Dalí and Freud

Thursday, 2018, February 1

Dalí’s connection with the Austrian neurologist/psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud is well-documented. Well versed in Freud’s theories of accessing the subconscious for surreal and artistic inspiration, Dalí considered dreams and imaginations central to human thought.

Dalí aspired to personally meet Freud- during the 1920s and 1930s, he went to Vienna several times but failed to meet him.

Dalí said in his autobiography, in his typically eccentric style, The Secret Life of Salvador Dalí,"I remember with a gentle melancholy spending those afternoons walking haphazardly along the streets of Austria’s ancient capital. The chocolate tart, which I would hurriedly eat between the short intervals of going from one antiquary to another, had a slightly bitter taste (…) In the evening I held long and exhaustive imaginary conversations with Freud; he came home with me once and stayed all night clinging to the curtains of my room in the Hotel Sacher.” 

In 1938 his wish came true and Dalí met Freud in his London home. During the visit, Dalí sketched Freud, and  the resulting artwork Portrait of Sigmund Freud, now hangs in the Freud museum ( www.freud.org.uk) in Maresfield Gardens, Hampstead, which was the last home of the psychoanalyst.  

Dalí read Die Traumdetung, (The Interpretation of Dreams’ (1899) Freud ‘s seminal text which discusses theories of the unconscious and dream interpretation. The psychoanalytic theories of Freud inspired the Surrealists and left their mark on Dalí and his iconography, which can be seen in  paintings such as Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee Around a Pomegranate One Minute Before Awakening (1944). Dalí explained the painting  in this way “ to express for the first time in images Freud’s discovery of the typical dream (…) the consequence of the instantaneousness of a chance event which causes the sleeper to wake up. Thus, as a bar might fall on the neck of a sleeping person, causing them to wake up and for a long dream to end with the guillotine blade falling on them, the noise of the bee here provokes the sensation of the sting which will awaken Gala.”

As Dalí comments in his autobiography ‘The only difference between immortal Greece and the present time, is Sigmund Freud,  who discovered that the human body is full of secret drawers  that only psychoanalysis is capable of opening’.

Freud was impressed after meeting Dalí, commenting on the Catalans’ technical mastery, he writes to Stefan Zweig; another great Austrian intellectual:

‘I was inclined to look upon the surrealists, who have apparently chosen me as their patron saint, as absolute cranks. The young Spaniard, however, with his candid fanatical eyes and his undeniable technical mastery, has made me reconsider my opinion.
Freud died in 1939, during Dalí’s perhaps most fertile period. In many of Dalí’s artworks there is a surreal, unconscious, dreamlike quality, for example in the painting Persistence of Memory’( 1931). The message in the artwork is that our subliminal unconscious mind is present in what we do in our daily lives and has more power over us than man-made objects of the conscious world.  

Freud was right when he said Dalí was technical master, his huge body of work attests to this.