About This Artwork

Salvador Dalí
Spanish, 1904–1989

Inventions of the Monsters, 1937

Oil on canvas
20 1/4 x 30 7/8 in. (51.4 x 78.4 cm)

Joseph Winterbotham Collection, 1943.798

© Salvador Dalí, Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York,

Salvador Dalí, Surrealism’s most publicized practitioner, created monstrous visions of a world turned inside out, which he made even more compelling through his extraordinary technical skills. In 1943, when the Art Institute acquired Inventions of the Monsters, Dalí wrote his congratulations and explained:

"According to Nostradamus the apparition of monsters presages the outbreak of war. The canvas was painted in the Semmering mountains near Vienna a few months before the Anschluss [the 1938 political union of Austria and Germany] and has a prophetic character. Horse women equal maternal river monsters. Flaming giraffe equals masculine apocalyptic monster. Cat angel equals divine heterosexual monster. Hourglass equals metaphysical monster. Gala and Dalí equal sentimental monster. The little blue dog is not a true monster. "

Dalí’s painting has an ominous mood. It is rife with threats of danger, from the menacing fire in the distance to the sibylline figure in the foreground with an hourglass and a butterfly, both symbols of the inevitability of death. Next to this figure sit Dalí and his wife and muse, Gala. With his native Catalonia embroiled in the Spanish Civil War, the artist surely felt great anxiety over a world without a safe haven, a world that indeed had allowed for the invention of monsters.

— Entry, The Essential Guide, 2013, p. 276.

While Surrealists such as Giorgio de Chirico and Rene Magritte generally focused on unlocking the mystery of everyday objects, Salvador Dali populated his visionary landscapes with the often monstrous creatures of his imagination. Dali also favored dazzling displays of painterly skill, rather than the deadpan realism of de Chirico and Magritte, in giving his scenes a dramatic and hallucinatory intensity.

When this painting was acquired by the Art Institute in 1943, Dali sent the following telegram commenting on the circumstances of the work's creation and its symbolism:

Am pleased and honored by your acquisition. According to Nostradamus [sixteenth-century French physician and astrologer] the apparition of monsters presages the outbreak of war. This canvas was painted in the Semmering mountains near Vienna a few months before the Anschluss [the annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany in March 1938] and has a prophetic character. Horsewomen equal maternal river monsters. Flaming giraffe equals masculine apocalyptic monster. Cat angel equals divine heterosexual monster. Hourglass equals metaphysical monster. Gala [Dali's wife] and Dali equal sentimental monster. The little blue dog alone is not a true monster.

As Dali's comments suggest, there is an ominous mood to the painting. A hand mysteriously emerges from the lower left corner of the picture and points admonishingly to the scene before us. Here a sibylline figure gazes from black sockets at the butterfly and hourglass she holds in her hands, both of which may be interpreted as memento mori, reminders of death. Behind her emerge the heads of Gala and Dali, which are vividly caught in a happily shared moment, as they gaze with apparent amusement and fascination at the varied objects (a hand holding a ball, a long loaf of bread, and what seems to be a small portrait bust) on the long table before them. In the center of the picture, a kind of altar supports a female bust, her nakedness painted with the lush eroticism that so appealed to the Surrealists. The woman's head merges with that of a horse, associating her with the horse-women shown bathing at left. What Dali refers to above as a "cat angel" leans against the altar, seemingly in conversation with the horse-woman. In what is now the empty right-hand corner of the picture, a dog was once visible (painted in a chemically unstable pigment, it has now faded almost completely). The populated areas of the picture in the foreground and middleground seemed to be threatened by some kind of conflagration in the far right corner, a danger epitomized by the "flaming giraffe." As Dali's comments make clear, the artist understood this to refer to the approaching threat of World War II.

A number of preparatory drawings exist for this painting. One of these is presently on loan to the Art Institute and shows Dali working to define the painting's double-headed woman by combining a profile and frontal view. The deep, receding perspective found in the painting is already suggested here by the small figure and hill sketched in the far distance.

—Entry, Margherita Andreotti, Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies, Vol. 20, No. 2, The Joseph Winterbotham Collection at The Art Institute of Chicago (1994), p. 168-169.

Exhibition, Publication and Ownership Histories

Exhibition History

Paris, Renou et Colle, July 6-30, 1937.
Hartford, Wadsworth Atheneum, Paintings in the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. James Thrall Soby, November 1940.

