Salvador Dalí, The Persistence of Memory

The Persistence of Memory is a landscape by artist Salvador Dalí, and one of the most recognizable works of Surrealism. It was completed in 1931 and is considered one of Dali’s most famous works. It possibly derives its meaning from Sigmund Freud’s work on psychoanalysis because Dali painted it during his psychoanalytical era of painting. First exhibited at the Julien Levy Gallery in 1932, since 1934 the painting has been in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, given by an anonymous donor. It has been exhibited in galleries worldwide and is the symbol of Dali’s work. The painting is widely recognized and frequently referenced in popular culture and on occasion referred to by more descriptive titles, such as “Melting Clocks”, “The Soft Watches” or “The Melting Watches”.

Date completed: 1931

Artist: Salvador Dalí

Style: Surrealism

Location: Museum of Modern Art, New York

Media: Oil painting, 9 1/2 by 13″ inch (24.1 x 33cm)

This iconic and regularly reproduced painting depicts time as a series three melting watches surrounded by swarming ants that suggest decay, an organic progression in which Dali held an unshakeable absorption. The Persistence of Memory contains an upper blue skyline, which gradually diminishes downward from blue to yellow then almost white across the top quarter of the painting. Under the skyline is a body of water. The body of water traces the skyline until it interacts with adjoining mountains to the right. In front of the mountains, there is a single pebble.

On the left close to the water, Dali places a reflective, blue, elevated, rectangular platform with dark brown trimming around the edges. Placed in front of this platform, there is another single pebble. A lifeless tree with a hollow top, is in front of it, missing all of its leaves and branches but one. The single branch holds a silver pocket watch which appears to be melting on the end of the branch showing the numbers three through nine. Only one hand of the watch is shown, pointing at the 6. The tree is located on top of a light brown square object that looks desk-like. The brown object takes over the bottom left corner of the painting and even goes off the canvas. On this object, two more pocket watches are residing. One of them is gold and melted, hanging halfway off the light brown cube. The hands of the gold watch are stopped at five of seven and there is a fly on the face near the 1 o’clock mark. The fly is also casting a very small shadow, which is shaped more like a human. The other pocket watch is bronze and shut. The exterior of the pocket watch is covered with a swarm of black ants. Unlike the other clocks, this is shut, and the only one that is not warped or melted of the four.

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