Salvador Dali – One Second Before Awakening from a Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee Around a Promegranate (1944)

Description

The painting depicts a woman (Dalí’s wife, Gala) sleeping while sunbathing naked during a calm day on rocks floating over the sea, possibly at Port Lligat.[1][2] An elephant with incredibly long, extremely thin legs walks across the sea’s horizon while carrying an obelisk. Near the woman float two drops of water and a small pomegranate.[1] From a larger pomegranate comes a fish that spews a tiger from which comes another tiger, while in front of that second tiger a rifle’s bayonet touches (or nearly touches) the woman’s right arm.

Themes and symbolism

The bayonet, as a symbol of the stinging bee, may thus represent the woman’s abrupt awakening from her otherwise peaceful dream. This is an example of Sigmund Freud‘s influence on surrealist art and Dali’s attempts to explore the world of dreams in a dreamscape.[2]

The bee around the smaller pomegranate is repeated symbolically. The two tigers represent the body of the bee (yellow with black stripes) and the bayonet its stinger. The fish may represent the bee’s eyes, because of similarity of the fish’s scaly skin with the scaly complex eyes of bees.

The elephant is a distorted version of a well-known sculpture by Bernini that is located in Rome.[3] The smaller pomegranate floating between two droplets of water may symbolize Venus, especially because of the heart-shaped shadow it casts.[3] It may also be used as a Christian symbol of fertility and resurrection.[1] This female symbolism may contrast with the phallic symbolism of the threatening creatures.[3]

It has also been suggested that the painting is “a surrealist interpretation of the Theory of Evolution.”[4]

In 1962, Dalí said his painting was intended “to express for the first time in images Freud‘s discovery of the typical dream with a lengthy narrative, the consequence of the instantaneousness of a chance event which causes the sleeper to wake up. Thus, as a bar might fall on the neck of a sleeping person, causing them to wake up and for a long dream to end with the guillotine blade falling on them, the noise of the bee here provokes the sensation of the sting which will awaken Gala.”[1]The guillotine anecdote refers to a dream reported by Alfred Maury in Le sommeil et les rêves and related by Freud in The Interpretation of Dream

A short, alternate title for the painting is “Sting Caused by the Flight of a Bee.”

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