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The Metamorphosis of Narcissus Painting by Salvador Dali

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The Metamorphosis of Narcissus Oil Painting

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The Metamorphosis of Narcissus - Dali Paintings for Sale

Metamorphosis of Narcissus
Artist Salvador Dalí
Year 1937
Medium Oil on canvas
Dimensions 51.2 cm × 78.1 cm (20.12 in ×  30 3⁄4 in)
Location Tate Modern, London

This painting is Dalí's interpretation of the Greek myth of Narcissus. Narcissus was a youth of great beauty who loved only himself and broke the hearts of many lovers. The gods punished him by letting him see his own reflection in a pool. He fell in love with it, but discovered he could not embrace it and died of frustration. Relenting, the gods immortalised him as the narcissus (daffodil) flower. For this picture Dalí used a meticulous technique which he described as 'hand-painted colour photography' to depict with hallucinatory effect the transformation of Narcissus, kneeling in the pool, into the hand holding the egg and flower. Narcissus as he was before his transformation is seen posing in the background. The play with 'double images' sprang from Dalí's fascination with hallucination and delusion.

This was Dalí's first painting to be made entirely in accordance with the paranoiac critical method, which the artist described as a 'Spontaneous method of irrational knowledge, based on the critical-interpretative association of the phenomena of delirium' (The Conquest of the Irrational, published in The Secret Life of Salvador Dalí, New York 1942). Robert Descharnes noted that this painting meant a great deal to Dalí, as it was the first Surrealist work to offer a consistent interpretation of an irrational subject.

The artist said to Descharnes of this picture:

A painting shown and explained to Dr. Freud.

Pedagogical presentation of the myth of narcissism, illustrated by a poem written at the same time.
In this poem and this painting, there is death and fossilization of Narcissus.
The poem to which Dalí referred was published in 1937, in a small book by the artist entitled Metamorphosis of Narcissus. The book also contains two explanatory notes printed facing a colour reproduction of the painting, the first of which reads:

WAY OF VISUALLY OBSERVING THE COURSE OF THE METAMORPHOSIS OF NARCISSUS REPRESENTED IN THE PRINT ON THE OPPOSITE PAGE:
If one looks for some time, from a slight distance and with a certain 'distant fixedness', at the hypnotically immobile figure of Narcissus, it gradually disappears until at last it is completely invisible.

The metamorphosis of the myth takes place at that precise moment, for the image of Narcissus is suddenly transformed into the image of a hand which rises out of his own reflection. At the tips of its fingers the hand is holding an egg, a seed, a bulb from which will be born the new narcissus - the flower. Beside it can be seen the limestone sculpture of the hand - the fossil hand of the water holding the blown flower.

When he met Sigmund Freud in London in 1938, Dalí took this picture with him as an example of his work, as well as a magazine containing an article he had written on paranoia. Freud wrote the following day to Stefan Zweig, who had introduced them, that 'it would be very interesting to explore analytically the growth of a picture like this'.
Further reading:
Tate Gallery 1978-80 Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1981, pp.85-9, reproduced p.85
Robert Descharnes, Gilles Néret, Salvador Dalí: The Paintings, 2 volumes, Köln 1994, pp.288-9, 299, 757, reproduced pl.645 in colour
Dawn Ades, Dalí, revised edition, London 1995, pp.132-3, reproduced p.131 in colour

Terry Riggs
March 1998

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Metamorphosis of Narcissus (1937) is an oil-on-canvas painting by the Spanish surrealist Salvador Dalí. This painting is from Dalí's Paranoiac-critical period. According to Greek mythology, Narcissus fell in love with his own reflection in a pool. Unable to embrace the watery image, he pined away, and the gods immortalized him as a flower. Dalí completed this painting in 1937 on his long awaited return to Paris after having had great success in the United States.

