dream images. Dali's art may not tap far into his unconscious, but it reveals a great deal about what he imagined his unconscious to be.

Salvador Dali. The Persistance of Memory. 1931
oil on canvas 9"x13" MOMA
Rene Magritte. Time Transfixed. 1939. 
oil on canvas 57"38" Chicago AI
Form: Oil on canvas. Painted in a smooth, photorealist manner so to enhance the illusion of reality. It is a form of Trompe L'oeil, Dali wants to confuse both the viewers eyes and their mind.  Iconography: When compared to Rene Magrittes Time Transfixed, an important point about surrealism is made evident. Time is an ephemeral thing that cannot be pinned down. Time is a mechanical invention, one which we have Descartes to thank for, and in essence, time often does not make sense. Dali makes this point clear with the melting watches. Time is an internal dialogue, as people, we have all experienced the feeling that time is going by too quickly, and sometimes, such as when we are studying, writing essays, or doing research for an online textbook, time can seem to move too slowly. Ants are also a favorite of Dalis', and are a recurring theme in most of his paintings, as well as a film he did with Buñuel  titled, Le Chien Andalou, in which at one point, a man observes ants as they crawl out of him through a hole in his palm. It can be assumed that Dali is commenting on the silliness of time, likening it to the seemingly pointless scurrying that we observe ants doing...written about this work on "Over the next few years Dalí devoted himself with passionate intensity to developing his method, which he described as 'paranoiac-critical', a 'spontaneous method of irrational knowledge based on the critical and systematic objectivation of delirious associations and interpretations'. It enabled him to demonstrate his personal obsessions and fantasies by uncovering and meticulously fashioning hidden forms within pre-existing ones, either randomly selected (postcards, beach scenes, photographic enlargements) or of an accepted artistic canon (canvases by Millet, for example). It was at this period that he was producing works like The Lugubrious Game (1929), The Persistence of Memory (1931) and Surrealist Objects, Gauges of Instantaneous Memory (1932). Flaccid shapes, anamorphoses and double-sided figures producing a trompe-l'œil effect combine in these works to create an extraordinary universe where the erotic and the scatological jostle with a fascination for decay - a universe that is reflected in his other works of this period, including his symbolic objects and poems (La Femme visible, 1930; L'Amour et la mémoire, 1931) as well as the screenplay for L'Age d'Or (1930).
Context: "It soon became apparent, however, that there was an inherent contradiction in Dalí's approach between what he himself described as 'critical paranoia' - which lent itself to systematic interpretation - and the element of automatism upon which his method depended. Breton soon had misgivings about Dalí's monsters which only lend themselves to a limited, univocal reading. Dalí's extreme statements on political matters, in particular his fascination for Hitler, struck a false note in the context of the Surrealist ethic and his relations with the rest of the group became increasingly strained after 1934. The break finally came when the painter declared his support for Franco in 1939. And yet he could boast that he had the backing of Freud himself, who declared in 1938 that Dalí was the only interesting case in a movement whose aims he confessed not to understand. Moreover, in the eyes of the public he was, increasingly as time went by, the Surrealist par excellence, and he did his utmost to maintain, by way of excessive exhibitionism in every area, this enviable reputation."
( - Text from "ART20, The Thames and Hudson Multimedia Dictionary of Modern Art")


Salvador Dali. Gala Angelus. 1935
Form: Oil on canvas, again in the smooth photorealist manner. A figurative work in which nothing truly untoward seems to be happening, but the composition and the fact that his back is to the viewer works in throwing the viewer off balance, not allowing them to figure out what enotions are going through his mind.  Iconography: "Meeting Gala was, for Dali, a revelation and a terror. Here was the personification of all his fantasies, and yet his fear and loathing of erotic acts made it impossible for him to approach her. It was Gala who put an end to his torture by proposing a walk one day, during which Dali confessed his love. They eloped to Barcelona in 1929. Gala was to become a major influence in the work of Dali. She was to feature in many of his works, often surrounded by controversy. In The Sacrament of the Last Supper, Dali gave Christ the features of Gala, and in many pictures he portrayed her as the Madonna. On other occasions, she influenced some of his worse pieces, encouraging him to rush out pictures purely for financial gain. This was a contributing factor to Dali's expulsion from the surrealist movement." (
Context: "His Rift with the Surrealists
 It seems strange that Dali, who for many people is synonymous with surrealism, should have had such a turbulent relationship with the movement. Although at first he was welcomed into the movement, the surrealists objected to some of Dali's work. They were scandalised when Dali painted The Lugubrious Game, which included a man whose underpants were soiled, and they were angry when he painted portraits for money instead of pursuing the artistic dream. The final straw was Dali's consent to design advertisements for a company making tights, and by the 1940s his links with the surrealists were severed. Nevertheless, Dali considered himself to be a true surrealist. He once said: The only difference between the surrealists and me is that I am a surrealist. He considered his work to be true surrealism, and that the surrealist group, by adopting a certain style and set of rules had disqualified its own existence. The surrealist group, in turn, felt that his works had become no more than puzzles where the viewer searched for the double images rather than looked at the paintings. It was Breton, the leader of the surrealists, who gave Dali the nickname 'Avida Dollars', an anagram of Salvador Dali, and an indication of  the light they saw Dali in. Designing adverts and fashionable clothes (for Dali saw a link between art and fashion) were not suitable occupations for a surrealist; he was giving them a bad name, and the bad name they gave back to him indicated their displeasure." full text at


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