Salvador Dali’s Swans Reflecting Elephants / Analysis

Created by Salvador Dali

Swans Reflecting Elephants, painted by Salvador Dali in 1937, is one of Dali’s famous double images. Upon brainstorming and inspiration, Salvador Dali used a technique he invented called the paranoiac-critical-method. This technique was developed by Dali which consists of the artist invoking a paranoid state, that paranoiac state is described as being in fear that the self is being manipulated, targeted, or controlled by others. This technique was inspired from surrealism in the 1930’s which integrated art into life and the paranoiac-critical-method was Dali’s way of perceiving reality through his artwork. He was able to simulate being in a paranoid state and was able to put oil on canvas to draw his fantasy creation through what he visualized through his unconscious mind. Swans Reflecting Elephants is influenced by surrealism as the image explores the workings of the mind and holds symbolistic meanings within its elements.

In Swans Reflecting Elephants the double image seen in the art piece are the three swans reflecting three elephants in the body of water. Behind the swans are leafless trees so that they become the elephant’s bodies and the swan’s heads become the elephant’s head. If the image is flipped upside down the reflection of the elephants is still the swan. The image has very unique colors and Dali’s precision with using contrasting colors that make the image have a autumn-like palette. Colors used in the image are: orange, brown, variations of blue, white, and shades of black. Orange and brown are used to make the landscape of the image. The landscape of the image is rocks and cliffs, then the floor is dirt or sand. The rocks or cliffs on the left and right are colored precisely and with care. The landscape looks imaginary and is very detailed with colors. Behind the swans and trees is a lake connecting from the ocean or a river. The colors used to fill in the water are light blue, white, and shades of black to show the shadows of the day. The skies are colored blue, light blue, and white to show the clear heavens. The clouds are pink and white and are drawn uniquely to look like they are flying or Dali tried making them symbolize as birds. In the bottom half of the image, there is a straight horizontal line from border to border; the line can be seen beneath the swans and elephants for separation. In the image there is a man on the left of the lake standing on the ground looking away from the illusion. The man looks to be in deep thought and in a pondering stance. He has his left arm on his waist and his eyes are looking downward. The man is wearing a white shirt and long brown slacks. The man in the image was never identified or given a name but it can be speculated to be Salvador Dali himself.

Piazza d’ Italia, 1913 by Giorgio de Chirico

A theme seen in Dali’s Swans Reflecting Elephants is surrealism. Surrealism began in 1924 with writer André Breton who took inspiration from Giorgio de Chirico’s 1917 painting that had hallucinatory qualities. Chirico influenced a number of surrealist artists like Salvador Dali, Max Ernst, and Rene Magritte. Surrealism in the 1930’s had aspects of psychoanalysis, unconscious, and unconventional imagery. The surrealist event happening in Swans Reflecting Elephants is the setting of the image. The place looks dreamy and out of this world. Surrealism is also seen with the animal reflection illusion. In regards to the animals, another theme seen in the image is symbolism. Swans are a symbol of love, grace, trust, loyalty, and self love. Elephants are a symbol of good luck, prosperity, strength, power, and wisdom. The two animals chosen for this image can symbolize the love Salvador Dali had for art and the wisdom Dali possessed. Symbolism is also seen in the overall big picture where Salvador Dali created this masterpiece during the 1930’s when surrealism and Sigmund Frued’s psychoanalysis ideas were being founded. This artwork holds many elements that leave people intrigued.

Salvador Dali was creative and innovative when brainstorming and finalizing Swans Reflecting Elephants. Dali created the image with the paranoiac-critical-method technique he used. The images’ colors were picked out carefully and the painting was painted with unique characteristics. Salvador Dali creates a double image with three swans reflecting three elephants in the water’s reflection. Dali was a very clever artist with his own unique art styles that attract the eye and make people think about the image. This image resonates surrealism and symbolism can be found throughout the painting. Swans Reflecting Elephants is an amazing painting with lots of meaning.



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Enrique Gutierrez

Enrique Gutierrez

Journalism Major at San Jose State University 📚 Baseball Fan ⚾️