The painting shows Narcissus sitting in a pool, gazing down. Not far away there is a decaying stone figure which corresponds closely to him but is perceived quite differently; as a hand holding up a bulb or egg from which a Narcissus is growing. The egg has been used as a symbol for sexuality in other paintings by Dalí. In the background, a group of naked figures can be seen, while a third Narcissus like figure appears on the horizon.

Dalí wrote the following poem, which accompanied the painting when it was initially exhibited:

Under the split in the retreating black cloud

the invisible scale of spring is oscillating in the fresh April sky. On the highest mountain, the god of the snow, his dazzling head bent over the dizzy space of reflections, starts melting with desire in the vertical cataracts of the thaw annihilating himself loudly among the excremental cries of minerals, or between [sic] the silences of mosses towards the distant mirror of the lake in which, the veils of winter having disappeared, he has newly discovered the lightning flash of his faithful image. It seems that with the loss of his divinity the whole high plateau pours itself out, crashes and crumbles among the solitude and the incurable silence of iron oxides while its dead weight raises the entire swarming and apotheosic plateau from the plain from which already thrust towards the sky the artesian fountains of grass and from which rise, erect, tender, and hard, the innumerable floral spears of the deafening armies of the germination of the narcissi. Already the heterosexual group, in the renowned poses of preliminary expectation, conscientiously ponders over the threatening libidinous cataclysm, the carnivorous blooming of its latent morphological atavisms. In the heterosexual group, in that kind date of the year (but not excessively beloved or mild), there are the Hindou tart, oily, sugared like an August date, the Catalan with his grave back well planted in a sun-tide, a Whitsuntide of flesh inside his brain, the blond flesh-eating German, the brown mists of mathematics in the dimples of his cloudy knees, there is the English woman, the Russian, the Swedish women, the American and the tall darkling Andalusian, hardy with glands and olive with anguish. Far from the heterosexual group, the shadows of the avanced [sic] afternoon draw out across the countryside, and cold lays hold of the adolescent’s nakedness as he lingers at the water’s edge. When the clear and divine body of Narcissus leans down to the obscure mirror of the lake, when his white torso folded forward fixes itself, frozen, in the silvered and hypnotic curve of his desire, when the time passes on the clock of the flowers of the sand of his own flesh, Narcissus loses his being in the cosmic vertigo in the deepest depths of which is singing the cold and Dyonisiac siren of his own image. The body of Narcissus flows out and loses itself in the abyss of his reflection, like the sand glass that will not be turned again. Narcissus, you are losing your body, carried away and confounded by the millenary reflection of your disappearance your body stricken dead falls to the topaz precipice with yellow wreckage of love, your white body, swallowed up, follows the slope of the savagely mineral torrent of the black precious stones with pungent perfumes, your body ... down to the unglazed mouths of the night on the edge of which there sparkles already all the red silverware of dawns with veins broken in ‘the wharves of blood’. Narcissus, do you understand? Symmetry, divine hypnosis of the mind’s geometry, already fills up your head, with that incurable sleep, vegetable, atavistic, slow Which withers up the brain in the parchment substance of the kernel of your nearing metamorphosis. The seed of your head has just fallen into the water. Man returns to the vegetable state by fatigue-laden sleep and the gods by the transparent hypnosis of their passions. Narcissus, you are so immobile one would think you were asleep. If it were a question of Hercules rough and brown, one would say: he sleeps like a bole [sic] in the posture of an Herculean oak. But you, Narcissus, made of perfumed bloomings of transparent adolescence, you sleep like a water flower. Now the great mystery draws near, the great metamorphosis is about to occur. Narcissus, in his immobility, absorbed by his reflection with the digestive slowness of carnivorous plants, becomes invisible. There remains of him only the hallucinatingly white oval of his head, his head again more tender, his head, chrysalis of hidden biological designs, his head held up by the tips of the water’s fingers, at the tips of the fingers of the insensate hand, of the terrible hand, of the excrement-eating hand, of the mortal hand of his own reflection. When that head slits when that head splits when that head bursts, it will be the flower, the new narcissus, ....
— Salvador Dalì

 

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