Freud, Dalí and the Metamorphosis of Narcissus

An exhibition exploring the connection between Sigmund Freud and Salvador Dalí.

3 October 2018 to 24 February 2019

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“In classic paintings, I look for the unconscious – in a surrealist painting, for the conscious.”Sigmund Freud

Salvador Dalí was a passionate admirer of Sigmund Freud and finally met him in London on July 19th 1938.

This year 2018 marks the 80th anniversary of this event. A new exhibition at the Freud Museum explores the connection between the two men, starting from their one meeting, to which Dalí brought his recently completed painting The Metamorphosis of Narcissus.

The painting, on loan from the Tate, is the central point in the exhibition for an exploration of the extensive influence of Freud on Dalí and on Surrealism. Also considered is Freud’s own attitude to painting, illuminated by his response to this encounter with Dalí.

© Salvador Dali, Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí, DACS 2018

Dalí had read The Interpretation of Dreams as an art student in Madrid in the early 1920s. This was, he wrote, “one of the capital discoveries of my life, and I was seized with a real vice of self-interpretation, not only of my dreams but of everything that happened to me.” This passion for self-interpretation took not just visual but also written form. In 1933 Dalí wrote a “psycho-analytical essay”, as he described it, on the famous painting by Jean-François Millet, The Angelus. The essay was eventually published as a book, The Tragic Myth of Millet’s ‘Angelus’. In it, Dalí explores his own obsession with the painting, which he lays out in the form of a Freudian case history.

In 1938, after several attempts, Dalí finally met his hero Freud, newly arrived in London after fleeing from Nazi-occupied Vienna. The meeting was brokered by Stefan Zweig, who was present, together with Dalí’s friend and patron Edward James, who owned The Metamorphosis of Narcissus. Dalí hoped his painting would allow him to engage Freud in a discussion of the psychoanalytical theory of Narcissism and would help him to demonstrate his concept of critical paranoia.

Sketch of Sigmund Freud by Salvador Dalí

Sketch of Sigmund Freud by Salvador Dalí

Dali was given permission to sketch Freud during the visit. These drawings, now in the Fundacio Gala-Salvador Dalí in Spain, are on display, and Dali’s long poem with the same title as the painting, The Metamorphosis of Narcissus. There is also material from the Freud Museum’s archive and collections, shedding light on Freud’s attitude to Dalí and their meeting.

Other themes of the exhibition include the classical origins of the myth of Narcissus and the place of narcissism in psychoanalytic thinking. Freud’s own collections play a part. For example, they include a copy of the classical relief Gradiva; Freud’s study of Wilhelm Jensen’s novel Gradiva was the inspiration for some of Dalí’s important paintings and drawings on this theme from the early 1930s.

Through images, including original paintings and drawings, photographs and prints, and documents including letters, manuscripts, books and Freud’s appointment diary, the intense – if somewhat one-sided – relationship between two extraordinary thinkers and creators are explored.

“A brilliantly engrossing exhibition.”Financial Times
The exhibition is curated by the distinguished art historian Dawn Ades, curator of the highly successful Dali/Duchamp exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts.

The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue, and an exciting public programme, which includes lectures and debates on topics including Narcissism, the relationship between art and psychoanalysis through Freud’s writings on Leonardo and Michelangelo, Freud and surrealism, psychoanalysis and classicism, and Lacan’s debt to Dalí’s critical paranoia.

Entry to the exhibition is free with admission to the museum and there’s no need to book in advance.


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