Sigmund Freud and Salvador Dali: Cultural and Historical Processes

Apart from being a leading proponent of Surrealism, Salvador Dali also took delight in Freudian works. Sigmund Freud held a very significant place in Dali’s life. Freud was the idol, whom Dali admired and kept at a higher pedestal like God and so Jean-Pierre Barricelli in his work opines that “Dali spoke of Freud as a Christian would speak of the apostles” (358). Dali drew inspiration from Freud’s theories, The Interpretation of Dreams and Psychoanalysis; he had also developed a relationship of communication with Freud in his reverie.

Dali dreamt of meeting Freud; however his dream fulfilled after several attempts. Sharon Romm and Joseph William Slap in their work gives a description of the interview between Dali and Freud, which took place on 19th July 1938,London and explains that for Dali it was a dream come true, for Freud “it was probably little more than an interesting meeting” (337). Dali immortalized their meeting as a great event in his autobiography.

Donald M Kaplan, in his work argues about Freud’s view of modern art, where Freud emphasizes that “I may say at once that I am no connoisseur in art, but simply a layman.

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I am unable rightly to appreciate many of the methods used and the effects obtained in art” (320), Gillbert J. Rose in his work too agrees with Freud’s notion of modern art and opines that “when it came to art, it seems that Freud was an arch-conservative”(352). Freud adhered to the ‘classical art of antiquity’. On meeting Freud, Dali had sketched Freud, which reflects his admiration for Freud; Romm and Slap focuses on Dali’s behavior in the interview and opines that “Dali’s behavior was frequently exhibitionistic, rebellious and eccentric in an effort to appear unique” (337), Dali tried to show his aura of intellect but unfortunately the effect was ‘opposite’.

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Romm and Slap opines that the portrait was drawn to keep it as a memory and also to capture the event of their interview. Freud says “he considered the surrealists “complete fools” as stated by Rose in her work (351); Freud scrutinized Dali’s work without showing any gesture of praise and comments “what interests me in your art is not the unconscious but the conscious”.

Rose gives a brief account of the Surrealists and opines that “In their revolutionary zeal, many surrealists embraced communism and freudianism” (350). The Surrealists showed interest in Freud’s theory of the unconscious in art, poetry and imagination. Among the Surrealist, the effect of Freudian theories mainly finds its place in Dali’s pictorial presentations. According to Romm and Slap, Freud’s influence is also seen in many of Dali’s paintings such as City of Drawers (1936) and Anthropomorphic Cabinet (1936), were either dedicated to Freud or conceived with “Freudian Principles” as their Genesis” (339). Dali was ambitious in portraying the unconscious after reading Freud’s magnum opus The Interpretation of Dreams, which he later advocated in his self-interpretation of his dreams and personal experiences. The images of Dali’s film “The Andalusian Dog” to a certain extent draws resemblance with Freud’s Psychoanalysis. Ignacio Javier Lopez, in his work talks about Dali’s influences from Freud’s writing, Dali’s paintings of the 1920’s portrays the ‘revolutionary and coherent view of sexuality’ namely individual identity. Rose also argues that “Dali had sought to make his art a pictorial documentation of freudian theories” (349). During 1932 and 1938, Dali had also sketched several portraits of Freud, which reflects his feelings for him; Romm and Slap had depicted the meaning of those sketches thereby demonstrating that Dali called the ‘cranium to be a snail’ and also argues that the sketches depicts ‘angry Freud’ and the skull resembling ‘snail shell’. Freud in a letter to Stefan Zweig had acknowledged Dali’s skill and comments “That young Spaniard, with his candid, fanatical eyes and his undeniable technical mastery, has changed my estimate. It would be very interesting to investigate analytically how he came to create that picture” (346). Freud’s fascination for Wilhelm Jensen’s novel Gradiva also fascinates Dali and later inspires him in his paintings. Dali’s theories of surreal, subconscious were inspired from Freud. Dali’s ‘Lobster paintings’ create an atmosphere of frightening and also qualifies as the emblem for the fear of castration thereby harping on the Freudian theory of The Uncanny, he also believed in the significance of dreams, childhood memories, Oedipus complex, castration, anxiety and incestuous desire as observed by Nancy Frazier in her work. To a greater extent Dali’s father drew resemblance with Freud, hence Romm and Slap argues that Freud and Dali’s father were ‘men of distinction’, “Both men used writing as an integral part of their profession” (346) also “Both men viewed by Dali as godlike, possessed power to give Dali permission for his self display”.

Dali’s inspiration and influence from Freud shaped his life and helped him succeed as an artist. He was ambitious in displaying his unique thoughts and brilliant paintings. Kaplan opines that through the efforts of the Surrealists, the psychoanalysis and the Surrealism came together as advantage for a limited period, therefore Surrealist’s belief in Freudianism unwraps huge experiments in art.

Works Cited

  1. Barricelli, Jean-Pierre. “The Conscious and the Subconscious: Rauschenberg and Dalí Face Dante.” Vol. 24, no. 4, 1987, pp. 353–369. JSTOR, Accessed 15 Dec. 2019.
  2. Frazier, Nancy. “Salvador Dali's Lobsters: Feast, Phobia, and Freudian Slip.” Vol. 9, no. 4, 2009, pp. 16–20. JSTOR, doi:10.1525/gfc.2009.9.4.16. Accessed 15 Dec. 2019.
  3. Kaplan, Donald M. “Surrealism and Psychoanalysis: Notes on a Cultural Affair.” Vol. 46, no. 4, 1989, pp. 319–327. JSTOR, Accessed 15 Dec. 2019.
  4. Lopez Ignacio Javier. “Film, Freud, and Paranoia: Dalí and the Representation of Male Desire in ‘An Andalusian Dog.’” Vol. 31, no. 2, 2001, pp. 35–48. JSTOR, Accessed 15 Dec. 2019.
  5. Romm, Sharon, and Joseph William Slap. “Sigmund Freud and Salvador Dalí: Personal Moments.” Vol. 40, no. 4, 1983, pp. 337–347. JSTOR, Accessed 15 Dec. 2019.
Updated: Feb 02, 2024
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Sigmund Freud and Salvador Dali: Cultural and Historical Processes. (2024, Feb 02). Retrieved from

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