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Salvador Dalí

/Works and biography

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Birth of Liquid Desires
(La Naissance des désirs liquides), 1931–32
Oil and collage on canvas, 96.1 x 112.3 cm
Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice 76.2553 PG 100
© Salvador Dalí, Gala-Salvador Dalí Foundation, by SIAE 2008


By the time Salvador Dalí joined the Surrealist group in 1929, he had formulated his “paranoid-critical” approach to art, which consisted in conveying his deepest psychological conflicts to the viewer in the hopes of eliciting an empathetic response. One of his hallucinatory obsessions was the legend of William Tell, which represented for him the archetypal theme of paternal assault. The subject occurs frequently in his paintings from 1929, when he entered into a liaison with Gala Eluard, his future wife, against his father’s wishes. Here father, son, and perhaps mother seem to be fused in the grotesque dream-image of the hermaphroditic creature at center. William Tell’s apple is replaced by a loaf of bread; out of the bread arises a lugubrious cloud vision inspired by the imagery of Arnold Böcklin.

The infinite expanse of landscape recalls Yves Tanguy’s work of the 1920s. The biomorphic structure dominating the composition suggests at once a violin, weathered rock formations, the architecture of the Catalan visionary Antoni Gaudí, the sculpture of Jean Arp, a prehistoric monster, and an artist’s palette. The repressed, guilty desire of the central figure is indicated by its attitude of both protestation and arousal toward the forbidden flower-headed woman (presumably Gala). The shadow darkening the scene is cast by an object outside the picture and may represent the father’s threatening presence, or a more general prescience of doom.

credits: Hangar Design Group