The Hallucinogenic Toreador

Artist: Salvador Dalí
Medium: oil on canvas
Date: c. 1970

Dali’s paintings tell stories, and this painting is a story of a toreador (bullfighter) and his love for the Venus, both strongly representing masculinity and femininity, respectively.  But their love can never be fulfilled, because the toreador dies, as does the bull (pictured near the lower left). 

The whole scene is contained in a bullfight arena. Afternoon shadows sweep to the left and engulf a panorama of memories and visual associations: the gadflies of St. Narciso, patron saint of Catalonia, swarm over the arena and form the cap, hairnet, and cape of the bullfighter and the tear in his eye, together with the shape of a dying bull in the lower left; a pool of the bull’s blood and saliva transforms itself into a sheltered bay with a sunbather on an inflatable mattress; the flotsam and jetsam in the lower section of the beach take on the shape of a Dalmatian dog, its head facing the pool of water; the green tie of the toreador makes a visual twin of the shadows of Venus’ garment; the form of the slain bull rises to become the sheltering mountain landscape of the Cape Creus area around Port Lligat, where this work was painted; a mountain, which in turn is mimicked on the right by the inclusion of a craggy peak with a rose near its summit, recalls the precipitous mountains around the town of Rosas, near Dalí’s studio. The disembodied head of Gala, Dali’s wife, hovers disapprovingly in the upper left corner, symbolizing her dislike of the Spanish bullfighting tradition.

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