The Burning Giraffe by Salvador Dali

The Burning Giraffe by Salvador Dali

"The Burning Giraffe" (or "The Giraffe on Fire") is one of the most famous and memorable works of the surrealist paintings by Salvador Dali. This masterpiece, small in size (35 x 27 cm, oil on wood), but very powerful in its effect on the viewer, is now exhibited in Basel, in the local Art Museum. So, if you are in that part of the world, do not miss the pleasure of admiring the "Giraffe on Fire"!


The Burning Giraffe was painted by Salvador Dali in 1936-1937 - and this fact is important to take into account for a correct understanding of the plot of the picture. In general, to understand the paintings of Salvador Dali, as we have already said more than once, you need to imagine exactly what events took place in the world in general and in the life of Salvador Dali in particular at the time of creating this or that painting.


In 1936, the Spanish Civil War began - a confrontation which was destined to become of the bloodiest intra-national conflicts of the 20th century, which, moreover, became a dress rehearsal for the Second World War. Of course, Dali and Gala did not want to be inside the Spanish fraternal meat grinder at all - therefore, in a hurry, they left Spain, and their pleasant "wanderings" across Europe began.

I deliberately put "wanderings" in brackets: by that time Salvador Dali already had fame, some money, acquaintances, connections ... Therefore, everything would not be so sad if it were not for the aggressive plans of Hitler, who fanned the world fire in Europe ...

That imaginary or real admiration that Dali sometimes showed in relation to the odious figure of Hitler was quickly replaced by fear, and everything ended, as we know, with the flight of Dali and Gal to the United States, stretching for 8 years.

It seems that already in 1936-37, creating his "Burning Giraffe", Dali, very sensitive, as befits a creative person, foresaw the disasters awaiting the whole world. And no matter how often Salvador Dali declared publicly that he is "outside politics", that "politics does not interest him in the least," - this very politics itself, without demand, intruded  into his work, which can be perceived as a document, albeit a very peculiar one, of that era ...

The first and most accurate indicator, always giving us an unmistakable understanding of how good or bad everything is in Dali's life and in his worldview - the sky. Dali loved to paint the sky - and he always did it masterfully. But remember the sunlit sky in Dali's paintings of the first half of the 30s - and compare it with the gloomy twilight light in this picture. This sky of a sated, alarming color warns: the twilight of the world is coming, and the night that will come after that will be truly terrible.

In Dali's native Spain, the horror has already begun, and the giraffe, engulfed in fire in the depths against the backdrop of the mountains surrounding the Ampordan Valley (the place where Dali was born), stands as a symbol of war-torn Spain.

The monster woman in the foreground is interesting for the abundance of drawers and strange outgrowths, reminiscent at the same time of an exaggerated phallus and an unrecognizable "soft watch" by Salvador Dali. These processes are not able to support themselves - for these purposes crutches are needed, which also constantly appear in Dali's paintings of that period. It is possible that this is how the artist points out problems with his own sexual potency, which he not only never hid, but even was proud of it.


As for the boxes, they symbolize the secrets of the subconscious and are an unconditional tribute to Sigmund Freud, whom Dali considered the greatest of people.

Here is a quote from The Secret Life of Salvador Dali : "The only difference between immortal Greece and our era is Sigmund Freud, who discovered that the human body, which the Greeks perceived exclusively as a Neoplatonic object, in reality consists of many secret boxes, which have now become possible to open with the help of psychoanalysis."

The boxes, as it is not difficult to notice, are open - a clear indication that war releases in people all their deep instincts, which they did not even know in peacetime - that primitive, cruel essence that lives in the depths of each of us. A piece of raw meat in the hand of another female monster in the background to the right testifies to the same animal essence that lies dormant in every person.

The war instantly tore off the theatrical coverings of civilization from the Man - and revealed the bloodlust, originally and by definition, inherent in a human being. Alas, it was really so - and Dali, with his inherent talent, was able to vividly convey this.

Sergei and Tatiana tour guides Barcelona

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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