How Camembert Became a Masterpiece

Salvador Dalí's camembert is soft, imperceptible in some cases, and ambiguous in others.



The Persistence of Memory (1931), one of the most recognizable works by Salvador Dalí, is based on food. The inspiration for his masterpiece stuck one night, after Dalí ate the famous camembert cheese. This story might be disappointing to those who spend hours and hours trying to resolve the mysteries that take place behind Dalí’s surrealist paintings, but give me time: even the smallest slice of cheese can inspire the highest philosophical theory.

The well-known Spanish painter had loved food since childhood. In different interviews, he had explained how he wanted to be a chef when he was six years old. At seven, however,  he wanted to be Napoleon, and since then, his “ambition did not stop growing, just like my [his] delusions of grandeur".

Dalí ’s interest in food kept on growing through time, even becoming part of his artistic life. For him, both cooking and painting were arts deeply connected: “when I am cooking, I add a bit of this and a little of that. I do the same when I mix colors", he used to say.

But, at what moment did the camembert cheese turn into soft watches, melting under the warmth of the sun? In the book "Dalí and I: the Surreal history”, Stan Lauryssens, an art dealer who knew both Dalí and Gala, his wife, personally, tells a nightly scene of the couple taking a rest after dinner. That evening the meal had essentially been camembert. There were still some food scraps remaining on the table. The clock struck 5 am and Gala was tired. She yawned, while Dalí looked deeply engrossed in thought. He told her to go to the bed. He would go later. His brilliant brain was working. He wanted to create a surprising picture, to transform the cheese into a surrealist piece of art… and he did.

The essential idea is that camembert is like the time shown on the dial of the watch. Soft, imperceptible in some cases, and ambiguous in others. Time is relative. Under the sun, the camembert cheese loses its shape, as happened in the picture with the legendary Melting Clocks. Dalí’s originality moved him to melt the wall clock and the camembert - in the same picture.

In his brilliant madness, he just tried to resolve philosophical questions around the differences between the soft and the hard; soften the time and space like a visualization of relativity theory. But we shouldn’t look too deeply into it. “You can be sure that the famous 'The Melting Watches' are not anything more than camembert in the space and at the time. They are soft, flamboyant, lone and paranoiac-critical”, stated the artist.

Dalí saw the power at the heart of the most simple thing in the natural world: food. Thus, who  said that food cannot be the first step to a masterpiece? So, next time, look carefully at each morsel of food before you eat it; it could be the source of inspiration for a big achievement, the fabric of your dreams. 



MARISA LÓPEZ, from Spain, chose the Netherlands as her exchange program destination after hearing about the amazing caramel biscuits, called 'stroopwafels'. Five months, a stroopwafel obsession and three kilos later, she will move to Denmark in January to continue her studies and hopes that the expensive Danish prices will help her to stop buying sweet delights.