The Surrealist Portfolio – Artwork analysis

Student coursework for the module Surrealism: Myth And Modernity (2020/2021), 2nd/3rd year elective

Analysis of Salvador Dalí’s Forgotten Horizon

by Sid Connor


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Forgotten Horizon (1936), oil on mahogany panel, is one of a series of paintings produced by Salvador Dalí between 1934-1936 depicting the Catalonian coastline, in this case Rosas (Tate, 2021). Working on a minute scale, the piece measuring 222 × 267 mm, Dalí paints with extraordinary precision a scene of dreamlike incongruence and hallucinatory figures. Forgotten Horizon incorporates many of Dalí’s recurring motifs whilst also reflecting his enduring love for the coastlines of his native Catalonia. A comparatively understated work, it provides a welcome contrast to Dalí’s elaborate, frequently nightmarish canvases and ‘clownish’ public persona (Ross, 2003:14).

By the time Salvador Dalí (1904-1989) painted Forgotten Horizon in 1936 he was at the height of his powers as an artist (Christie’s, 2013), the work displaying his unique blend of influences through its meticulous detail and hallucinatory atmosphere. Taking an interest in art from a young age (Caws, 2008: 22), Dali had progressed rapidly, taking inspiration from a wide variety of artists. These diverse influences had initially caused Dalí to struggle in his attempts to assert a consistent artistic identity (Ross, 2003: 68). It was his discovery of Surrealism in the 1920s which provided a unifying force, enabling him to blend a “mastery of traditional representation” (Shanes, 2010: 9) with De Chirico’s “cast shadows” and Tanguy’s “vast spaces” (Caws, 2008: 53), creating highly detailed representations of dreamlike scenes.

Dalí termed his approach to painting the “paranoiac critical method” (Constantinidou, 2012: 242), a style heavily influenced by Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams (1899). This “method” involved employing a “deliberately disoriented state of mind that would allow an individual to connect unrelated things, forging fresh avenues of thought and creation” (MoMA, 2021) working obsessively through the imagery and desires of the subconscious (Grant, 2005: 288-289). Dalí viewed this as an active alternative to the passivity of hallucinatory states and automatism which Surrealism had previously relied upon (ibid). Visually the paranoiac critical method was the marked by the use of double images (Dalí, 2001: 180) and visual puns (Shanes, 2010: 54) representing multiple possibilities simultaneously. It thus employed Freud’s understanding of the logic of dreams, whereby connections between things, and either/or scenarios are both expressed through simultaneity (Freud, 2015: 502-506). The paranoiac critical method’s Freudian basis thus opens even simplistic works like Forgotten Horizon to a wide array of interpretations.

Incorporating many recurring motifs of Dalí’s work from the mid-1930s, Forgotten Horizon skilfully utilises his increasingly well-established symbolic language. In the foreground a trio of dancers appear as though projected onto the landscape (King, 2007) almost beckoning the viewer into the unsettling scene. A “white calm” (Dalí, 1993: 360) in which the sky, sea and sand appear to intermingle, suggesting stillness which is belied by the “texture and energy of the paint application” (Tate, 2021), which could “be compared to action painting if it were not on such a miniscule scale” (King, 2007). This brushwork and the hint of looming clouds contributes to the threatening aura of the image.

Forgotten Horizon’s title and subdued pallet suggest a contemplative mood, likely brought about by the events of the time; Dalí had recently reconciled with his father after years of estrangement (Shanes, 2010: 52). This is supported by his choice of the beach at Rosas as his subject – a scene which was visible to a young Dalí from the window of his parents’ apartment and contributed to his lifelong adoration of the Catalonian landscape (Ross, 2003: 21).

This mood is further reflected in the choice of figures populating the scene. Although Dalí often utilised cryptic symbols and obscure, deeply personal, associations (Shanes, 2014: 177) Dalí’s devotion to Freud provides a valuable lens through which to analyse his work. The figure of Carolinetta, his cousin, is arguably legible as an example of Freudian connection through simultaneity, an element of Dalí’s paranoiac critical method also displayed in The Pharmacist of Ampurdàn in Search of Absolutely Nothing painted the same year, which utilises a complex chain of associations to enable one figure to stand for the pharmacist, his son, and a Catalan physicist (Shanes, 2014: 177). In an autobiographical text Dalí recounts being traumatised in his youth by an unnamed “girl cousin” who crushed a grasshopper (of which he was phobic) on the back of his neck (1993: 227). The name Carolinetta was also shared by a beloved aunt of Dalí’s who died when he was ten (Caws, 2008: 90). The connotations of the name and the figure thus suggest the spectral figure of Carolinetta may represent for Dalí the haunting presence of trauma, adding to the tension displayed in the image between the idyllic landscape and its sense of threat.

The three dancers in the foreground can also be interpreted in these allusive terms. The figures were intended to appear “hallucinatory” (King, 2007), detail which recalls a dream described by Freud in which he was haunted by three female figures who “signified the greatest good and ill fortune for him during life” (Freud, 2015: 298). This similarity, in combination with the painting’s title and reflective atmosphere, suggest the dancers may be for Dalí just such an apparition, representing important female figures from his childhood.

Dalí’s later career saw a widely acknowledged decline in the quality of his work (Meisler, 2005), and the increasing entanglement of his reputation with his outlandish persona (Zalman, 2012: 25). It is, however, in light of these later years that Forgotten Horizon can perhaps best be appreciated. One of Dalí’s few truly understated works, its simplicity, subtlety, and muted pallet providing a stark contrast to his verbose persona. It further attests to Dali’s great skill as a landscape artist, showcasing his fanatical eye for detail on even this miniscule scale. The image provide a window into the life of an artist at the height of his power and yet still preoccupied with the traumatic events of his youth. Forgotten Horizon’s nuanced simplicity thus stands as a monument to the artist’s brilliance which would arguably become overshadowed by the layers of the Dalí myth.



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