Salvador Dalí, ‘Soft Construction with Boiled Beans (Premonition of Civil War)’, 1936, Philadelphia Museum of Art

Gruesome, bizarre, and excruciatingly meticulous in technique, Salvador Dalí’s paintings rank among the most compelling portrayals of the unconscious mind. In this work, the artist turned his attention to the impending Spanish Civil War, which began in July 1936 and would turn his native country into a bloody battleground. Dalí described this convulsively arresting picture as “a vast human body breaking out into monstrous excrescences of arms and legs tearing at one another in a delirium of autostrangulation.” The desecration of the human body was a great preoccupation of the Surrealists in general, and of Dalí in particular. Here, the figure’s ecstatic grimace, taut neck muscles, and petrifying fingers and toes create a vision of disgusting fascination.

Image rights: © Salvador Dali, Gala-Salvador Dali Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

The Louise and Walter Arensberg Collection, 1950

About Salvador Dalí

Salvador Dalí was a leading proponent of Surrealism, the 20-century avant-garde movement that sought to release the creative potential of the unconscious through strange, dream-like imagery. “Surrealism is destructive, but it destroys only what it considers to be shackles limiting our vision,” he said. Dalí is specially credited with the innovation of “paranoia-criticism,” a philosophy of art making he defined as “irrational understanding based on the interpretive-critical association of delirious phenomena.” In addition to meticulously painting fantastic compositions, such as The Accommodations of Desire (1929) and the melting clocks in his famed The Persistence of Memory (1931), Dalí was a prolific writer and early filmmaker, and cultivated an eccentric public persona with his flamboyant mustache, pet ocelot, and outlandish behavior and quips. “Each morning when I awake, I experience again a supreme pleasure,” he once said. “That of being Salvador Dalí.”

Spanish, 1904-1989, Figueres, Spain