analysis of salvador dalis painting daddy long legs of the evening hope

Analysis of Salvador Dali’s painting

“Daddy Long Legs of the Evening—Hope!”

            This essay will first discuss in detail the painting with my reactions and feelings as I studied its details. I feel that it is necessary to dedicate the greater part of this essay to this, before finally proceeding to analyze it based on Freud’s ideas on the unconscious, as this painting truly has affected me profoundly, and that time should be spent to carefully examine its details as well as how these details affected me and revealed to me some aspects of my unconscious mind.

The title of the painting is “Daddy Long Legs of the Evening—Hope!” It is done by the surrealist painter Salvador Dali in 1940 using oil painting.

At first glance, the painting immediately caught my attention. Perhaps it is due to the fact that it is not ordinary in the way it is expressed. The painting has an eerie feel about it. A figure of a human who appears to be a woman is severely distorted, beyond rationality, and hung over a withered tree. The details in the image of this woman are such that I feel nauseated.

The woman’s lower body appears to be young and beautiful. It recalls to me the feeling of beauty and innocence, of gentleness and softness. But above her waste, I begin to feel my stomach become queasy. Her skin is shredded and torn, but so to speak, neatly, that if you would not look at it as the skin of someone human, then it would probably be lovely draperies hung over the branches of a leafless tree. That is what makes it more eerie. Salvador Dali does not seem to exert any effort to show violence or gore of some sort, there is no blood, no wounds. Everything is neat. But perhaps even more chilling than blood, the inside of the woman appears to be empty! It’s as if all her organs and all her blood were taken out. It’s as if she was just composed of skin from her waste and up.

Such an image shows the violence and the malevolence of war, which is supposed to be what this painting is about. I realize that it generates in me some fears I have about violence, though I normally repress this feeling. The truth is that they my feelings are there, and this painting has allowed these repressed fears to surface. War can be very violent, and sometimes can reach the point where there is no more humanity to be seen in the acts of soldiers. The scene of the deformed and torn body brings this feeling to me, and it does so not only casually, but strongly. The way the painting is expressed is simply drawing me in. Though at first glance it feels like such a situation is distant, it also feels real at the same time, just like how an impossible thing feels normal in a dream.

The neck is impossibly stretched from one of the tree’s branches and down to the ground. The neck is almost as long as the body. The size of the human head connected to it is severely oversized. The head is deflated like a balloon, and it rests on the ground. The face is said to look like Salvador Dali himself, although Dali is male while the body of the person on the figure is female.  Black ants march over and near the face. There is a long-legged spider on the cheek of the human figure, and this is where the title comes from, ‘Long Legs’.

            The arms of the person are withered and sinewy, as if belonging to a very old man, and the hands hold a violin that looks like a deflated balloon as well. I begin to ponder, why are those arms old and withered? There is also a baby angel, a cherub, on the lower left corner watching the scene, but with his eyes covered. I notice that the cherub’s left hand is closed, but implying a symbol, and again I ponder on what that symbol could mean. I let my consciousness flow freely and once more I feel that all things on the painting are normal and not impossible, just like the feeling of being in a dream.

Above the cherub, a cannon blasts out a horse that looks like it comes from beyond the grave. A deflated airplane also comes out from the cannon, just below the horse, though at first it was hard to figure out what it was supposed to be. Again, I ponder on what the deflation of the airplane, the violin, and the person could mean for Dali. Also, the airplane is connected to what seems to me to be the figure of an angel turning his back away from the scene. The angel is headless and armless.

The background and setting appears to be a wasteland, but the lot where the dead tree stands in is enclosed in concrete, suggesting it is somewhere near a city. In the distance, there are two figures that are of human shape but appear to be made of thin tendrils of smoke, and they appear to be walking towards the scene. The shadows are distorted as well, and the shadows from the figures in the painting cover more distance than should be possible. Despite these seemingly insane representations, the artwork, as a whole looks catching to the eye.

According to Freud, the mind can be divided into the conscious and unconscious. The conscious mind encompasses everything we are aware of. Here lie the things that we can think of and can speak of in a rational way. A part of this is our memory, which is not always part of our conscious, but which can be retrieved at any time and brought into our awareness. Freud calls this as the preconscious. The unconscious mind, on the other hand, encompasses feelings, thoughts, urges, and memories that are outside our conscious awareness. These may be unacceptable and unpleasant to us, and may include our anxieties, pain, and inner conflict. The unconscious mind influences our behavior and experience, even though we are unaware of these underlying influences.

This painting by Salvador Dali allows us to face uncertain feelings towards war. The images appear to have no sense; they appear to be unbound from the rules of reality. But perhaps this is what truly reflects how our mind works—dreamlike and free from rules that define what is normal.

The way this painting brings to us to face our fears and feelings is similar to the Freudian psychoanalysis. According to Freud, people often experience thoughts and feelings that are so painful that they cannot bear them. Such thoughts and feelings and associated memories could not be banished from the mind, but can be banished from the consciousness. These come to constitute the unconscious. People repress such thoughts, and repression is often a non-conscious act. Through this painting, we come face to face with repressed emotions and fears.

To understand further what Dali intended for his painting, I have researched more into the history of the painting. According to Aaron Ross, the painting forces us to examine our own ambivalent attitudes towards war. This painting was done during Dali’s exile in the United States, and it is supposed to show that no war, not even a victory over an evil dictator, is without moral turmoil.

Aaron Ross furthers that the head which rests inert on the ground is none other than Dali’s own, abstracted from an oddly anthropomorphic rock formation at Cape Creus in the artist’s native Catalonia. The spider of the title, along with an army of black ants, crawls across the face. This is a reference to a French legend which says that the sighting of a daddy longlegs in the evening hours is a good omen. Above the gelatinous head of Dali is a cannon, recalling De Chirico’s The Philosopher’s Conquest, which spews forth a decayed horse and a deflated airplane. Both are in the process of trampling a Winged Victory of Samothrace, the angel with no head and arms that I mentioned earlier, which appears to be made out of bandages.

According to Ross, on a closer inspection, this painting proves to contain artistic and philosophical complexities far beyond the obvious. It is a prophetic statement about the Second World War and the hollow victory in store for the Allies. In a more general sense, it is an indictment of all wars. In the end, it is not Dali’s emaciated figure which is grotesque, but the dehumanization and senseless bloodshed perpetrated in the name of “victory.”

Truly, I agree with what Salvador Dali tried to express through this painting. Also, I find that this way of expression is very effective since we are dealing with unconscious thoughts. The painting has succeeded to draw out the fears in me so I can confront them, instead of repressing them, which has negative effects. By creating a dream-like world in this painting, our imaginations are also allowed to roam without being bound by rules. The dream world is the realm of the unconscious, and this is probably why Salvador Dali chose to represent his paintings this way. He was a master of bringing to light ideas that come from dreams and in exposing the things we unconsciously deny and repress. This painting is a good example of such. It can bring out our repressed feelings and unconscious thoughts.

            Studying this painting has allowed me to understand better Freud’s ideas regarding the unconscious mind, and how those can be applied.

Works Cited

Freud, Sigmund. The Interpretation of Dreams. USA: Oxford, 1980.

Ross, Aaron (2006). The Art of Salvador Dali: From the Grotesque to the Sublime. Retrieved

     March 6, 2008 from Aaron Ross’ Website:

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