The idea for this work began when Salvador Dalí discovered an inkwell illustrated with the praying couple (from Jean-Francois Millet’s painting The Angelus, 1857–59). He embedded the inkwell in a loaf of bread and placed them both on the portrait bust of a woman.
In 1931, Dalí described Surrealist sculpture as “created wholly for the purpose of materializing in a fetishistic way, with maximum tangible reality, ideas and fantasies of a delirious character.” Retrospective Bust of a Woman (1933) not only presents a woman as an object, but explicitly as one to be consumed. A baguette crowns her head, cobs of corn dangle around her neck, and ants swarm along her forehead as if gathering crumbs. Ants, of course, are a common reoccurring motif in Dali’s work.
“This invention relates to educational devices, and has particular reference to an apparatus for facilitating the observation, study and photography of subterranean life, especially the life and habits of insects and smaller animals who live underground.” So began Frank Austin ((1873 – 1964)’s application to the U.S. Patent Office, filed on June 21, 1929, for his storied Ant House (also known as the Ant Farm).
A simple design based on glass panes and soil or sand allowed a curious viewer to observe as ants or other insects furrowed their way through the ground. Word has it that Austin paid local boys $4.00 a quart for ants brought in alive, and that carpenter ants were his preference as they were the largest and most interesting. His patent application consciously stated that that “other objects of the invention reside in the simplicity of construction and mode of use of the device, the economy with which is may be produced and the general efficiency derived therefrom.”
Photographed in Chamber Boutique on 23rd Street, West of 10th Avenue.
Painted in the summer of 1929, The Accommodations of Desire is a small gem that deals with the twenty-five-year-old Dalí’s sexual anxieties over a love affair with an older, married woman. The woman, Gala, then the wife of Surrealist poet Paul Éluard, became Dalí’s lifelong muse and mate. In this picture, which Dalí painted after taking a walk alone with Gala, he included seven enlarged pebbles on which he envisioned what lay ahead for him: “terrorizing” lions’ heads (not so “accommodating” to his “desire” as the title of the painting facetiously suggests), as well as a toupee, various vessels (one in the shape of a woman’s head), three figures embracing on a platform, and a colony of ants (a symbol of decay).
Dalí did not paint the lions’ heads but, rather, cut them out from what must have been an illustrated children’s book, slyly matching the latter’s detailed style with his own. These collaged elements are virtually indistinguishable from the super-saturated color and painstaking realism of the rest of the composition, startling the viewer into questioning the existence of the phenomena recorded and of the representation as a whole.
Photographed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC.
Arguably one of Salvador Dali’s most well-known paintings, The Persistence of Memory (1931) is perhaps most famous for its images of melted timepieces and ants — which can be seen swarming on the face of the golden-colored stop watch in the lower left-hand side of the painting. Both of these motifs show up now and again in Dali’s signature surrealist works. The painting was given as an anonymous gift to MOMA and is part of the museum’s permanent collection.