Salvador Dali’s understanding of Freud was in the ambiguous transfer of desire to reality;where desire cannot be represented directly or consciously, it takes the form of a distortion of reality as an absurdity. A strange convergence of the elements of our everyday life in bizarre and impossible configurations. Thus, to describe surrealism as ”desire unbound” was misleading. The desire for the surrealists was absolutely bound, and it was the mechanisms of binding, bundling and subsequent distortions that gave the impression of inspired freshness and novelty. With regard to Jan Vermeer’s, ”The Lacemaker”:

Vermeer, The Lacemaker

Vermeer, The Lacemaker

”Dalí explained, “Up till now, The Lacemaker has always been considered a very peaceful, very calm painting, but for me, it is possessed by the most violent aesthetic power, to which only the recently discovered antiproton can be compared.” Dali’s figurative mode, and his admiration of classic painting created a rift and antipathy between Andre Breton, author of the surrealist manifesto, and Breton’s colleagues against Dali as well as the newer avant-gardist tendencies towards abstraction.  Dali realized that underneath the Vermeer, lay lurking the root of the same dark impulses; unconscious desires, self destruction and despair that breton was ”inventing” in figurative art.

”The extravagant surrealist painter Salvador Dalí wrote: ” the first time I saw a photograph of [Vermeer's]Lacemaker and a live rhinoceros together, I realized that if there should be a battle, the Lacemaker would win, because the Lacemaker is morphologically a rhinoceros horn.” Like with DaVinci, what on the surface seemed like and obvious point, was, with deconstruction and attention to detail, in fact often subversive and subliminal messages.

Vermeer, Allegory of the New Testament

Vermeer, Allegory of the New Testament

”Dali’s contact with and celebration of the bizarre and unusual persisted throughout his career. Even in a “traditional” mode, he nearly always inserted paranoiac associations where one least expected them. For example, when he set out to create an homage to Vermeer, he painted a study of The Lacemaker composed entirely of exploding rhinoceros horns! To further mystify the public, he painted this piece, Paranoiac-Critical Study of Vermeer’s Lacemaker, at the Paris Zoo.The apparent incongruity of The Lacemaker with rhinoceros horns is resolved upon investigation of Dali’s obsession with perfection of form. The horn is an example of a planar logarithmic spiral, similar to that created in the gnomonic expansion of the golden rectangle. For Dali, the rhinoceros horn was a perfect organic shape, and he often used it in formal deconstructive analysis of pictorial composition.” ( Aaron Ross, The Grotesque in Western Art, 1990 )

Dali, in part through his understanding of Freud, realized that the figurative art world went beyond literal reproduction to reveal deeper and more hidden forms, with the technical mastery, a form of mask or disguise. The articulation was shaped by censorship. The desires in surrealism were no different than in any other art movement, the difference was in the mechanisms of the dreamwork, the way in which desire evades the net of censorship.

Like the surrealists were crudely, yet with much fanfare and hype, attempting to do, Dali realized that old masters like Vermeer, Rembrandt and DaVinci were also tapping into the energies and half  formed thoughts and impulses of the lower levels of consciousness. Their work was also an articulation of veiled or subliminated impulses and desires; an intervention of what they perceived to be the inadequacies of reality. However, without Breton’s fluffy allusions of Freudian reductionism simplified to psychophysical regions which were governed by a hedonistic pleasure principle and marked by an absence of contradiction.Dali correctly saw the longings and displaced desires in the Old masters which like the surrealists attack against modernism, were also reflections of disenchantment with the existing state and their concept of desire was also founded on the notion of lack, wanting , and desire to be unbound.

Dali, The Enigma of William Tell, 1933

Dali, The Enigma of William Tell, 1933

”In some ways, surrealism represented a kind of Late Romanticism that rejected modernity in the same way that earlier versions did. So, for many surrealists, courtly love is a natural outcome for a psyche that refuses to conform to a bourgeois society that has enshrined science and logic. If bourgeois society promoted Enlightenment values, the surrealists would have none of it. If so much of modern culture stressed progressive values, surrealism for its part would champion dreams, fetishes, hysteria, mystery and nostalgia for the past.” The ruling classes had appropriated classic art, and canonized it, based on its monetization without really a comprehension of its own unsettling irrational and subconscious components hidden or ”censored” within the pictorial narrative.For all its hostility to bourgeois civilization, the very hand it would bite has adopted surrealism in a way it probably never would have anticipated followed the same pattern for renaissance art etc.and later swallow abtraction as a similar symbol of cultural imperialism and hegemony.

To the Freudian influence on surrealism was added the work  of postmodernist icon and psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan was close to surrealist circles himself. As a young psychiatrist, Lacan fell under the sway of Salvador Dali and by 1931 began to synthesize psychiatry, psychoanalysis and Surrealism.”Nonetheless, the two principal images used within Freudian psychoanalysis to conjure desire and its effects - ‘unbound’ energy within the unconscious, on the one hand, and a compulsive, fetishistic process, on the other – find strong echoes in the surrealists’ explorations of desire. ”Of contemporary psychology, surrealism retains that which tends to give a scientific basis to research into the origin and mutation of ideological images. In this sense it has attached a particular importance to Freud’s investigations into the processes of dreaming and, more generally, to all of Freud’s work which is the clinically based exploration of unconscious life.” ( Andre Breton )

ways" />

Call it the Piper and the painter at the gates of Dawn. The mysticism, adventure, morality and camaraderie of Kenneth Grahame’s ” The Wind and the Willows” could describe the relationship between Vermeer, Salvador Dali and the Rhinoceros. The rat (Dali ) and the mole (Vermeer ) are searching for Portly, the last son of Otter. They are drawn to the place ( the unconscious world ) where the Piper ( the Rhino ) is playing the reed flute… an alternative spiritual world that has the ability to draw animals away from their natural habitats…Salvador Dali felt the rhinocerous symbol was prevalently and inentionally ued by the Great masters, notably Vermeer on his ”The Lacemaker” painting which changed the aesthetic of the work.Salvador Dalí wrote: ” the first time I saw a photograph of [Vermeer's]Lacemaker and a live rhinoceros together, I realized that if there should be a battle, the Lacemaker would win, because the Lacemaker is morphologically a rhinoceros horn.”

