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Metamorphosis of Narcissus by Salvador Dali

For Artwork in Focus we explore individual artworks, critiquing their style and discussing their socio-political context. Today we look at Metamorphosis of Narcissus by Salvador Dali.

About the Work

Title: Metamorphosis of Narcissus (Métamorphose de Narcisse)
Artist : Oil paint on canvas
Year : 1937
Medium : Oil paint on canvas
Dimensions :  Support: 511 × 781 mm, frame: 820 × 1092 × 85 mm
Location : The Tate, UK

Salvador-Dali_Metamorphosis-of-Narcissus-1937_Artwork-in-Focus_Divvya-Nirula
Metamorphosis of Narcissus 1937 Salvador Dal? 1904-1989 Purchased 1979 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T02343

The Story of Narcissus

Metamorphosis of Narcissus was a pivotal painting from the avant-garde Surrealist, Salvador Dali. The painting fused the Greek legend of Narcissus and the central psychology of the painters from the school of Surrealism.

According to the Greek lore Narcissus, the youth was known to possess great beauty. He was loved and desired by many, like goddess Echo, but he only loved himself and he serially broke the hearts of his lovers. The gods could not bear his arrogance anymore and punished him uniquely. Narcissus was allowed to see his own reflection in a pool and fall in love irrevocably with himself. Unable to attain the transient reflection, yet compelled by its power, he wilted away and died. He was then turned into a daffodil by the gods, and it grows only by the river.

The chase of the elusive and grappling with reality comes together poignantly in the tale of Narcissus and the helplessness that was awarded to him. The psychosis of the legend was brilliantly utilised by Dali for his work, building different dimensions to study and understand, he loved playing with duality of images.

In terms of craft, Dali used hand-painted colour photography in order to project along with the hallucinatory effect and the transformation of Narcissus.

In the artwork, the protagonist is seen holding an egg and then the springing flower, kneeling in the pool. This work was done in accordance with the ‘paranoiac critical method’. Dali described it as a ‘spontaneous method of irrational knowledge, based on the critical-interpretative association of the phenomena of delirium’ which he refers to in ‘The Conquest of the Irrational’, published in The Secret Life of Salvador Dalí, New York 1942.

According to Robert Descharnes, the painting depicted a consistent interpretation of an irrational object and was extremely close to Dali’s heart.

“The difference between false memories and true ones is the same as for jewels: it is always the false ones that look the most real, the most brilliant.”

Salvador Dali

Other Details

The transformative moment is shown at a ‘precise’ moment. The image is transformed and shows the hand which arises out of the reflection, his own. Narcissus is shown holding an egg, a seed, a bulb from which will be born the new narcissus – the flower. Next to it there is the limestone sculpture of the hand as well as the fossil hand in the water, holding the blown flower.


To learn more about iconic artworks and their socio-political context, visit the archive for Artwork in Focus.

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