Symbolism in the Works of Dali and Picasso

Metamorphosis of Narcissus by Salvador Dali

Metamorphosis of Narcissus is an outstanding painting by Salvador Dali. Traditionally, the artist used oil and canvas to create the piece in 1937. Although it consists of numerous seemingly unrelated objects – human limbs, water, clouded sky, a starving dog, etc., the picture effectively communicates a single idea. The artist’s purpose is not distracting the audience. Instead, he suggests that despair and hope are the two sides of the same coin, a mere reflection of one another. One spin of this coin – and a person’s life can be either fixed or destroyed.

When looking at the painting for the first time, a person sees a picture which seems to have been painted two times on the same canvas. A closer look reveals that these images are indeed different.

The first part of the picture portraits a body looking at its reflection in the water. There is a setting sun in the background. Also, there is a person deeply immersed in thoughts. Surrounded by a barren canyon, the person remains so motionless that he/she might even be dead. Since nothing is going on in this part of the picture, the viewers direct their attention to another one.

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The second part depicts a huge decaying hand. It is stuck in the ground with a dozen of ants crawling up and down. They are probably building their home there or looking for food. On its own, the hand would also appear motionless, but it is holding an egg with a sprout of a flower in it. The flower symbolizes life, hope, and beauty. Another indication of hope and salvation is the starving dog placed to the left of the hand. The dog has found a piece of meat – its last hope for survival. The background of this part consists of a chess board with a young man on it and a group of people on the road leading into the horizon. In this part of the picture, the artist painted many symbols of new beginnings after the old life: hope from despair, life from death. Life is a cycle, and a human being cannot experience one thing without another.

Guernica by Pablo Picasso

This painting first appeared at the World Fair’s Fair in 1937, and it has been regarded as a modern-art masterpiece ever since. The picture is not only huge in size but also deeply symbolic, which makes it a subject of extensive discussions about the artist’s true intentions.

The piece is perfectly balanced, which is a typical feature of Picasso’s works. To avoid confusion, the author defined the symbols himself, although some critics still hold to misconceptions. The painter used only grey scale colors while painting on canvas. The same coloring of Spanish newspapers which covered bombing explains his choice. Black and white dominate the picture. The lines are absolutely clear, the shapes are sometimes geometrical. Typical of cubism, the painting uses minimum texture to make it two dimensional. Among numerous objects portrayed in the picture, the viewer notices a soldier with a broken sword – a symbol of destroyed spirits and inability to withstand suppression. The woman represents the concern for those at war. The bull probably symbolizes the artist’s home country still standing after the brutal attack.

Depressive and striking, the piece remains one of the most celebrated war paintings in the human history with new generations discovering new symbols in in it.

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