”According to Dalí, all curved surfaces of the human body have the same geometric spot in common, the one found in this cone with the rounded tip curved toward heaven or toward the earth the rhinoceros horn!After this initial discovery, Dalí surveyed his own images and realized that all of them could be deconstructed to rhinoceros horns.Dalí also discovered what he termed “latent rhinocerisation” in the works of the Great Masters.

Judging from the painting, ”An Artist In His Studio” by Jan Vermeer, it might be inferred that Vermeer was quite a commercial success. The richly dressed artist and opulent surroundings does not coincide with the facts as he lived out his short life in perpetual debt without attaining any significant commercial success. Why? the assumption he painted according to accepted standards of the time may be erroneous. Another common assumption is this painting being a conscious allegory, in fact an allegory of art, in which a painter is portrayed in the sacred act of immortalizing fame, or history, who as a muse has literally descended into his studio.This too may prove to be false.

Another repeated element found in Vermeer’s work is the reversed figure, the one with the back towards the viewer. In ”Studio” Vermeer no doubt resorted to a trick of optics in order to achieve this rear view of himself. The map is probably the most interesting element, a form of surreal art in itself., the animal forms and odd juxtapositions of shapes and forms lending credence to the Dali view. The checkered floor, the chair, as empty throne, the mask of a human face over the green silk, the phallic symbol of the maps pole under the woman’s right arm, multiple images in the chandelier etc. There are far too many coincidences and contradictions to define Vermeer as an icon of figurative purity and master of vivid reality.the acutely “pathological” manifestations of the psyche are within Vermeer’s work. With the perfect reality is a confrontation between supplemental images which defy our aesthetic conventions, and are therefore relegated to the shadowy realm of the grotesque.absurd and abnormal.

Vermeer,An Artist In His Studio

Vermeer,An Artist In His Studio

Dalí’s Ghost of Vermeer alludes to Vermeer’s most popular painting, The Artist in His Studio, by borrowing Vermeer’s self-portrait from that work. Yet Dalí uses the Dutch artist’s photographic precision to produce a different effect. Instead of creating a record of the everyday as Vermeer did, Dalí created a record of the impossible. The ”ghost” is a haunting theme in Dali’s work, perhaps representing the theme of the Knight of Death, whose face remains unseen. In ”Ghost” he turned the animate into the inanimate by making Vermeer into a piece of furniture – a table. A bottle and glass emphasize this transformation, which renders this figure an apparitional image,  In order to heighten the unsettling effect of this work, Dalí placed the Spectre of Vermeer in an actual landscape.

Dali, Ghost of Vermeer

Dali, Ghost of Vermeer

“Almost every Sunday I’d bring something for Dali to sign, most often one of his books, but sometimes other items, including paper and ink, cardboard, magazines, etc,…On this particular occasion I brought a large board and a bottle of ink, with a pen. Dali put the board on a table in the cocktail lounge and poured a little ink in a puddle. Taking the edge of the bottle (he refused the pen I offered), he started to render the Ghost of Vermeer — quite well too for the side of a bottle! When he was 75% through the image, he wanted to do some detail that he clearly would have trouble with, using the bottle, and Captain Peter Moore handed him a paintbrush that he kept in his inner blazer pocket, to finish the drawing off. The completed work is signed “A Luis” — “to Louis” ( Louis Markoya, as recounted to Dali Planet )dali5

Related Posts

This entry was posted in Art History/Antiquity/Anthropology, Feature Article, Miscellaneous, Modern Arts/Craft, Visual Art/Sculpture/etc. and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Louis Markoya says:

    Mostly unknown was the evolution of the rhinocerous horn, a topic Dali and I covered many times. I pointed out that the cashew exhibited all the mystical logarithmic qualities of the rhinocerous horn, with the addition of buttocks…..which pleased Salvador immensely!!!
    Thank you for including my anecdote.

    • Dave says:

      Thanks again. I will have to refresh my knowledge of logarithms and differential equations. I always knew they would finish by having some higher meaning in my life.Dave

  2. Louis Markoya says:

    Your article would have been slightly more compleet to include the Rhinoceric version of the Lacemaker outside of the video….as a present I painted the lacemaker on the heads of sunflower seeds on a huge dried sunflower which pinned its origin to mathematics and the rhinocerous horn shaps even more completely than the Dali version. The nuclear mystical aspects of these paintings have rarely been looked into, or understood…….rhino horns, cashews and the space between or atoms all all closely tied and act as proof that Dali was one of the originators of chaos theory.

    • Dave says:

      Thanks Louis. Fantastic comment. ”The nuclear mystical aspects” is very clear to me, and merits a blog on its own. It seems most of the art historians frame their analysis on assumptions which appear incomplete, or entirely off base. I am sure Dali was not unique, in having an alternative perception to the works of the old masters. this is definitely a subject that will be taken up later, since as you said, ”have rarely been looked into”. Best,Dave

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>