Take a Journey Through 933 Paintings by Salvador Dalí & Watch His Signature Surrealism Emerge

Sal­vador Dalí made over 1,600 paint­ings, but just one has come to stand for both his body of work and a major artis­tic cur­rent that shaped it: 1931’s The Per­sis­tence of Mem­o­ry, wide­ly known as the one with the melt­ing clocks. By that year Dalí had reached his late twen­ties, still ear­ly days in what would be a fair­ly long life and career. But he had already pro­duced many works of art, as evi­denced by the video sur­vey of his oeu­vre above. Pro­ceed­ing chrono­log­i­cal­ly through 933 of his paint­ings in the course of an hour and a half, it does­n’t reach The Per­sis­tence of Mem­o­ry until more than sev­en­teen min­utes in, and that after show­ing numer­ous works a casu­al appre­ci­a­tor would­n’t think to asso­ciate with Dalí at all.

It seems the young Dalí did­n’t set out to paint melt­ing clocks — or fly­ing tigers, or walk­ing vil­las, or any of his oth­er visions that have long occu­pied the com­mon con­cep­tion of Sur­re­al­ism. And how­ev­er often he was labeled an “orig­i­nal” after attain­ing world­wide fame in the 1930s and 40s, he began as near­ly every artist does: with imi­ta­tion.

Far from pre­mo­ni­tions of the Sur­re­al­ist sen­si­bil­i­ty with which he would be for­ev­er linked in the pub­lic con­scious­ness, dozens and dozens of his ear­ly paint­ings unabashed­ly reflect the influ­ence of Renais­sance mas­ters, Impres­sion­ists, Futur­ists, and Cubists. Of par­tic­u­lar impor­tance in that last group was Dalí’s coun­try­man and idol Pablo Picas­so: it was after they first met in 1926 that the changes in Dalí’s work became tru­ly dra­mat­ic.

View­ers may be less sur­prised that Dalí did so much before The Per­sis­tence of Mem­o­ry than that he did even more after it. Though he would nev­er return to the rel­a­tive­ly straight­for­ward depic­tions of real­i­ty found among his work of the 1920s, the dream­scapes he real­ized through­out the last half-cen­tu­ry of his life are hard­ly all of a piece. (This in addi­tion to plen­ty of work on the side, includ­ing a tarot deck, a cook­book, and even tele­vi­sion com­mer­cials.) To appre­ci­ate the vari­a­tions he attempt­ed in his art even after becom­ing pop­u­lar cul­ture’s idea of an “almost-crazy” Sur­re­al­ist requires not just see­ing his work in con­text, but spend­ing a prop­er amount of time with it.  Not to say that fans of The Per­sis­tence of Mem­o­ry — espe­cial­ly fans in a suit­able state of mind — haven’t spent hours at a stretch in fruit­ful con­tem­pla­tion of those melt­ing clocks alone.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Walk Inside a Sur­re­al­ist Sal­vador Dalí Paint­ing with This 360º Vir­tu­al Real­i­ty Video

The Most Com­plete Col­lec­tion of Sal­vador Dalí’s Paint­ings Pub­lished in a Beau­ti­ful New Book by Taschen: Includes Nev­er-Seen-Before Works

When Sal­vador Dalí Cre­at­ed a Sur­re­al­ist Fun­house at New York World’s Fair (1939)

Sal­vador Dalí’s Tarot Cards, Cook­book & Wine Guide Re-Issued as Beau­ti­ful Art Books

When Sal­vador Dalí Cre­at­ed Christ­mas Cards That Were Too Avant Garde for Hall­mark (1960)

Sal­vador Dalí Explains Why He Was a “Bad Painter” and Con­tributed “Noth­ing” to Art (1986)

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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