The Enigma of William Tell - Salvador Dali

The Enigma of William Tell - Salvador Dali

"The Enigma of William Tell" was painted by Salvador Dali in 1933 and became far from the first artist's appeal to the image of a Swiss folk hero. For Dali the personality of the national hero of Switzerland was firmly associated with his own father, as well as it was strongly intertwined with the "Oedipus complex" - a phenomenon first described and introduced into psychoanalysis by Sigmund Freud, the absolute idol for Salvador Dali.

The Oedipus complex is a conscious or unconscious sexual attraction of a child to a parent of the opposite sex and ambivalence towards a parent of the same sex. The name is associated with the ancient Greek myth about King Oedipus, who, without knowing it, kills his father, Lai, and marries his mother, Jocasta. Freud considered the Oedipus complex as one of the obligatory stages of psychosexual development and perception.

For boys, its mechanism proceeds as follows: a child, experiencing sexual attraction to his mother, at the same time experiences jealous and hostile feelings towards his father, which, of course, he tries to hide. The father is his stronger and more successful rival, so the boy is naturally afraid of him, expecting punishment in the form of castration. Due to the fear of castration, a special instance is formed in the child's mental life - the Super-I, under the influence of which the boy suppresses the incestuous attraction to his mother and eventually begins to associate himself with his father.

The legend of the well-aimed shooter William Tell, who, as we know, had to shoot an apple installed on the head of his own son, Dali considered a classic example of the Oedipus complex: a cruel dominant father seeks to destroy his weaker sexual salper, his son - however, punishment here it is not castration that comes forward, but death.

That is why Salvador Dali associates William Tell with his own father, who, according to the artist, showed the same cruelty towards him, trying to suppress him, deprive him of independence and completely destroy his newborn happiness . Recall: not long before, the father of Salvador Dali categorically opposed his son's connection with a married woman, Gala, and made every effort to break it. When he failed to achieve this goal, he expelled Dali from home and even deprived him of his inheritance.

However, it is not so much about the "inheritance", which  was relatively small, but about the fact that Dali lost the only financial basis of his existence at that time - the support of his father. This is why Dali and Gala's first years together were poor, difficult and full of anxious expectations.

Then, since the break (1930), Dali began to paint his father precisely in the image of the cruel tyrant William Tell, who wanted to destroy his offspring. This situation was not yet eliminated in 1933, when the picture was done - it was difficult to survive so far, therefore the theme of the tyrant father remained relevant for Salvador.

Here is what Dali himself said about this painting : "William Tell is my father, and the child in his arms is me; instead of an apple on my head I have a raw cutlet. He is going to devour me. A tiny nut near his foot hides a tiny baby - my wife Gala. His foot constantly threatens her. As soon as he slightly moves his foot, the nut will be crushed. "

As you can see, the description of the painting by the artist himself fully confirms the above. I must say that by the time the painting was done, Salvador Dali's passion for the ideas of communism and the world revolution had already passed. The surrealists, on the contrary, were in no hurry to overthrow the image of the leader of the world proletariat from the pedestal - and even vice versa. 

To understand why Dali repeatedly portrayed Lenin in those years, and even in a very dubious setting, you just need to remember that Dali was quickly gaining power and fame then, becoming the brightest member of the Surrelist circle. This was far from the timid village boy  that Dali had come to these brilliant Parisians quite recently.

Dalí was gaining strength, Dalí felt his strength, and he felt more and more cramped in a communal surreal den, where everything was ruled by a "bear" named Andre Breton. Dali in general was too independent to tolerate someone's domination and someone's dictate, and if he did it before, it was only out of necessity. In other words, Lenin in the dubious image of William Tell is nothing more than an attempt to provoke the displeasure and even anger of some of his fellow surrealists, and above all, André Breton.

In modern terms, Salvador Dali was engaged in "trolling", deliberately exacerbating relations with colleagues. It is known that this picture, where Lenin-Tell-Dali's father is depicted naked, with an elongated buttock, at the same time reminiscent of a flabby penny, caused Breton's so hot indignation that he even tried to damage it by specially visiting the Salvador Dali exhibition. However, Dali was also far from being a fool: he ordered to hang the painting as high as possible - and thereby saved it for future generations! (Read the original text in Russian)

The Enigma of William Tell Salvador Dali

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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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