The Persistence of Memory by Salvador Dalí

The Persistence of Memory is a surreal landscape shaped in 1931 by the well-known Spanish artist, Salvador Dali. This oil painting measures 9 1/2 x 13 inches, or 24.1 x 33 cm and is on exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York (MoMA). It has been exhibited in galleries universally and is a symbol of Dali’s work.

The Persistence of Memory comprises a light blue horizon, which gradually fades downward from blue to yellow across the top quarter of the painting. Under the skyline sits a body of water, or what looks to be a large lake or a reflecting pool. The body of water traces the skyline until it interacts with neighboring mountains to the right. In front of the mountains there is alone pebble.

Close to the water, Dali chairs a deep, blue, raised, rectangular platform with dark brown trimming around the edges. Placed in front of this platform, there is another single pebble. A lifeless tree with a hollow top is in front of it, missing all of its leaves and branches but one. The single branch holds a silver pocket watch which appears to be melting on the end of the branch showing the numbers three through nine. Only one hand of the watch is shown, pointing at the 6. The tree is situated on top of a light brown square entity that looks desk-like. The brown object takes over the bottom left corner of the painting, and even goes off the canvas. On this object there are two more pocket watches residing. One of them is gold and melted, hanging half a way off the light brown cube. The hands of the gold watch are stopped at five of seven and there is a fly on the face near the 1 o’clock mark. The fly is also casting a very small shadow, which is shaped more like a human. The other pocket watch is bronze and shut. The exterior of the pocket watch is covered with a swarm of black ants. Unlike the other clocks, this is shut, and the only one that is not warped or melted of the four.

The ground in The Persistence of Memory is a dark brown that almost turns black in certain areas. On it lays a white figure on its right side with another silver-colored melting clock on its back. The white figure is human-like, with over emphasized large eyelashes. It has a trade mark Salvador Dali moustache and lips where eyebrows would be on a human face. Its nose is flared and has another small brown object coming out of the right nostril. The silvery part has no limbs or other human-like features. The rest of the set around the silver figure is shady and desolate.

The Persistence of Memory uses the rudimentary features of art consisting of a plethora of lines, ideals, outlines, usage, hues, and smoothness. The outlines that Dali uses in the canvas differ on the figure which he is working with. Most of the painting contains lines that are relatively thin and similar in width, with the exception of the mountains, and the eyelashes of the white figure. The outlines on the foothills are obvious, and give them a rough accurate approach. On the silver character Dali uses diverse distances and widths to generate uniqueness in each stroke. He also makes entirely thorough down to the very previous ant on the effigy watch. The lines that make up the watches are so detailed that they even show each number on the faces. The use of lines also improves the realistic look of the reflection of the mountains in the water. The lines on the podium and auburn object are conventional and symmetric. He does not leave many visible sketch marks in this painting, so it is not clear or easy to distinguish his lines from shading. The appearances that he does, usually accompany the shadows of his surrealist scenery.

The clocks themselves make The Persistence of Memory an iconic piece and have been emulated and parodied in popular culture as well. It surpasses much of the “Modern Art” of its time, involving more talent than just throwing paint buckets at a canvas.