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A window into the mind
Salvador Dalí (Spanish, 1904-1989)<br><i>Portrait of Juan de Pareja, the Assistant to Velázquez</i>, 1960, oil on canvas
zoom Salvador Dalí (Spanish, 1904-1989)
Portrait of Juan de Pareja, the Assistant to Velázquez, 1960, oil on canvas


Hidden from awareness, the unconscious mind is hard to know. The best chance comes in sleep, hypnosis, or madness. Yet the images in our dreams, trances, or delusions are still only symbols of unconscious meanings. Freud believed these symbols could be interpreted to reveal underlying fears and desires. The Surrealists, however, were more interested in the images’ poetic surprises.

Some Surrealist pictures suggest images from dreams or trances. As in dreams, unrelated objects and events combine in a matter-of-fact way, often in a strange, confusing space. Such pictures can be disturbing or shocking. Here, Salvador Dalí (SAHL-va-dor DAH-lee) presents a dizzying scene of flying nails, open gashes, and haunting figures from famous 17th-century paintings.

The Surrealists occasionally tried out ways to bring on sleep and hypnosis, even madness, for the purpose of making art. But some of them argued that pictures based on dreams or hallucinations could never be a true record of the unconscious. They had, after all, passed through the filter of memory.

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1. Max Ernst often used collage to create dreamlike scenes by combining parts of different images in unlikely ways.
Max Ernst, plate from the book Une Semaine de Bonté, 1934, photoengraved collage
2. The ghostly figures of this picture are surrounded by symbols of fertility and birth.
Leonora Carrington, Dear Diary—Never Since We Left Prague, 1955, oil on canvas
3. Paul Delvaux (del-VO) often painted familiar settings but peopled them with figures in odd situations.
Paul Delvaux, Woman with a Mirror, 1945, oil on Masonite


April 2006