The Chicken or the Egg? 1. The Egg and Art*

The Metamorphosis of Narcissus
The Metamorphosis of Narcissus

The egg it is where it was at for Spanish surrealist painter Salvador Dalí, who once said, rather egotistically (!), that “When I was three I wanted to be a cook. At the age of six I wanted to be Napoleon. Since then my ambition has increased all the time”

Eggs without the Plate (Salvador Dali)
Eggs on the Plate without the Plate

The other day, thoughts of the Spanish surrealist painter Salvador Dalí (1904 – 1989) floated into my mind, slipping and sliding like one of his weary watches. Or, better yet, a poached egg.

As many artists tend to do, Dali painted food in many different ways, reflecting the mores and concerns of his society and period in history. For example, he evoked the upcoming Spanish Civil War (1936 – 1939) in “Soft Construction with Boiled Beans” (1936), predating Picasso’s “Guernica” by nearly a year.

But eggs — one of Dalí’s most (and famous) common food motifs — appeared in the most incongruous ways in his frenetic and strange output, including the museum he built in his hometown of Figueras, Spain. Note the eggs on the ramparts and flanking the “turrets.”

Dali Museum in Figueras, Spain
Dali Museum in Figueras, Spain (Photo credit: Kris Fricke)

The symbolism? According to art historians, in western art eggs symbolize rebirth. Art experts suggest that Dali’s egg motifs represent in-utero images of hope and love, as in “Eggs on the Plate Without the Plate.” Like the personas of many humans, the contrast of the soft interior of eggs with the hard exterior seemed to call up for Dalí the difficulties that humans face in their interactions with the universe. Dali couldn’t completely shake the effects of his Roman Catholic upbringing —  and his later reconversion — from his unconscious, underpinning much of his oeuvre, including his renditions of eggs.

Eggs Dali cookbookNot surprisingly for such a food-obsessed artist, a book entirely on food appeared, utilizing the name of his wife Gala: Les Dîners de Gala. Felicie published the first U.S. edition  in 1973. Later, Carolyn Tillie created a MENU complete with recipes based on the lithographs in the book.

German artist Arno Breker, who made art for the Nazis, described how Dalí’s living conditions influenced his art:

Dali lives in Port Lligat in a scenically, exquisitely beautiful place. It is a blessed state of affairs when one is able to live and work in such divine surroundings. Also inspiring, it is of decisive importance because this characteristic landscape really pops up again and again in his pictures. Dali cannot, moreover, separate himself from the view he has from the terrace of his house in Port Lligat. Everything takes place in a giant unbounded space. The horizontal line terminates at the horizon, from it mountainous fragments jut forth. On the plain in front of it a drama is unfolding: people appear or remarkable animals are found; elephants on stilts. Such visions, with which Dali’s fantasy is richly overflowing, are nurtured by the brooding, glowing sun of Spain.

The sun, just like an egg yolk …

For more on Dali, see Dali Gallery Dali Museum, St. Petersburg, FL, Virtual Dali, and  this site filled with numerous links from ArtPromote. Of course, many other artists added eggs to their oeuvre, but that’s the stuff of a future post (or posts).

Dali in Les Diners de Gala
Dali in Les Diners de Gala

To be continued, eggs, eggs, and more about eggs, from fantasy to facts …

*Art has always been one of my favorite subjects, especially food in art. Surrealists (Salvador Dali, Remedios Varo, Leonora Carrington, Frida Kahlo), in particular, intrigued me from the moment I first stood — awed beyond words and comprehension — in front of  Remedios Varo’s paintings in an exhibit in Mexico City when I was a university student on a semester abroad.

© 2009 C. Bertelsen

One thought on “The Chicken or the Egg? 1. The Egg and Art*

  1. Thanks for the post, as a student I had Metamorphosis of Narcissus on my wall (who didn’t!) Ages since I looked at it. Still stunning and evocative of the Genius that was Dali.

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