The Swallow's Tail - Salvador Dali's last painting

Topological Abduction of Europe — Homage to René Thom

 The Swallow's Tail - Series of Catactrophes (73.20 X 93, 20 cm; oil on canvas) is the last painting by Salvador Dali, finished in April 1983 at the Pubol castle, where the artist lived at that time.


The fact that the painting was completed by Salvador Dali in the Gala Castle is not accidental. On June 10, 1982, Dali transported the body of the deceased Gala from Port Lligat to Pubol, where she was buried in the crypt of the castle, and he himself, instead of returning to his home in Port Lligat, stayed there, next to the grave of his second half.

By no means Dali could return to his beloved home, where the best years were lived and the best paintings were created, where Gala and him were happy. Dali simply cold not do it. The psychological barrier turned out to be insurmountable. The death of Gala meant the beginning of the end for Dali himself. The artist's mental and physical health was in a deplorable state.

Of course, he tried to paint, but mainly because he was used to doing it all his life. However, the increasingly severe tremor of his right hand made it almost impossible. Honestly, the point was not in the tremor - but in the fact that with the death of Gala Salvador lost his desire to live, turning into a sick decrepit old man.

In a word, Dali was quickly turning into ruin - although at times, as Antonio Pitxot (a close friend of the artist, director of the Theater-Museum in Figueres), recalled, almost the same clarity of mind and firmness of hand returned to the fading Dali. Most likely, it was during such periods of brief "enlightenment" that the painting "Swallow's Tail" was created.

"Swallow's Tail" is the most "mathematical" canvas of the artist, painted in full accordance with the assertion of Dali himself that "in the future, art will walk hand in hand with the achievements of contemporary science." Dali followed this maxim in his artwork for decades, and even the last, most sad period, was no exception.

Even at this not the most joyful time, Dali was reading the book "Structural stability and morphogenesis" by the French mathematician Rene Thom. René Thom is the creator of a branch of mathematics known as "catastrophe theory", which includes the theory of bifurcations of differential equations (dynamical systems) and the theory of singularities of equilibrium surfaces.


Since all of the above to a person far from mathematics will naturally seem "slightly incomprehensible", Rene Thom, who sought to popularize his ideas, coined the term "catastrophe theory" as more understandable to the general public. For greater clarity, we note that "catastrophe" here means a sharp qualitative change in an object with a smooth quantitative change in the parameters of the objects on which it depends. The basis of the theory of catastrophes is the theory of stability, which is studied in technical universities.

Thom tried to apply his theoretical positions to various issues - from linguistic phenomena to the shape of a flower. This universality, as well as the poetic names for seven different types of catastrophes proposed by Tom, could not, of course, pass by Salvador Dali, a poet and creator who was always keenly interested in science.

Dali was most interested in the third type of catastrophes called "Swallow's Tail", the schedule of which became the starting point for painting the picture. Dali added to it a graphic image of a catastrophe of the second type, known as "Cusp" - visually close to the shape of the letter "S".

The mathematical implication of the painting "The Swallow's Tail" is also evidenced by the sign of the integral, which surprisingly echoes the slots in the soundboard of the cello - f-holes, which, in turn, resemble nothing more than Salvador Dali's mustache! At first glance, it is obvious that the schedule of the "Swallow's Tail" disaster is at the same time the artist's face, where the mouth is depicted as a crack in the wall of the Pubol castle, which constantly, for some unknown reason, attracted Dali's attention before, and the mustache corresponds a cello f-holes ...

Yes. here we can see just these mustaches, always perky sticking up (remember: according to Dali, his mustaches are antennas aimed at the sky and sensitively perceiving his divine energy, in other words - inspiration) - so, these mustaches sadly drooped and lowered down, which reflects exactly the depressing state of the artist.

The Swallow's Tail - Salvador Dali's last painting


Poor, unfortunate Dali! Dali, who was not so long ago a king, master of minds and master of the world! Gala left, and with her the desire to live - after all, by "life" in relation to Dali, one should understand, first of all, creativity.

The same thoughts - about sadness, loneliness and suffering - are suggested by the image of the cello in the upper left corner of the picture. Its appearance in the painting is not accidental: one of the nurses who looked after the Maestro knew how to play the cello - and sometimes, at Dali's request, played for him, trying to somehow entertain the artist suffering from a protracted and severe depression.

Most likely, the sad and at the same time beautiful sounds, drawn from the cello by the nurse, were perfectly associated by Dali with his deeply oppressed and suffering ego. Recall that the cello is also present in other works of that period - just remember "Bed and two bedside tables, violently attacking the cello":

And everywhere, everywhere in these eerie chaotic canvases, the cello  is cruelly tormented by its offendersis. They beat her, torture her, break her through, forcing her to bleed with precious blood ... The image of the suffering cello is Dali himself, totally crushed by the militant injustice of the world.

This is exactly how - as the unjustified cruelty of heaven towards him, the "divine" Dali - the artist perceived the death of his wife. "The Swallow's Tail" is Dali's last painting. After finishing it, the artist left painting completely, and his mind plunged into a deep sleep, filled with monsters and ghosts from the past - a dream that stretched out for five gloomy years and ended only with his death ...

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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