Salvador Dali 1904-1989
The Persistence of Memory
The Persistence of Memory (‘La persistencia de la memoria’ in Spanish) is a 1931 painting by Surrealist artist Salvador Dali. Salvador Dali produced many lithographs and paintings using the images of soft watches: the Persistence of Memory, the Nobility of Time, the Profile of Time and the Three Dancing Watches.
This surrealist painting features the iconic image of the soft melting pocket watch. The Persistence of Memory shows imagery found in dreams or the dream state. Dali's themes of soft and hard, are seen as the clocks melt in the heat. The collapse of the clocks is meant to show a collapse in internal and external moral order, as well as a nod to the collapse of space and time: a theory introduced by Albert Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity.
The Persistence of Memory is the seminal piece of Dalí's Post-Freudian period. Dali’s scientific phase officially began in 1945, after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan.
A human form in the middle of the Persistence of Memory is what used in several pieces to represent the artist. This monster or abstract self portrait is a theme that appears often in his work. The clock at the bottom left hand side of the painting is crawling in ants and symbolizes death and decay.
In the middle of the picture a foreign creature represents when a dreamer cannot tell the name of what they dreamed about. The creature has one closed eye: this suggests that the creature itself is in an unconscious state. The clocks symbolize the passage of time when we are sleeping. The drooping, dripping pocket watches are suggesting the absence of time during sleep. When we are unconscious, time does not exist.
Salvador Dali employs light to communicate ideas. There are two rocks in the sand on the beach. The rock to the left is in the shadow, and the one to the right is lit by the sun. The ants and the three melted clocks and a fetus shaped form are in the shadows. The mountains and the water are in the sunlight. The difference between soft , or unconscious, (the dream state) and hard objects (reality) , or conscious awareness is evident.
Salvador Dali returned to the dream theme of The Persistence of Memory with the companion piece The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory in 1954. The Persistence of Memory was systematically breaking into smaller pieces in The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory. The contents of this painting breaking apart mark the end of the popularity of psychoanalysis. This new turn of the century knowledge of subatomic particles, is a modern concept that surpasses psychoanalysis and psychology as a more intelligent approach to the meaning of life. Salvador Dali was very well read and studied Nietzsche and Freud as well as Einstein’s theories.
The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory is in the Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida. The Persistence of Memory is at New York’s Museum of Modern Art.