Salvador Dali's The Persistence of Memory is the eccentric Spanish painter's most recognizable work. You have probably committed its melting clocks to memory, but you may not know all that went into its making and legacy.
1. The Persistence Of Memory was painted in the midst of a hallucination.
Around the time of the painting’s 1931 creation, Dali perfected his "paranoiac-critical method." The artist would attempt to enter a meditative state of self-induced psychotic hallucinations so that he could make what he called “hand-painted dream photographs.”
Of this unusual routine, he's wrote, “I am the first to be surprised and often terrified by the images I see appear upon my canvas. I register without choice and with all possible exactitude the dictates of my subconscious, my dreams.”
2. It's smaller than you might expect.
The Persistence of Memory is one of Dali's biggest triumphs, but the actual oil on canvas painting measures only 9 1/2” x 13".
3. It made Dali world famous AT 28.
Dali began painting when he was just six years old. As a young man, he flirted with fame, working with Spanish filmmaker Luis Buñuel on the groundbreaking surrealist shorts Un Chien Andalou and L'Age d'Or. Despite these early rumblings, Dali’s big break didn’t come until he created his signature work—the press and the public went mad for him when The Persistence of Memory appeared at the Julien Levy Gallery in New York City in 1932.
4. The Persistence of Memory stayed in New York thanks to an anonymous donor.
After its gallery show, a patron bought the piece and donated it to the Museum of Modern Art in 1934. It’s been a highlight of MoMA's collection for 80 years and counting.
5. By this time Dali was no LONGER A certified surrealist.
At least, he wasn't considered one by the official surrealist society. Though Dali had become the most famous surrealist painter in the world, his fellow surrealists gave him the boot over concerns about Dali’s alleged fascist leanings. At his ousting, Dali declared, "I myself am surrealism."
6. Einstein's work may have been an influence.
The Persistence of Memory has sparked considerable academic debate as scholars interpret the painting. Some critics believe the melting watches in the piece are a response to Albert Einstein's Theory of Relativity. As critic Dawn Ades put it, "the soft watches are an unconscious symbol of the relativity of space and time."
7. Dali’s EXPLANATION WAS CHEESIER
When asked directly if Einstein's Theory of Relativity was an inspiration, Dali declared his true muse for the deformed clocks was a wheel of Camembert cheese that had melted in the sun. As Dali considered himself and his persona an extension of his work, the seriousness of this response is also up for debate.
8. Its landscape comes from Dali's childhood.
His native Catalonia had a major influence on Dali's works. His family's summer house in the shade of Mount Pani (also known as Mount Panelo) inspired him to integrate its likeness into his paintings again and again, like in View of Cadaqués with Shadow of Mount Pani. In The Persistence of Memory, the shadow of Mount Pani drapes the foreground, while Cape Creus and its craggy coast lie in the background.
9. This painting has a (sort of) sequel.
In 1954, Dali revisited the composition of The Persistence of Memory for The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory. Alternately known as The Chromosome of a Highly-coloured Fish's Eye Starting the Harmonious Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory, the oil on canvas piece is believed to represent Dali's prior work being broken down to its elements, or atoms.
10. Between these two paintings, Dali's personal obsession shifted.
Though the subjects of The Persistence of Memory and The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory are the same, their differences illustrated the shifts that took place between periods of Dali's career. The first painting was created in the midst of his Freudian phase, when Dali was fascinated by the dream analysis pioneered by Sigmund Freud. By the 1950s, when the latter was painted, Dali's dark muse had become the science of the atomic age.
Dali explained this transition, saying, "In the surrealist period, I wanted to create the iconography of the interior world – the world of the marvelous, of my father Freud. I succeeded in doing it. Today the exterior world – that of physics – has transcended the one of psychology. My father today is [theoretical physicist] Dr. Heisenberg."
11. Freud Reciprocated DALI’S ADMIRATION
The father of psychoanalysis was not a fan of the surrealists, who he felt were too conscious of the art they were making and didn't understand his theories. Dali was the exception. When the two met in 1938, Dali was giddily sketching a portrait of his 82-year-old idol when Freud whispered, "That boy looks like a fanatic." The comment delighted Dali, as did Freud's suggestion that his The Metamorphosis of Narcissus would be of value to the study of psychoanalysis. Freud later said, "I've always viewed that the surrealists were 100% fools, but this Spanish young man with the fanatic eyes of a genius made me reconsider that opinion."
12.The Persistence of Memory may be a self-portrait.
The floppy profile at the painting's center might be meant to represent Dali himself, as the artist was fond of self-portraits. Previously painted self-portraits include Self-Portrait in the Studio, Cubist Self-portrait, Self-Portrait with "L' Humanite" and Self-portrait (1921).
13. There were more melting clocks to come.
14. The Persistence of Memory has aliases.
It's also known as Soft Watches, Droopy Watches, The Persistence of Time, and Melting Clocks.
15. The Painting has become ingrained in pop culture.
The Persistence of Memory has been referenced on television in The Simpsons, Futurama, Hey Arnold, Doctor Who and Sesame Street. Likewise, it's been alluded to in the animated movie Looney Tunes: Back in Action, in the popular comic strip The Far Side, and in videogames like EarthBound and Crash Bandicoot 2: N-Tranced. It was even parodied to mock the NFL’s recent DeflateGate scandal.