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The Meaning of "The Persistence of Memory"

The Meaning of
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"The Persistence of Memory" was painted by Salvador Dali in 1931. As one of his most popular paintings, it is a classic portrayal of the dream-like interpretation of quite simple objects and shapes distorted or transformed into sometimes unrecognizable forms. Rich in psychological and philosophical undertones, "The Persistence of Memory" can be viewed at the Gala-Salvador Dali Foundation/Artists Rights Society Museum in New York City.


Salvador Dali lived in Port Lligat, Spain, and many of his paintings, including this one, hint at the landscape common in this area. The beach and rocky terrain shown in the light of the painting were likely influenced by Dali's childhood experiences.

Melting Clocks

What are often interpreted as melting clocks are actually a combination of clocks and cheese. Dali himself once commented that the mind and time are like "cheese" that are full of holes (unreliable). In his painting, Dali seems to point out that memory can be deceiving.

Light and Shadow

Portions of the painting are hidden in shadow while others are well lit. Of particular consideration is the presence of two identical rocks (one to the left of the tree and the other below the rocky hills) and their shadows. Without the light, the rock to the left of the tree would not actually have a shadow. This points to the accuracy of memory when it comes to irrelevant details and memory's slippery hold on the main subject.


Ants are shown to be attacking a clock in the lower left corner of the painting. This is often interpreted as being a different idea in the same painting (very common in Dali's works). The ants attacking the clock signify the nervousness and anxiety often associated with time.

Dali Interpretation

Salvador Dali often gave detailed (yet incorrect) interpretations of his works in order to confuse critics and art lovers. By doing this, he meant to encourage multiple interpretations of the same work based on how people (and minds) related them to their own experiences.

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