In 1939, Salvador Dalí painted The Enigma of Hitler, his ticket out of the Surrealist group of André Breton. But what does this painting mean?
What I'm going to say might make some people cringe or gasp (especially those who think of themselves as art experts), but I never liked nor will ever care for Salvador Dalí. I can see why he became the important figure he is, and I must accept his artistic value, but as a person, I think he's one of the most despicable and repulsive beings that ever set foot on Earth. I know, you shouldn't judge art based on the artist's life or personality, but in this case, there's no other way to judge it. He made a fortune by combining his work with a quirky and mysterious persona that I also believe was extremely fake. His surreal colleagues saw his true colors right at the beginning and even banned him from their group, led by Andre Breton, and the reason was his lack of commitment to the movement as well as his exaggerated thirst for fame and fortune.
That last part doesn't really bother me. I believe that if you want to succeed in what you do, you must be ambitious. The part of the money it’s just natural. I mean, who doesn’t want to be rich? What makes of Salvador Dalí such a disgusting character is that, in order to satiate his ambition, he didn’t care about yielding to power. He enjoyed safety and riches coming from Franco’s regime. He even admired the dictator for his military and political achievements. It’s a well-known secret that the two of them had a close relationship, and even Franco sponsored some of his most famous paintings. Now, what does this have to do with Hitler?
Everything. The Surrealist movement was characterized by their hatred towards authorities, meaning the power of right-wing politicians that ruled in most European countries, as well as religious institutions, highly associated with politics. For his fellow Surrealist colleagues, everything Dalí created was a treason to their ideals as a group, reason why, as I mentioned, he was expelled. But it goes beyond that. When the Civil War broke out in 1936, Hitler was already enjoying the power of being Germany’s Chancellor and head of the Nazi Party. Just a few days after the war in Spain started, he sent help to his fascist colleague Franco, so he could overthrow the Republican president, and even convinced another lovely figure of the time, Benito Mussolini, to also help the Nationalists. So you can see where I’m going.
From the beginning, Dalí was one of the few intellectuals, at least of the ones that are known for their craft, who supported the fascist regime of Franco. Therefore, Franco made Dalí a member of the Order of Isabella the Catholic, and years later the painter donated all of his paintings to the Spanish government, and the list could go on and on. I mention this to paint a picture of how Dalí’s political visions were and also to see where his interests focused on. However, the relationship Dalí- Hitler goes beyond his friendship with Francisco Franco.
In 1939, when the Civil War ended and his pal Franco rose to power (also the year World War II officially started), Dalí created one of his most controversial pieces called The Enigma of Hitler. Filled with surrealist imagery, it shows a huge plate in the middle with a tiny torn photograph of the dictator, all surrounded by a greyish and gloomy setting. An enormous black telephone hangs from a branch just above the plate, and from one of the speakers, a huge drop is falling. From the branch, there’s also an umbrella hanging and just behind it, you can see an unknown female figure, everything with Dalí’s artistic signature. But what does the painting mean?
Some art specialists claim that the plate represents some sort of amphitheater while the speaker is the link to modernity. The fact that Hitler’s picture is in the middle of the plate is allegedly representing Hitler’s ability to speak and convince people while the gloomy atmosphere is the consequence of this speech and politics. However, based on his political inclination and his own statements towards the dictator, others just think it was a way of honoring him without being extremely obvious. He said once that his obsession with Hitler could be seen as a homoerotic fantasy: “I often dreamed of Hitler as a woman. His flesh, which I had imagined whiter than white, ravished me…”
This painting is thought to be complimentary of a previous one called Imperial Violets (1938), in which it’s believed he’s portraying the devastation and decay of the world, leading towards an inevitable war conflict. Now, this is what really bothers me about this character. On the one hand, he behaves as one of the acolytes of repression and devastation, but on the other, he makes pieces that subtly go against these ideals. His lack of commitment to a determined cause is what makes him a hypocrite. Why would you support characters that promote war, while painting about how terrible war is?
There’s no evidence showing that he, in fact, had a relationship with the Führer, but there are many records showing that he had indeed a huge admiration or even obsession, as he called it, with this figure. However, what is absolutely proven is his close relationship with Spain’s terrible dictator.
If you like Salvador Dalí’s surreal quirks, you’ll enjoy these: