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Metamorphosis of Narcissus

Salvador Dali • Painting, 1937, 51.1×78.1 cm
About the artwork
This artwork was added since it is referred to in the materials below
Art form: Painting
Subject and objects: Literary scene
Style of art: Surrealism
Technique: Oil
Materials: Canvas
Date of creation: 1937
Size: 51.1×78.1 cm
Artwork in selections: 34 selections
Exhibitions history

Description of the artwork «Metamorphosis of Narcissus»

This small picture was of particular importance to Salvador Dali, was the key myth on which the “Dalinist mythology” is built, frank enough to claim such a status, and confusing enough not to reveal the whole truth. Dali took her with him to London when he went to meet with Sigmund Freud. I wanted to show the picture to the most famous explorer of the unconscious, the idol of his youth. To brag to Freud about the depth of immersion in his own head and the courage with which he demonstrated the children's complexes found in abundance.

To clarify everything and to confuse it even more reliably, Dali wrote a long accompanying poem to the picture, in which he gives precise instructions on how to look at it. Move away and, looking with a sternly scattered look, wait for the moment of truth of myth, metamorphosis to come - the figure of Narcissus will disappear, dissolve, and out of its shadow will emerge the outline of a hand holding a seed. From this seed will grow a new daffodil - now a flower. The outlines of the hand will be exactly repeated in a limestone statue holding an egg, from which a flower already sprouts.

This picture and this poem are the first in history, created in accordance with the paranoia-critical method, Dali claims. This method, the artist’s own invention, was a challenge to the surreal automatic method. The Dali method is active and dominates reality, redraws it in accordance with the game of thoughts, verbal puns, a combination of different images and cultures. The automatism that Breton (the leader of the surrealists) preaches is a passive method in which the artist or poet obeys reality, takes without hesitation everything that she is ready to offer him, and dutifully transfers this stream to the work. In a word, Dali’s brain is constantly awake and generates mathematically accurate images, and the rest of the surrealists rave in a dream and share this nonsense with everyone. Dali is too smart to just rave. And insane enough to still need some special tricks like automatic writing.

"Narcissus Metamorphoses" is the best example of the paranoia-critical method. But always in conjunction with a poem. In it, Dali scatters bread crumbs, along which you can go on an exciting journey and unravel the course of his imagination. The beautiful Narcissus is gradually drowning in its own reflection, unable to look away from it - a well-known myth. Daffodil flower grows from a bulb. Cadakas fishermen have a proverb: "The bulb in the head has sprouted." When they say this about a person, they mean the very thing that in psychology is called a complex. The image is ready:

... Oh motionless Narcissus!
How slowly and how carnivorous
absorbs you reflection -
so herbs gnaw at the body.
And you are already gone.
You are invisible.

Nothing left. Only white ellipse -
the shadow of your head is curly.
Only more tender
fingers grit even more gently -
light water jets,
the fingers of that imperceptible hand
that a whirlpool extends to you,
greedy, ghostly, formidable,
deadly hands -
your reflection.

And when your head
will collapse
will split
and scatter
again, again and again
a flower is born -

Dali remains to make the last confession "Narcissus is me!" And finally to clarify everything and confuse everything.

Author: Anna Sidelnikova