Art & History

The Persistence of Memory – Salvador Dalí | Painting & Facts

The Persistence of Memory (Catalan: La persistència de la memòria) is a 1931 painting by artist Salvador Dalí, and is one of his most recognizable works.

First shown at the Julien Levy Gallery in 1932, since 1934 the painting has been in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City, which received it from an anonymous donor. It is widely recognized and frequently referenced in popular culture, and sometimes referred to by more descriptive (though incorrect) titles, such as ‘The Soft Watches’ or ‘The Melting Watches’.

Facts About Painting

  • IT’S SMALLER THAN YOU MIGHT EXPECT.

    The Persistence of Memory is one of Dali’s biggest triumphs, but the actual oil on canvas painting measures only 9 1/2” x 13″.

  • IT MADE DALI WORLD FAMOUS AT 28.

    Dali began painting when he was just six years old. As a young man, he flirted with fame, working with Spanish filmmaker Luis Buñuel on the groundbreaking surrealist shorts Un Chien Andalou and L’Age d’Or. Despite these early rumblings, Dali’s big break didn’t come until he created his signature work—the press and the public went mad for him when The Persistence of Memory appeared at the Julien Levy Gallery in New York City in 1932.

  • THE PERSISTENCE OF MEMORY STAYED IN NEW YORK THANKS TO AN ANONYMOUS DONOR.

    After its gallery show, a patron bought the piece and donated it to the Museum of Modern Art in 1934. It’s been a highlight of MoMA’s collection for 80 years and counting.

  • BY THIS TIME DALI WAS NO LONGER A CERTIFIED SURREALIST.

    At least, he wasn’t considered one by the official surrealist society. Though Dali had become the most famous surrealist painter in the world, his fellow surrealists gave him the boot over concerns about Dali’s alleged fascist leanings. At his ousting, Dali declared, “I myself am surrealism.”

  • EINSTEIN’S WORK MAY HAVE BEEN AN INFLUENCE.

    The Persistence of Memory has sparked considerable academic debate as scholars interpret the painting. Some critics believe the melting watches in the piece are a response to Albert Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. As critic Dawn Ades put it, “the soft watches are an unconscious symbol of the relativity of space and time.”

  • DALI’S EXPLANATION WAS CHEESIER

    When asked directly if Einstein’s Theory of Relativity was an inspiration, Dali declared his true muse for the deformed clocks was a wheel of Camembert cheese that had melted in the sun. As Dali considered himself and his persona an extension of his work, the seriousness of this response is also up for debate.

  • THIS PAINTING HAS A (SORT OF) SEQUEL.

    In 1954, Dali revisited the composition of The Persistence of Memory for The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory. Alternately known as The Chromosome of a Highly-coloured Fish’s Eye Starting the Harmonious Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory, the oil on canvas piece is believed to represent Dali’s prior work being broken down to its elements, or atoms.

  • THE PERSISTENCE OF MEMORY MAY BE A SELF-PORTRAIT.

    The floppy profile at the painting’s center might be meant to represent Dali himself, as the artist was fond of self-portraits. Previously painted self-portraits include Self-Portrait in the Studio, Cubist Self-portrait, Self-Portrait with “L’ Humanite” and Self-portrait (1921).

  • THERE WERE MORE MELTING CLOCKS TO COME.

    In the 1970s, Dali revisited his soft timepieces in sculptures like Dance of Time I, II, & III, Nobility of Time, Persistence of Memory, and Profile of Time. He also brought them into lithographs.

  • THE PERSISTENCE OF MEMORY HAS ALIASES.

    It’s also known as Soft Watches, Droopy Watches, The Persistence of Time, and Melting Clocks.

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