Oil on canvas
10 1/2 x 7 1/2 in. (26.7 x 19.1 cm)
Meadows Museum, SMU, Dallas. Museum purchase with funds from The Meadows Foundation, Holly Bock, Doug Deason, Mrs. Eugene McDermott, Linda P. and William A. Custard, and Gwen and Richard Irwin; MM.2014.11
Listen to Meadows Museum docent Lourdes Ruh discuss this work (2:55 minutes)
Salvador Dalí (1904–1989)
The Fish Man (L'homme poisson), 1930
by Lourdes Ruh, Meadows Museum docent
It is a small Surrealist oil painting on canvas. Let me first address what Surrealism means. It is a visual and literary movement that began in the early 1920s. Many Surrealist artists used spontaneous drawings to unlock ideas from their unconscious minds and to depict dream worlds or desires.
Who was Salvador Dalí? Dali was born in 1904 in the Catalan town Figueras, Spain, and died in 1989. He studied art in Madrid and Barcelona, and it was not until the late 1920s when two events greatly influenced his mature artistic style: First, his [Dalí’s] discovery of the founder of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, and second, his [Dalí’s] affiliation with the Paris Surrealists, a group of artists and writers.
In the summer of 1929, Dalí met his future wife, Gala, a Russian immigrant 10 years his senior. Dalí fell madly in love with her, and the legendary couple Gala/Dalí was born.
Now, let’s look at the painting closely. L’homme poisson features numerous visual references of his wife. On the bottom-right edge, we see a tiny dedication “pour l’olivette,” one of the different diminutives he called Gala.
The meaning behind this work is not easy to grasp. In the painting, a bust in profile on a pedestal is prominently on display in an open, dry, dusty plain painted in warm shades of yellow. The head of the figure is formed of flesh-colored fish around the face of a clock, hence the name of the painting. Notice in the upper left corner, there’s a woman’s red [pink] shoe lying next to a long wall and, if you look carefully, the image of a second shoe appears in the chest of the figure. The shoe was likely meant to symbolize Gala.
Notice the cypress tree and a couple of pebbles that complete the scene, all the different objects casting eerie shadows. Each object in this work is very recognizable, but this scene would not be found in real life. Such a combination of objects comes from the dream world of the master of Surrealism, Salvador Dalí.