Salvador Dalí. The Persistence of memory. 1931. Surealism. (Soft
Museum of Modern Art. New York.
The paintig is more known of the public under the name of : Soft watches. In many rural regions of Europe, when somebody dies the family or the neighbors stop the clock in the living room. This act symbolic system means : “ its time is finished ”. Here is exactly the place to which this painting with these 3 soft watches refers, its died olive-tree, the cadaveric white shape of a dead animal and this desert landscape. The soft watches, the time which is not measured any more, contrary at the title of the picture, returns us to our own physical impermanency and the only possibility of a superiority of the spirit on the matter. The other symbols, the fly, the ants, as all the insects which run on the ground, are symbols of death. The subject is source of anguish in the artist as at many people. The idea of Death is an obsession at his place and a subject scours in its works. The manner of putting the question is interesting. Dali said to be inspired by softness of a Camembert cheese and which he had seen in his kitchen. To thus bind the food, which in the object-relationship mean the life, and death and time is interesting. (The object-relationship is that of the newborn with the nutritive mother). It is important to specify that at the time where it carries out this table the artist has been scrambled with his mother and his family for 2 years. The only reassuring elements of work are the presence of quite enlightened cliffs on the right and hot colors to the background.
To read the painting the glance goes up, the point of view of the spectator is in extreme cases of the luminous zone. The horizon is high and in full light contrary to the foreground where all is obscure. The 1st plan symbolizes death, the background the life and in this case it is eternal.
Representing the beach of Portlligat the painting is a twilight sky dominating a beach and the Mediterranean. The sky and the luminous zone are above the higher tension field. The 4 watches are close to the natural points of interest. The zone of escape for the glance is in top on the right.
Work is clearly divided into 2 zones. Dark of the 2 thirds in the foreground indicating death. Clear with the background indicating the life, on the higher third.
A watch is positioned in limit of zone. It is perched on the died olive-tree, it run, it is not alive but the branch on which it rests clearly indicates the direction of the luminous zone of hope in top on the right.
The painting is built on the ascending diagonal from left to right. The principal guiding lines go in this direction, those of the piece of furniture in the foreground, the branch of the died tree, the needles of the watch indicate also this direction.
Behind the tree there is a stone on the beach in a dark zone, it symbolizes death. Other dimensioned, on the beach, in a clear zone there is an egg neare water. This egg symbolizes the life and the birth. If one connects the stone died to the egg which will give the life, the line goes up….
This watch is not running but it as died as the others because: it is posed with back, one does not see the hour, one sees ants, insects crawling in the ground and symbols of death. Authors identified it like that of the father of the artist.
The fly is also symbol of death. It comes to lay eggs in the corpses. The Artist however declared that for him was a positive symbol because it flies. The only positive element it is that the body of the fly as the needles indicate the direction of the zone of hope in top on the right of work.
This form is recurring at Dali. It contains the elements of a self-portrait of the painter with the lashes and the nose but posed in this direction it evokes a white corpse, either a horse whose watch is the saddle or a bird or a shell without life which is inserted in brown sand.
Here the only positive zone of the painting. Especially because of egg at the edge of the water which symbolizes the birth and the life but also by the erotic light and human forms or the faces that one guesses in the rocks.
The only thing which persists is there…
The light comes from the top and the left.
Colors : Contrast between hot and cold, complementary colors.
Similars paintings :
Salvador Dali : Swans reflecting of the Elephants. 1937.
Salvador Dali : Ballerina in a Death's-head. (1939).
Salvador Dali : The Metamorphosis of Narcisse. (1937).