Agony of Love- Salvador Dalí

By Sabeeha Mirza of The Salvador Dalí Society®

Salvador Dalí

The Unicorn (The Agony of Love)

Gouache, Watercolor and Pencil on Board

65.5cm by 49cm

Saint George and the Dragon


By the late 70’s Dalí’s work became highly reflective. In the years following the purchase of the Castle of Pubol, which he gifted to his wife and muse Gala, Dalí found himself without her more often than not. Gala spent increasingly prolonged amounts of time alone in her new home, leaving him with the time and space to reflect on their love and his life’s work. He was subsequently struck with the inspiration to consider his life and lessons learned, and thus began to write his memoirs with paintings.

This was the conclusionary period of Dalí’s career in which we see the true marriage of Dalí’s love of the “painting masters” and his fascination with dreams and the subconscious. In 1978 Dalí produced an appropriately named series of gouache paintings titled Retrospective. Each of the four works included in the series is representative of a specific invaluable attribute of man’s experience as follows: The Lance of Chivalry (St. George), The Path to Wisdom (The Banker), The Flowering of Inspiration (Gala in Flowers), and lastly The Unicorn (Agony of Love).

The Unicorn (The Agony of Love) is a brilliant example of the melding of Dalí’s fascination with mysticism and science, or rather fantasy and tradition. It is riddled with contradictions. It is both emotive and controlled. It is both heart- wrenching and balanced. Even the title itself provides an interesting dichotomy–indicative of the two-faced nature of love itself. This duality is further reflected through various technical devices.

Certain elements of the work are pulled from Dalí’s rational side. The left- hand side of the work serves as a more 2-dimentional plane in direct in contrast to his attention to depth and high pigmentation on the right. Another example of his attention to the clever use of visual device is in the forced liner perspective provided by the vanishing lines of the foreground, which provide a depth of field. This same device is mimicked by the rays of the sun projected from the upper-left corner– giving the piece a sense of rhythm and harmony as it linearly reflects itself from the horizon line.

On the other hand, Dalí dismisses reason and calls on the more fantastic side of his personality with the more whimsical, emotional elements of the work. The visual focus of the painting is a unicorn- figure with an elongated lance-like horn. The unicorn’s stance is deliberate and determined. Its horn spans across the width of the painting to pierce through a bleeding heart- shaped hole in a brick wall. Beyond the wall a single-beaded teardrop falls from the tip of the horn. While the body of the unicorn is mainly unpigmented, the horn seems to gain dimensionality as it stabs through the other side of the heart-wall. Perhaps Dalí implies that the most complete part of oneself is that which has stabbed through a wall of difficulty and burden– all in the name of love. This allegory is further illustrated by the nude female figure in the foreground. She lays horizontally on the ground hiding her face in folded arms. The viewer becomes empathetically involved and is forced to consider her purpose: Has she fallen in despair? Is she asleep and dreaming of a love lost? This sense of understanding while simultaneously being utterly confused is the lure of Dalí.

The Unicorn (The Agony of Love) proves that at heart Dalí was a truly an artist of nostalgia and remembrance. It represents a full circle for Dalí. He had dug his way from the rationality of the painting masters that he studied arduously as a student, through the impossible corners of his subconscious, back to a balanced medley of the two. For Dalí, Surrealism became an extension of academic painting. Unlike any other artist he was able to maintain forward thinking while building upon the rationality of classical devices. Logical, sentimental, outrageous, and unpredictable. Salvador Dalí’s The Unicorn (Agony of Love) reflects all sides of his multi-faceted personality. It is in this inescapable draw of the tug and pull of both hemispheres of the mind, reason and imagination, that Dalí’s genius truly emerges.