New York, Museum of Modern Art, Paintings, Drawings, Prints: Salvador Dalí, 1941, pp. 26, 28, 62, fig. 33
Chicago, The Art Institute, The Winterbotham Collection, May 23-June 22, 1947, pp. 12-3 (ill.).
Denver, Art Museum, The Modern Artist and His World, March 6-April 27, 1949, p. 11 (ill.).

Dallas, Museum of Fine Arts, The Winterbotham Colleciton of 20tth Century Art, October. 8-November 6, 1949.

Minneapolis, Walker Art Center, Reality and Fantasy, 1900-1954, May 23-July 2, 1954, no. 44.
New York, Gallery of Modern Art, Salvador Dalí 1910-1965, December 18-February 28, 1966, no. 86.

Rotterdam, Museum Boymans-van Beuninge, Dalí, November 21, 1970-January 10, 1971, no. 56.
Baden-Baden, Staatliche Kunsthalle, Dalí. Gemälde, Zeichnungen, Objekte, Schmuck, January 29-April 18, 1971, no. 44.

Paris, Centre Georges Pompidou, Salvador Dalí. Retrospective, December 18, 1979-April 21, 1980, no. 249.

Stuttgart, Staatsgalerie, Salvador Dalí, May 12-July 23, 1989, no. 196; traveled to Zurich, Kunsthaus, August 18- October. 22, 1989, Louisiana, Museum of Modern Art, December 16, 1989-March 11, 1990, and Montreal, Museum of Fine Arts, April 13-July 29, 1990.

Tokyo, ASAHI Shimbun, Masterworks of Modern Art from The Art Institute of Chicago, no. 39, pp. 126–7 (ill.); traveled to Nagaoka, Niigata Prefectural Museum of Modern Art, April 20, 1994–May 29, 1995; Nagoya, Aichi Prefectural Museum of Art, June 10–July 24, 1994: Yokohama Museum of Art, August 6 1994–September 25, 1994.

Philadelphia Museum of Art, Salvador Dalí, February 6–May 15, 2005.

Publication History

“Dalí’s Heterosexual Monster Invades Chicago,” Art Digest 18 (October. 1943), p.13.

James Thrall Soby and Museum of Modern Art, Salvador Dalí (New York, 1946) pp. 21, 23, 62 (ill.).

Juan Antonio Nuño, Salvador Dalí. Con cuartro ilustraciones en color y cuarenta y ocho en negro (Barcelona, 1950), fig. 27.

“Salvador Dalí. Die Erfindung der Ungeheuer.” Du 11 (November 1952), p.34.

Catalog of Works by Salvador Dalí in Public Museum Collections (Cleveland, 1956 ), p. 41 (ill.).

Art Institute, El Mundo de los Museos: Instituto de arte de Chicago: presentación de Charles C. Cunningham (Buenos Aires, 1967), p. 15 (ill.) fig. 71, and pp. 75, 76–7 (ill.) as Inventos de los monstruos.

Harvard H. Arnason, History of Modern Art (New York, 1968), no. 163.

Robert Descarnes, Salvador Dalí, The Library of Great Painters (New York, 1976), p. 121 (ill.).

Dalí. La obra y la personalidad de un opintor en tantos aspectos desconcertante (Barcelona, 1980), no. 19.

Robert Descarnes, Salvador Dalí: The Work, the Man (New York, 1984), p. 213 (ill).

Wieland Schmied, Salvador Dalí. Das Rätsel der Begierde (Munich, 1991), fig. 11.

Robert Descharnes and Gilles Néret, Salvador Dalí 1904-1989. Das Malerische Werk, vol. 1 (Cologne, 1993), p. 292 (ill).

Art Institute, The Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies: The Joseph Winterbotham Collection, 20, no. 2 (1994), p. 169 (ill.).

Fiona Bradley, “Doubling and Dédoublement: Gala in Dalí,” Art History 17, no. 4 (December 1994), pp. 612-30, 618 (ill).

Haim Finkelstein, Salvador Dalí’s Art and Writing, 1927-1942 (Cambridge, 1996), fig. 75.
Ian Gibson, The Shameful Life of Salvador Dalí (London, 1997) p.376.

Salvador Dalí. A Guide to His Works in Public Museums (Clevelend, 1974) p.4 4(ill.).

Ownership History

Mr. and Mrs. James T. Soby Collection, Farmington, Conneticut, by 1940 [Hartford 1940]. Durlacher Brothers, New York, by 1943. Sold to Art Institute, July 12, 1943.

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