Metamorphosis of Narcissus - Salvador Dali

Metamorphosis of Narcissus - Salvador Dali

Salvador Dali painted "The Metamorphosis of Narcissus" (50.8 х 78.3 cm, oil on canvas) in 1937, and this painting, according to the artist himself, was his first piece created in absolutely full accordance with the paranoid-critical method developed by Dali himself.


 In this sense, the painting "Metamorphosis of Narcissus" became for him a turning point, marking the final transition from surrealism as "pure automatism" to a higher level, which, according to Dali, was his own method.

Before tackling "Metamorphosis", let us recall the definition given to the method by Salvador Dali himself: the paranoid-critical method is a method of irrational cognition based on an explanatory-critical interpretation of paranoid (delusional, hallucinatory) phenomena.

Translating the above into simple language, if surrealism is a mechanical fixation of images of the subconscious, then the paranoid-critical method is not just delirium (dream, hallucination), but "systematized and explained delirium". And if this systemic fixation of delirium occurs at the technical level of Salvador Dali, masterpieces are born that change the history of art.

By the way, Dali is absolutely right: the painting "Metamorphoses of Narcissus" is not just a double image, as, for example, "Spain" or "The Great Paranoid", painted a year earlier - but the image, let's say, "split", that is, an image and his interpretation, captured separately within the same plot.

It is not excluded that the impetus for making this work  was the publication of "Metamorphoses" by Ovid with illustrations by Pablo Picasso. For Dali, this was a certain challenge (we have already written more than once that Dali, having achieved fame, wanted to outstrip the artist from Malaga, whom, as a young man, he looked at with delight and adoration) - so that his "Narcissus" could materialize because of this eternal spirit of rivalry with Picasso.

However, I am sure that this is far from the only reason. Firstly, Dali himself was an unsurpassed "narcissist", moreover, conscious and proud of his narcissism, and secondly, the very concept of "narcissism" was introduced into psychiatry by Sigmund Freud, who for Salvdor Dali was God incarnate until the late forties - no more, no less.

By the way, Dali brought exactly this painting to his first and only meeting with Freud - and was incredibly happy about the positive reaction of the old man Freud to his work.

Narcissus is the son of the river god Kephis and the nymph Liriola, a young man of extraordinary beauty, whose love was sought by thousands of persons, both male and female, but Narcissus contemptuously rejected their love, condemning them to torment, and some even to death. The rejected prayed to Nemesis, and she heeded their pleas to punish the cold insolent.

Nemesis made it so that during one of the hunts Narcissus saw his reflection in the river, fell in love with it and, unable to leave it, died in the same place from hunger and thirst. When the nymphs came for his body, they saw that a beautiful flower, named after a narcissistic youth, had grown at the place of Narcissus's death.

Starting to work on the painting, Dali noticed that it was worth looking closely at the figure of Narcissus leaning towards the water for some time, moving back a certain distance, and the figure gradually began to disappear, turning into a stone palm, whose fingers were holding an egg, or an onion, from which a tuber would soon sprout ...

By the way, both the egg and the onion as an image-symbol fit the plot of the picture perfectly. The egg is as a symbol of birth and new life, and the onion is a reminder of the Spanish proverb: "He has a bulb in his head", which means "obsession with an obsession" or a complex - for example, the same narcissism.

If it were just a surreal picture, Dali would have managed to fit both images - the hand and Narcissus into one image, to make "two in one", which, in fact, is called a double image, for which he was an unsurpassed master.

However, "Metamorphoses of Narcissus" was created in the mainstream of the paranoid-critical method - and therefore, according to Dali, we see before us "the first phenomenon of a surrealistic composition, which included a consistent interpretation of an irrational plot."

In other words, it is a "split double image", similar to what we see in the painting "Swans Reflecting Elephants", made in accordance with the same method. I would like to point out one more interesting remark by Salvador Dali, who tirelessly emphasized then that a pictorial image achieves true philosophical depth only in the case of mathematical precision in depicting its smallest details.

This mathematical, photographic, hyperrealistic "accuracy" of Dali in depicting something that can exist only in the form of a dream, hallucination or delirium is the main secret of the success of paintings by a mustachioed Catalan - of course, in my opinion, which is the only true :)

Of course, we do not discount the incredible diligence of Maestro Dali, skillfully guided by the iron hand of his wife, as well as by his own ambitions, which Dali always grew at a truly cosmic speed. However, in addition to endless self-praise, from which smacks of delirium of greatness, Salvador used to work really hard all hid life. Yes, the artist was a rare hard worker and a real fanatic of the painting craft, tirelessly expanding the technical arsenal available to him.

In an effort to achieve the desired visual effect in this painting, he tried a bunch of paints, including quite rare ones: black ivory, Windsor red, Prussian blue, cobalt green ... For this hard work and obsession with work, the artist can be forgiven a lot - if not all.

It is interesting that Salvador Dali accompanied "Metamorphoses of Narcissus" with the poem of the same name, which is a literary explanatory interpretation of the plot of the painting - as we have already said, Dali had a great literary talent.

The authors of the article are Sergei Zakharov and his wife, colleague and comrad-in-arms, Tatiana - writers and tour guides. 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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