©Salvador Dali - The Persistence of Memory 1931

The Persistence of Memory 1931
The Persistence of Memory
1931 24x33cm oil/canvas
Museum of Modern Art, New York, USA

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The well-known surrealist piece introduced the image of the soft melting pocket watch. It epitomizes Dalí's theory of "softness" and "hardness", which was central to his thinking at the time. As Dawn Ades wrote, "The soft watches are an unconscious symbol of the relativity of space and time, a Surrealist meditation on the collapse of our notions of a fixed cosmic order". This interpretation suggests that Dalí was incorporating an understanding of the world introduced by Albert Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity. Asked by Ilya Prigogine whether this was in fact the case, Dalí replied that the soft watches were not inspired by the theory of relativity, but by the surrealist perception of a Camembert melting in the sun.
Although fundamentally part of Dalí's Freudian phase, the imagery precedes by fourteen years his transition to his scientific phase, which occurred after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.
It is possible to recognize a human figure in the middle of the composition, in the strange "monster" that Dalí used in several contemporary pieces to represent himself – the abstract form becoming something of a self-portrait, reappearing frequently in his work. The figure can be read as a "fading" creature, one that often appears in dreams where the dreamer cannot pinpoint the creature's exact form and composition. One can observe that the creature has one closed eye with several eyelashes, suggesting that the creature is also in a dream state. The iconography may refer to a dream that Dalí himself had experienced, and the clocks may symbolize the passing of time as one experiences it in sleep or the persistence of time in the eyes of the dreamer.
The orange clock at the bottom left of the painting is covered in ants. Dalí often used ants in his paintings as a symbol of decay.
The Persistence of Memory employs "the exactitude of realist painting techniques" to depict imagery more likely to be found in dreams than in waking consciousness.