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17 Facts About The Persistence Of Memory

It’s one of the most famous Surrealist paintings ever created, and in this post, you’ll discover the ultimate list of facts about The Persistence of Memory.

1. What is The Persistence of Memory?

The Persistence of Memory is a 1931 surrealist painting that represents the lack of meaning of time in the unconscious world.

It’s considered to be one of the most important and well-recognized surrealist works of art, a style that gained ground after World War I, and is known for absurd and uncommon imagery that has a deeper meaning.

2. Who painted The Persistence of Memory?

The painting was created by Salvador Dalí, a Spanish surrealist painter who eventually became one of the leading figures of the surrealist movement.

The Persistence of Memory is one of his most recognized works along with “Galatea of Spheres,” “Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee Around a Pomegranate a Second Before Awakening,” “Soft Self Portrait with Fried Bacon” and “Head Exploding.”

Galatea of Spheres
Galatea of Spheres. / Wiki Commons

3. The painter was only 28 years old

Salvador Dalí was born Salvador Domingo Felipe Jacinto Dalí i Domènech, Marquis of Dalí de Púbol in the year 1904 in the town of Figueres in the Catalonia Region of Spain.

Since the painting was created in the year 1931, it means that Dalí was only 28 years old when he created it. That was 22 years after he started painting because started at the young age of 6.

The result?

He became world-famous when the work was shown at the Julien Levy Gallery in New York City in 1932, instantly transforming him into a superstar.

Salvador Dali in 1939
The eccentric Salvador Dalí in 1939 / Wiki Commons

4. The painting has some different names as well

Art-Facts Youtube Channel

The most prominent elements of the painting are the melting pocket watches. Therefore, the painting is also sometimes referred to as “Melting Clocks“, “The Soft Watches” or “The Melting Watches

5. When was The Persistence of Memory Painted?

In 1929, Dalí worked together with surrealist film director Luis Buñuel on the short film Un Chien Andalou (An Andalusian Dog). He officially joined the surrealist group in the same year.

Apart from his precise technique influenced by “Girl with a Pearl Earring” painter Johannes Vermeer, he used meditation to paint while being in a self-induced state of hallucination.

Dalí also claimed that he wasn’t aware of what he was painting, as it came straight from the realm of the subconscious. In one of his memoirs, he wrote that he was often surprised to see what he painted after awaking from the deep state of meditation he found himself in.

6. It’s a pretty small painting

While it’s arguably one of Dalí’s most famous paintings and considered to be the epitome of surrealism, the painting is rather small.

It is only the size of a sheet of paper and measures 24 × 33 centimeters – 9.5 × 13 inches.

facts about the persistence of memory
The Persistence of Memory is on display. / Source

7. The watches have a deeper meaning

The melting pocket watches that make the painting so famous are believed to symbolize the relativity of space and time.

British Art Historian Dawn Ades wrote in her book “Dalí and Surrealism” that “The soft watches are an unconscious symbol of the relativity of space and time, a Surrealist meditation on the collapse of our notions of a fixed cosmic order.”

8. Was Dalí inspired by Einstein?

With the notion that the melting pocket watches are representing the relativity of space and time, the painting might be a response to Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity.

9. Dalí’s explanation wasn’t as intellectual

When asked about this and whether or not the painting was a response to Einstein’s theory, Dalí gave a very unscientific explanation.

Dalí claimed that Einstein wasn’t his inspiration for the melting-pocket watches at all. These were big slices of “Camembert Cheese” that were melting in the sun.

Whether or not he was messing around with this answer, we’ll never know, but we tend to believe he was and that Einstein notion is closer to the truth.

camambert cheese
Was Camembert Cheese the inspiration for The Persistence of Memory? / Myrabella / CC BY-SA 3.0

10. The watches aren’t the only reference to time

To emphasize this notion, there are more references to time in the painting:

  • The sand, which could represent the sand in an hourglass.
  • The ants which all seem to have hourglass-shaped bodies.
  • The ocean in the distance, which could represent eternity.
  • The shadow is cast over the scene, which could represent the passing of the sun.
facts about the persistence of memory
Multiple elements in the paintings are references to time. / Source

11. Not everything in the painting is surrealistic

One of the most interesting facts about The Persistence of Memory is that not everything in the painting is actually surrealistic. If you take a closer look at the distant scenery, you’ll notice that it actually looks quite real.

That’s because it is!

Dalí’s native Catalonia was often the inspiration for his paintings, and The Persistence of Memory wasn’t any different.

The shadow of the mighty Mount Pani, which was the setting for his work “View of Cadaqués with Shadow of Mount Pani,” is what is covering the entire scene. The actual sea is bordered by Cape Creus, an idyllic location in Catalonia.

Cape Creus
Cape Creus in Catalonia / Alberto-g-rovi /

12. The insects might have a deeper meaning as well

If you look closely you can see that one of the clocks has a fly on it, while a clock that is facing down is covered with ants which hourglass-shaped bodies.

These insects could represent death and its relationship with time, as death is usually associated with eternity.

the persistence of memory insects

13. Dalí painted a “sequel” to The Persistence of Memory

In 1954, Dalí painted what is believed to be a reproduction of his famous 1931 Persistence of Memory painting. This painting was originally called “The Chromosome of a Highly-coloured Fish’s Eye Starting the Harmonious Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory,” before it was simply referred to as the “The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory.”

After the tragic event with the atomic bombs in 1945, Dalí got extremely interested in atoms and even described them as his “favorite food for thought.”

This painting is believed to be a replica of his original work but with the knowledge that atoms don’t actually touch each other.

The two works literally describe the two phases that Dalí went through in his career, one Freudian phase influenced by dreams, and one scientific phase influenced by his knowledge of atoms.

The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory
The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory. / Wiki Commons

14. Did Dalí paint himself in The Persistence of Memory?

Apart from the melting clocks, the draped, human-like creature in the center of the painting leaves a lot to the imagination.

Some believe it’s actually meant to be a representation of Dalí’s own face in profile. It clearly has human features in the form of eyelashes and what appears to be a tongue sticking just below the closed eye.

the persistence of memory facts

15. It’s located in New York City

So where can wan we admire Dalí’s work, The Persistence of Memory?

It’s currently on display in the Museum of Modern Art, simply referred to as the MoMA, in New York City.

16. The MoMA got the painting for free

One of the most remarkable facts about the Persistence of memory is that the MoMA actually got the painting for free!

After it was on display at the Julien Levy Gallery in New York City in 1932, an anonymous person bought the painting and donated it to the MoMA.

Quite a gift, don’t you think?

17. The painting has been featured on TV multiple times

A surrealistic painting that is known all over the world is bound to end up being used on television. And it did multiple times.

The Persistence of Memory has been featured in TV shows such as “The Simpsons,” “Futurama,” “Hey Arnold,” “Doctor Who,” and “Sesame Street.”

persistence of memory in the simpsons