Salvador Dalí, Surrealistic Flowers (Narcissus Telephonans Inondis)


lithograph on paper

Inventory number 549

The title of this piece Narcisuss Telephonans Inondis translates to Narcissus Telephones Nothing and on face value does not tell much of a story about the artwork itself. It contains imagery that has been seen in other works by Dalí, repeating symbolism and meaning across his work, specifically the Narcissus flower, and the telephone.

The Narcissus flower is seen in Dalí’s 1937/1938 work The Metamorphosis of Narcissus which is not just a painting, but also a poem, representing the Greek myth of Narcissus. He presented both to the Father of Psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud when they met in 1938. The telephone has also appeared in other works such as Dalí’s 1938 painting Mountain Lake and of course the very famous Lobster Telephone, also from 1938.

The Narcissus flower represents self-obsession, beauty, and in this case also depicts femininity, overtly so with blooms at the top left of the artwork. Telephones for Dalí symbolised sexual and erotic desires, and pain. As Dalí lived with quite distorted messages about sex and sexuality it is quite natural for these themes to be evident in his works.

Here we can see that most of the telephone receivers appear to be coming out of self-obsessed or egotistical flowers in quite a violent manner, they all appear to be bleeding. Except for one, that is. The only telephone receiver that does not appear to have been violently thrust into or bursting out of a flower, and is not bleeding, is in the top left flower. This receiver is also not whole and instead appears to be growing out of the flower with soft round lines and curves, one of the only parts of the artwork that appears soft and gentle. Most of the images appear quite sharp and pointy. The whole plant appears dangerous to touch. Is this to say that an inflated ego is a bad human quality? Yet there is a figure standing next to the plant. How can they be so close to it? Are they scared? Are they safe? Perhaps it’s the part of oneself that is bolder, braver, and more willing to take a risk. Maybe they feel that there is no reward with no risk. Perhaps this is Dalí’s cloaked figure in the shadows, doomed only to think or watch, but never to act.

With so much of the imagery feeling violent or dangerous it seems to indicate that sexual desire or anything that could be seen as erotic should be kept at a distance and not ever fully embraced. Even when there is a fully naked woman calling you into her. Did you see her?

Moving to the bottom of the piece we can see that the base of the plant where ego, femininity, and sexuality grow from is the base for a rotary telephone. But look closely, can you see what is missing? The numbers on the dial are incomplete. We wonder if there is significance for Dalí for these specific numbers to be missing. Perhaps this is another reason sexual desire is left wanting, something is missing, and therefore out of reach.

Furthermore, is this why Narcissus (can) Telephone Nothing?