When Salvador Dali Met Sigmund Freud, and Changed Freud’s Mind About Surrealism (1938)

The close asso­ci­a­tions between Sur­re­al­ism and Freudi­an psy­cho­analy­sis were lib­er­al­ly encour­aged by the most famous pro­po­nent of the move­ment, Sal­vador Dalí, who con­sid­ered him­self a devot­ed fol­low­er of Freud. We don’t have to won­der what the founder of psy­cho­analy­sis would have thought of his self-appoint­ed pro­tégé.

We have them record­ing, in their own words, their impres­sions of their one and only meeting—which took place in July of 1938, at Freud’s home in Lon­don. Freud was 81, Dali 34. We also have sketch­es Dali made of Freud while the two sat togeth­er. Their mem­o­ries of events, shall we say, dif­fer con­sid­er­ably, or at least they seemed total­ly bewil­dered by each oth­er. (Freud pro­nounced Dali a “fanat­ic.”)

In any case, There’s absolute­ly no way the encounter could have lived up to Dali’s expec­ta­tions, as the Freud Muse­um Lon­don notes:

[Dalí] had already trav­elled to Vien­na sev­er­al times but failed to make an intro­duc­tion. Instead, he wrote in his auto­bi­og­ra­phy, he spent his time hav­ing “long and exhaus­tive imag­i­nary con­ver­sa­tions” with his hero, at one point fan­ta­siz­ing that he “came home with me and stayed all night cling­ing to the cur­tains of my room in the Hotel Sach­er.”

Freud was cer­tain­ly not going to indulge Dalí’s pecu­liar fan­tasies, but what the artist real­ly want­ed was val­i­da­tion of his work—and maybe his very being. “Dali had spent his teens and ear­ly twen­ties read­ing Freud’s works on the uncon­scious,” writes Paul Gal­lagher at Dan­ger­ous Minds, “on sex­u­al­i­ty and The Inter­pre­ta­tion of Dreams.” He was obsessed. Final­ly meet­ing Freud in ’38, he must have felt “like a believ­er might feel when com­ing face-to-face with God.”

He brought with him his lat­est paint­ing The Meta­mor­pho­sis of Nar­cis­sus, and an arti­cle he had pub­lished on para­noia. This, espe­cial­ly, Dali hoped would gain the respect of the elder­ly Freud.

Try­ing to inter­est him, I explained that it was not a sur­re­al­ist diver­sion, but was real­ly an ambi­tious­ly sci­en­tif­ic arti­cle, and I repeat­ed the title, point­ing to it at the same time with my fin­ger. Before his imper­turbable indif­fer­ence, my voice became invol­un­tar­i­ly sharp­er and more insis­tent.

On being shown the paint­ing, Freud sup­pos­ed­ly said, “in clas­sic paint­ings I look for the uncon­scious, but in your paint­ings I look for the con­scious.” The com­ment stung, though Dali wasn’t entire­ly sure what it meant. But he took it as fur­ther evi­dence that the meet­ing was a bust. Sketch­ing Freud in the draw­ing below, he wrote, “Freud’s cra­ni­um is a snail! His brain is in the form of a spiral—to be extract­ed with a nee­dle!”

One might see why Freud was sus­pi­cious of Sur­re­al­ists, “who have appar­ent­ly cho­sen me as their patron saint,” he wrote to Ste­fan Zweig, the mutu­al friend who intro­duced him to Dali. In 1921, poet and Sur­re­al­ist man­i­festo writer André Bre­ton “had shown up unin­vit­ed on [Freud’s] doorstep.” Unhap­py with his recep­tion, Bre­ton pub­lished a “bit­ter attack,” call­ing Freud an “old man with­out ele­gance” and lat­er accused Freud of pla­gia­riz­ing him.

Despite the mem­o­ry of this nas­ti­ness, and Freud’s gen­er­al dis­taste for mod­ern art, he could­n’t help but be impressed with Dali. “Until then,” he wrote to Zweig, “I was inclined to look upon the sur­re­al­ists… as absolute (let us say 95 per­cent, like alco­hol), cranks. That young Spaniard, how­ev­er, with his can­did and fanat­i­cal eyes, and his unde­ni­able tech­ni­cal mas­tery, has made me recon­sid­er my opin­ion.”

via Dan­ger­ous Minds

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Sal­vador Dalí’s Tarot Cards Get Re-Issued: The Occult Meets Sur­re­al­ism in a Clas­sic Tarot Card Deck

George Orwell Reviews Sal­vador Dali’s Auto­bi­og­ra­phy: “Dali is a Good Draughts­man and a Dis­gust­ing Human Being” (1944)

The Famous Break Up of Sig­mund Freud & Carl Jung Explained in a New Ani­mat­ed Video

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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