Dalí’s ‘Soft Construction’ Has Geographic ‘Surprise’ in it!

By Paul Chimera

Dalí Society® Historian/Writer

You wouldn’t be reading this, had I not elected to take an art appreciation course my freshman year of college. That’s when the professor showed a large color slide projection of the Dalí painting, “Soft Construction with Boiled Beans; Premonition of Civil War” (1936-’37).

I was hooked.

The bizarre, imaginative image mesmerized me. The fluidity of forms. The dazzling color palette and precision of technique. It was the start of a lifelong, possibly obsessive exploration of Salvador Dalí’s world. And now people insist on calling me a Dalí expert (if they must).

I’m still blown away by one aspect of this important painting – TIME magazine called it the most important “war picture” of the 20th century – which I learned of only within the last few years. I’m going to save it for later in this post.

Wait for it…wait for it . . .

Once again, we see that – despite what the uninitiated might hastily believe about a Dalí work – they always had meaning: sometimes a clear and definitive one, other times an esoteric personal relevance. But nothing Dalí did was random or meaningless.

The key in “Soft Construction…” is its subtitle: “Premonition of Civil War.” It presaged the outbreak of the brutal Spanish Civil War, what with the giant horrified figure tearing itself apart – a metaphor for the self-destruction inherent in civil war.

While Dalí was largely apolitical, he didn’t shrink from making social statements pictorially. That he was ahead of his time as an artist and cultural phenomenon has been demonstrated time and time again. His premonition in the present painting is another example of that.

The contorted form of the convoluted, self-destructing human figure demonstrates the emotion Dalí was capable of evoking in us.

You can practically hear the anguish this work evokes.

The figure of Lenin walking aimlessly in the barren landscape; the beans strewn about, doubtlessly symbolizing war rations and the general austerity of what war typically brings; and what is apparently red-hued excrement draped on a dismembered buttocks – it all speaks of the tragedy, desolation and futility of civil war.


And now to that one marvelous detail about this Dalí painting, alluded to earlier, that for some reason intrigues me to no end. Take a look at the space formed by the contour of the twisted body – the central space of the canvas. It is not at all a random space.

Any geography buffs out there? Does that shape look familiar?

That central space in “Soft Construction with Boiled Beans; Premonition of Civil War” is…the very shape of Spain itself!

Yes, run to a map. See! While I long admired this great painting for all the reasons previously stated, my respect for it has only grown since learning of this geographical surprise. Genius!

Dalí’s public image was something of a mad genius. But make no mistake: Salvador Dalí was crazy like a fox. He knew exactly what he was doing, and he always went beyond normal expectations in order to amaze us.

Little wonder he was the undisputed kingpin of Surrealism.