Two hundred and sixty six

Metamorphosis of Narcissus

1937 by Salavador Dalí
Tate Modern

The myth of Narcissus getting lost in the reflection of his own beauty is well known, not to mention the message the story brings with it of the pitiable state of self-absorption. Perhaps no painting brings to the forefront the dark elements entwined with such an obsession with beauty as much as Dalí who, armed with the tropes of surrealism, may pull the conflicts of the story into visually poignant symbols for his world of unreality. The whole painting appears caught in a permanent reflection, divided by a melting palette of cool greys and hot, almost putrid, yellows. A warmth grows from the left, rising in the red cliff face and caught still in the pool below, aiming it seems to project itself onto the rest of the painting. In turn the left of the painting absorbs this golden glow in the strength of its shadows, taking its power from the blue and thundery sky that looms above. The focus of reflection is held in the giant figure of Narcissus that bows his head terribly down, his body glowing, his fist clenched into the water. His stance is then echoed in the hauntingly silvery hand that stands as a sculpture on the bank of the pool, holding a bursting egg in its delicately deadly fingers. The egg mirrors Narcissus’s head, the flower (of life, rebirth, sexuality, death) reflecting the flames of his waving hair. It is an incredible clever image, immediately reflective of shape and poignantly suggestive in symbolism and control. Beyond a mythological party of naked bodies dance, while on the opposite side a statue, poised in vanity, stands on a pedestal on a checkered black and white floor.  They are symbols, adding to the overwhelming tumult of atmosphere this painting creates – the air thick with the vanity and obsession of Narcissus.

 

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