Metamorphosis of Narcissus

Artist: Salvador Dalí
Medium: oil on canvas
Date: c. 1937

Metamorphosis of Narcissus is Dalí’s interpretation of the Greek myth of Narcissus. Narcissus was a youth of great beauty who loved only himself and broke the hearts of many lovers. The gods punished him by letting him see his own reflection in a pool. He fell in love with it, but discovered he could not embrace it and died of frustration. Relenting, the gods immortalized him as the narcissus (daffodil) flower. 

For this picture Dalí used a meticulous technique which he described as ‘hand-painted colour photography’ to depict with hallucinatory effect the transformation of Narcissus, kneeling in the pool, into the hand holding the egg and flower. Narcissus as he was before his transformation is seen posing in the background. The play with ‘double images’ sprang from Dalí’s fascination with dream imagery.

Dalí’s poem, below, accompanied the painting when it was initially exhibited:

Narcissus,

in his immobility,

absorbed by his reflection with the digestive slowness of carnivorous plants,

becomes invisible.

There remains of him only the hallucinatingly white oval of his head,

his head again more tender,

his head, chrysalis of hidden biological designs,

his head held up by the tips of the water’s fingers,

at the tips of the fingers

of the insensate hand,

of the terrible hand,

of the mortal hand

of his own reflection.

When that head slits

when that head splits

when that head bursts,

it will be the flower,

the new Narcissus,

Gala – my Narcissus

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