How well do you know the world’s favorite Surrealist painter?
Salvador Dali was not only a prolific artist known for his Surreal landscapes and melting clocks, but a keen observer of the human condition, and an enthusiast of math and science. If you’re an artist yourself (heck, even if you’re not!) here are a few Salvador Dali paintings you’ll probably want to be familiar with.
Five important paintings by Salvador Dali
1: The Persistence of Memory
The most famous Salvador Dali painting, The Persistence of Memory has been imprinted in America’s cultural consciousness for over 80 years.
For that reason alone, every artist should be aware of Dali’s quintessential melting clocks, and his fascination with Surreal dreamscapes and subconscious symbolism.
Dali liquefied more timepieces later in life, creating two more paintings exploring these same Surreal symbols, but it’s this first painting from 1931 that caught the public’s attention in a big way.
As soon as The Persistence of Memory was displayed in New York in 1932, Americans were obsessed with this eccentric, larger-than-life artist and his Surrealist paintings.
2: The Temptation of Saint Anthony
Another of Dali’s iconic images is these towering, spindly-legged elephants, which are thought to signify war or conflict to the artist.
This Surrealist scene shows them carrying the temptations of lust, sex, and power on their backs, directly towards the emaciated figure of Saint Anthony, who appears battered but not beaten by their approach.
Sex and the subconscious played a significant role in Dali’s work, especially during his 20s and 30s. It was his deep interest in Freudian psychoanalysis and the psychological meaning of dreams that led to his first Surrealist period, which contains many of his most famous desert dreamscapes.
This painting in particular brings together several motifs seen throughout his larger body of work.
3: Galatea of the Spheres
This piece was created as an homage to his wife and lifelong muse, Gala, painted in expanding spheres.
If you love Dali’s work, or even if you’re just learning about Salvador Dali right now, you should know that much of his inspiration came from Gala.
Not only did she pose as his model for many of his paintings, but she was also his agent and worked with galleries and buyers on his behalf. In truth, Dali and Gala had a complex, often tumultuous relationship. . . one that art historians are still unraveling, and will be for many years to come.
But one thing’s for certain: without Gala in his life, Dali’s art and influence in the world may have never blossomed as it did.
Painted in 1952, Galatea of the Spheres combines Dali’s consistent obsession (Gala) with his newfound scientific interest in the molecules and atoms that tie the world together.
It’s a stunning example of Dali’s skill at blending hyper-realistic imagery and Surrealism.
4: Still Life – Fast Moving
Still Life – Fast Moving is one of Dali’s most technically-proficient Surrealist paintings, featuring a truly surreal still life displayed on a balcony overlooking the ocean.
Dali packed this painting full of hyper-realistic imagery (and some of his favorite symbols, like the rhinoceros horn) but the real visual impact comes from each piece floating above the surface of the table.
The levitating knife and other objects once again reference his interest in the nature of atoms. His fascination with their constant vibrational movement is key to understanding this piece.
5: Portrait of Paul Eluard
This painting is the most expensive Salvador Dali artwork ever sold to date, bringing in a whopping 22.5 million dollars at a Sotheby’s art auction in 2011.
That would be enough to earn it a place on this list all by itself, but the history of this painting (and the people behind it) is fascinating as well.
Dali painted this portrait early in his Surrealist career in 1929, after meeting Paul Eluard and the rest of the Surrealists for the first time in Paris.
But besides being a prominent French Surrealist poet, Eluard was also Gala’s first husband—yes, the same Gala who would later go on to marry Dali. No doubt this gave rise to many of the Freudian symbols that Dali included within the composition.
Curious about Salvador Dali? Want to know more about his life and art?