Dalí will Always Be Remembered First for those Withering Watches

By Paul Chimera

Salvador Dalí Historian


Salvador Dalí will forever be remembered, first and foremost, for those soft, melting watches — his signature dish, served up like warm Camembert cheese.


Dalí made the droopy clock famous when, at the ripe age of 27, he painted The Persistence of Memory.


Dalí's best known work and one of history's greatest.

Dalí’s best known work and one of history’s greatest.


Little did he know that comparatively tiny work would become so big in the annals of art history. I believe it can be said with complete confidence that this Salvador Dalí gem is not only the most famous surrealist picture of them all, but is destined to be considered one of the most famous artworks of all time.


The meaning of Dalí’s limp watches has varied dramatically; no one knows for sure, and even Dalí admitted he often didn’t understand his own works. He claimed he was chiefly inspired by a clump of Camembert cheese melting in the sun, when he was deciding how to finish this dreamscape.


It’s been suggested that the limp timepieces connote the way time seemed to stand still in the little-changed village of Port Lligat, where Dalí and his wife lived virtually all their lives. Others advance the plausible idea that time is almost always distorted in dreams. And that Dalí hated mechanical things. And the scientific perspective that perhaps Dalí was commenting on Einstein’s theory of relativity.


As it turns out, soft watches – or watches and clocks that are at least somewhat misshapen – actually don’t appear in all that many Dalí paintings. I’m not sure there were more than perhaps 25 canvases in which the altered timepiece appears.


A partial list includes: Anthropomorphic Bread; The Enigma of William Tell; Surrealist Poster; Singularities; The Dream of Venus; Nativity of a New World; Melancholy, Atomic, Uranic Idyll; Soft Watch at the Moment of First Explosion; The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory; Celestial Ride; The Hour of Monarchy; Self-Portrait; Wounded Soft Watch.


300px-DisintegrationofPersistence anthropomorphic-bread_painter-salvador-dali celestial-ride-1957_painter-salvador-dali hour-of-the-monarchy_jpg!Large salvador-dali-soft-watch-at-the-moment-of-first-explosion-c-1954_u-L-E2ISL0 singularities_jpg!Large the-enigma-of-william-tell the-dream-of-venus_painter-salvador-dali wounded-soft-watch


And as it turns out, none of the large, great masterworks Dalí painted – wall-sized canvases that took upwards of a year to paint, and span the years 1950 – 1970 – include a single soft watch.


Which brings us back to that tiny little approximately 9 inch x 12 inch oil on canvas of 1931, purchased back then for $250 and given to its long-time home, the Museum of Modern Art in New York.


Dalí's best known work and one of history's greatest.

Undoubtedly the MoMA’s most popular work.


Without question it is the single most universally recognized picture by Salvador Dalí. When I read other writers’ opinion that Persistence of Memory is “probably” Dalí’s best-known work, I roll my eyes; there’s no probably about it. No other work by Dalí is better known.


There are many single works that have earned the stature of artistic icons. Leonardo’s Mona Lisa. Michelangelo’s David. Munch’s The Scream. Van Gogh’s Starry Night. Picasso’s Guernica.


Of all the many and varied works by Dalí – delightful watercolors, dynamic oils, imposing sculptures, innovative holograms – it’s that little painting of soft watches in a dream-like landscape, painted 87 years ago, that shall forever be his most famous. History’s memory will always persist in this fact.



(Images used under Fair Use provisions for journalistic purposes only)