Salvador Dalí, Surrealistic Flowers (Hermocallis Thumergill Elephanter Furiosa)


lithograph on paper

Inventory number 545

The translation for the title of this piece of work is the ‘Furious Daylily Elephant’. In this lithograph Dalì has depicted an elephant, seemingly mid-stamp and with trunk raised, entirely made from a daylily.

Elephants are an often-repeating image and symbol in Dalì’s works, taking centre-stage in paintings such as Los Elephantes (The Elephants) from 1948, and in the background of a very famous 1944 painting Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee Around a Pomegranate a Second Before Awakening. Typically, in his work Dalì would depict elephants with unnaturally long, skinny legs that are multi-jointed and look as if they could easily snap under the weight of such a large animal. Yet, of course, they do not. One such elephant is sketched into the background behind the daylily elephant, however, this one varies from the typical Dalinian elephants in that its body seems thin and frail and carries nothing on its back. In other artworks, Dalì’s elephants have a healthy, round body and are generally carrying great weight in the form of obelisks on or hovering over their backs. This demonstrates how strong and powerful the animals are, especially with their impossibly thin, long legs.

Another repeating symbol that Dalì has placed at the backend of the daylily is the crutch. Dalì used this imagery very often to symbolise that we all need both physical and mental support throughout our lives. These crutches are not currently being used, but they are standing up on their own as if ready to be used at any possible moment.

It may seem curious that Dalì would depict the elephant in the background as appearing somewhat weak. Curious that is perhaps until we shift attention to the Hermocallis Thumbergill, the daylily.

Dalì has chosen a variety known as the tigerlily, identified by its orange-red colour and brown markings. Reds, oranges, and yellows can indicate warning, hazard, anger, or danger. But why could this be? As the name of the flower suggests, daylily flowers only bloom for one day, typically opening around sunrise. Only one flower can fully bloom on the stalk at any one time. On the main stalk we can see one flower in full bloom, with another getting ready to take its place. These daylilies represent mortality and death, an often explored theme by Dali, even within this particular suite of Surrealistic Flowers including in Rosa e Morte Floriscens. With these flowers one must die for another to live (or be born). Perhaps this is representative of his older brother’s death and his own birth. His older brother, also named Salvador, was only an infant when he died, 9 months before our Salvador was born. Dalì was often told he was the reincarnation of his dead brother. Perhaps this made him furious and question his own mortality and afterlife?