Dalí here employed a meticulously realistic style to depict weirdly distorted elements in order to produce an unsettling image of a desolate, uninhabited landscape.
A landscape of cliffs, sea and endless at plain is unexpectedly punctuated by unnatural forms of harshly regular shape; for example, the at shiny-topped slab near the sea and the huge coffin-like box in the foreground, from which, perplexingly, a dead tree seems to have grown. Each of the three unpleasantly ‘soft’ watches takes on a different meaning from its context: one hangs like a carcass from the branch of the tree; another suggests the saddle of a long dead horse decomposing in an immeasurable empty expanse of time and space; while a third seems to have been melted in some searing heat and now cleaves irregularly to the rectangular box on which it rests, a lone fly alighting on its surface.
The only solid and intact timepiece is the ovoid red watch in its case. It seems at first glance to be decorated with a delicate black pattern, but on closer examination this watch turns out to be the point of attraction for a group of devouring ants which, with the nearby fly, constitute the only living creatures depicted in the painting.
Suggestions of permanence and decay, together with the meticulously realistic representation of the impossibly unreal, add up to a plausible but disturbing nightmarish whole. Dalí, the master of this so-called ‘Surrealist’ style, is able to create haunting landscapes very different from any we might hope to encounter.
The second title in the Art Essentials series is Modern Art. Read an extract here.