Salvador Dalì'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.
1. THE PERSISTENCE OF MEMORY WAS PAINTED IN THE MIDST OF A HALLUCINATION.
Around the time of the painting’s 1931 creation, Dalì 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."
“I am the first to be surprised and often terrified by the images I see appear upon my canvas," Dalì wrote, referring to his unusual routine. "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 Dalì's philosophical triumphs, but the actual oil-on-canvas painting measures only 9.5 inches by 13 inches.
3. THE PAINTING MADE THE 28-YEAR-OLD ARTIST FAMOUS.
Dalì began painting when he was 6 years old. As a young man, he flirted with fame, working with Spanish filmmaker Luis Buñuel on his groundbreaking shorts Un Chien Andalou and L'Age d'Or. But Dalì’s big break didn’t come until he created his signature surrealist work. The press and the public went mad for him when The Persistence of Memory was shown 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 more than 80 years.
5. OTHER SURREALISTS PUT HIM ON TRIAL.
Though Dalì had become the most famous surrealist painter in the world, André Breton, the founder of surrealism, gave him the boot over concerns about Dalì’s alleged support of fascism. At his ousting from the Bureau for Surrealist Research, the loose network of surrealist artists and philosophers headed by Breton, Dalì declared, "I myself am surrealism."
6. EINSTEIN'S THEORIES MAY HAVE INFLUENCED DALÌ.
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. In her book Dalì and Surrealism, critic Dawn Ades writes, "the soft watches are an unconscious symbol of the relativity of space and time."
7. DALÌ'S EXPLANATION WAS CHEESIER.
Dalì declared that his true muse for the deformed clocks was a wheel of Camembert cheese that had melted in the sun. As Dalì considered himself and his persona an extension of his work, the truthfulness of his response is also up for debate.
8. ITS LANDSCAPE COMES FROM DALÌ'S CHILDHOOD.
Dalì's native Catalonia had a major influence on his 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. THE PAINTING HAS A SEQUEL (SORT OF).
In 1954, Dalì revisited the composition of The Persistence of Memory for a new work, 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 Dalì's prior work being broken down to its atomic elements.
10. BETWEEN PAINTING THESE TWO WORKS, DALÌ'S OBSESSIONS 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 Dalì's career. The first painting was created in the midst of his Freudian phase, when Dalì was fascinated by the dream analysis pioneered by Sigmund Freud. By the 1950s, when the latter was painted, Dalì's dark muse had become the science of the atomic age.
"In the surrealist period, I wanted to create the iconography of the interior world—the world of the marvelous, of my father Freud," Dalì explained. "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 DALÌ'S ADMIRATION.
Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, was not a fan of the surrealists, whom he felt were too conscious of the art they were making and didn't understand his theories. Dalì was the exception. When the two met in 1938, Dalì was giddily sketching a portrait of his 82-year-old idol when Freud whispered, "That boy looks like a fanatic." The comment delighted Dalì, as did Freud's suggestion that his The Metamorphosis of Narcissus would be of value to the study of psychoanalysis. Freud later said, "I have been inclined to regard the surrealists as complete fools, but that young Spaniard with his candid, fanatical eyes and his undeniable technical mastery, has changed my estimate."
12.THE PERSISTENCE OF MEMORY MAY BE A SELF-PORTRAIT.
The floppy profile at the painting's center might be meant to represent Dalì 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' Humanité" and Self-Portrait (Figueres).
13. THERE WERE MORE MELTING CLOCKS TO COME.
In the 1970s, Dalì revisited his squishy timepieces in sculptures like Dance of Time I, II, & III; Nobility of Time, and Profile of Time. He also included them in lithographs.
14. THE PERSISTENCE OF MEMORY HAS ALIASES.
The masterpiece is 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 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 DeflateGate scandal.