Elephants - Salvador Dali

Elephants, 1948 by Salvador Dali

"Elephants" was painted by Salvador Dali in 1948, and, in fact, can be considered almost the last canvas of the artist, made in the genre of surrealism, before the onset of a new stage in the artist's career - the so-called"nuclear mysticism".


Salvador Dali, as a constantly evolving personality, has long since become cramped within the framework of the surrealist trend, and therefore the obelisks that animals "carry" on their backs can be considered tombstones of surrealism - at least in the works of Dali himself.

Yes, elephants with long and slender articulated legs, which seem to be about to break, have appeared more than once in other Dali's paintings. Suffice it to recall the wonderful work of 1944 - "A dream caused by the flight of a bee around a pomegranate", or the equally famous and also wonderful painting "The Temptation of St. Anthony" (1946).

The very fact that Dali, albeit talented, but repeats itself, already eloquently testifies that the artist is tired within the framework of surrealism set by him. The painting "Elephants", where these fantastic, completely "Dalian" animals for the first time are not secondary, but the main characters - at the same time the least successful of all.

An artist - especially a master of such a high scale as Dali was - must not repeat himself. For a creative person, in general, repetition is a step backward. While you are marking time, your competitors can easily run ahead - so far that you can't catch them!

But Dali, as we know, loved to repeatedly exploit the once successfully found image - and, admittedly, he did it brilliantly. For the first time, an elephant with long and slender legs-stilts, with an Egyptian obelisk on its back, appeared in Dali's painting "A Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee Around a Pomegranate."

This is how Dali himself described this image: "Bernini's elephant in the background bears an obelisk and the attributes of the Pope." In this statement, the artist obviously alludes to a dream about the funeral of the Pope, which Sigmund Freud once dreamed about because of the bell ringing, and  which was later cited by a psychiatrist as an example of a very intricate connection between the plot and an external stimulus in his famous book "The Interpretation of Dreams".

Freud was deified by Salvador Dali, and he considered "The Interpretation of Dreams" to be his bible - so the appearance of the sun with an Egyptian obelisk on his back in the works of Dali the surrealist is not accidental.

However, we note that this is not at all the elephant that was sculpted at the time by order of the Pope Giovanni to Lorenzo Bernini. To the massive carcass, Dali added the thinnest, "almost invisible" spider legs, and immediately got a surreal elephant - a wonderful multi-valued image, a universal tool with which he was able to express a huge variety of ideas!

For example, in the painting "A Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee," an elephant on spider legs symbolizes the fragility and instability of a dream, in "Saint Anthony" - the severity of sinful thoughts that overwhelm the saint ... How is this image remembered first of all? The fact that the massive carcass of an elephant comes into obvious conflict with the legs that are clearly unable to support this weight. But this contradiction is only apparent.

Let's remember one of the key techniques of surrealism - mixing dream and reality. Let's remember this - and everything will fall into place. Dali's elephants do not really exist - they are only a product of sleep, imagination or thought - and thought, imagination, sleep, as we know, are immaterial, therefore in the physical world they weigh absolutely nothing!

The imaginary, or "mental" elephants of Salvador Dali, in general, for that matter, do not need any props to float in space. By the way, if you take a closer look at the painting, you will see that the massive stone obelisks, visually adding massiveness to the carcasses of elephants, in fact, do not even touch the backs of the animals.

They, being another product of fantasy, dream or thought, weigh exactly the same as the elephants themselves - that is, nothing. Dali was able to mix together dream and reality as no one else, and if you add the brilliant mind of the artist, his highly imaginative thinking and refined technique, it becomes clear why his works are so good.

The image of the "Dalian elephant" is one of the most successful images invented by Dali. It can be endowed, depending on the circumstances, with a variety of meanings.


For me personally, for example, Dali's elephant is a wonderful allegory of our entire existence, which often seems to us (it seems, seems to be in the imagination) very solid and unshakable - but any ridiculous accident is enough for all this imaginary solidity to collapse in a second and turn to dust. Well, tell me that I'm wrong?

By the way, Dali himself often called his elephants "space creatures", clearly indicating their weightlessness. The artist also made a piece of jewelry that is called "The Space Elephant". Nowadays, along with a whole collection of other Dalí jewelry, you can admire the space elephant at the Salvador Dalí Theater-Museum in Figueres (read the original text in Russian)

The author of the article is Sergei Zakharov, a writer and tour guide. When reprinting materials, please indicate the active link to the source. You can learn more about our books and buy them in the "Where and what to read" section. We invite you to our tours of the Dali museums in Catalonia. revealing secrets, debunking myths, telling the truth - we promise full and deep immersion in the amazing Universe of Salvador Dali! 

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