Salvador Dali is well known for his surrealistic paintings which draw on elements of the dream state to present images of lasting beauty and curiosity. In his oil painting on wood panel entitled “Forgotten Horizon” painted in 1936, Dali presents a brightly lit scene of a beach at ebb tide. The line between dry sand, wet sand, and water is blurred and indistinct although the horizon line, in defiance of the painting’s title, is relatively clear against the equally whitish sky. Analyzing the elements of this painting reveal that Dali was working to demonstrate the forgotten horizon between reality and dream that takes place within the space of memory as he depicted a scene from his childhood beach vacations.

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In the foreground of the painting are three women, apparently topless with full skirts, in a collection of dance poses which represent the dream state. Two of the women are down on one knee, with their other knee pointed forward and their torsos leaning back over their back foot. One pushes her hand up by her head, the other uses her free hand to more artfully drape her skirt over the raised knee. The third woman stands next to the two others, holding her skirt out to either side in a pose that is almost a bow. An examination of these figures conducted by the Tate Gallery (Smithen 2012) revealed that Dali used basic oil paint to create the beach, sea, and sky background and then used either natural resin or natural resin mixed with linseed oil to create a more fluid media to overlay these figures on top of the background. The effect is that these figures appear to float over the background like ghosts or hallucinatory figures, which was what Dali was trying to create. They are dream-like, and represent the fantasy of the child he used to be playing on the beach at Rosas where this painting is set.

There is a fourth figure included in the painting, commanding attention because of her placement in the center of the image yet appearing it exist more in the background. This figure is also of a woman, but one fully dressed, as she strides toward what appears to be the wreckage of a boat. She wears a full skirt, long sleeved top, and elaborate head decoration as she makes her way out to the wreck. What is unclear is whether she strides on wet sand or water and few of her personal features can be deciphered. Thus, she stands in direct contrast to the women in the foreground. She is hidden, closed off, distant, and indistinct. According to the Tate Gallery (2005), this figure is intended to be Dali’s cousin Carolinetta and thus references his actual history. His past is far off and indistinct, yet present even within his fantasies of the present or his youthful dreaming.

The only other elements present within the painting are an apparent boat wreck and a few indistinct shapes to the right of it. Although perhaps easily overlooked in preference of the carefree poses of the dancers, it is these shapes that seem to bring the meaning of the work into focus. The boat is broken on the sands, its hull grounded, its mast pointing to the left, indicating it is only a broken shell of something that once sailed free. Only the ribs of the boat remain on the visible side, allowing the viewer to see through to the empty interior of the boat. The cousin heading out toward this boat rather than toward the dancers is lost to the conventions of time and weather, broken before she has a chance to set sail on her own fantasy adventures. The boat appears half-buried in sand, representing the repressed feelings of those who have followed custom as well as the way time can bury all desires. Its emptiness captures the spirit of the individual who has never had the chance to explore those things that excite them and lift them up out of the commonplace.

The other two shapes in the sand are much less distinct. The first shape appears to be the detached hull of the boat resting on end in the sand in such a way that it creates a shaded space beneath it. It balances precariously on three ends, appearing both delicate and solid at once. Next to it are two planks, almost like oars, deadened and lifeless on the sand. These further emphasize the directionless quality of the old boat and the hopeless aspect of the individual constrained to follow the conservative, safe path of those who never leave the harbor. The final shape could be intended to be a grouping of rocks, but upon closer examination could as easily be the figure of a man in a loose suit reclining on the sand facing to the right. This type of grouping is also typical of Dali, who preferred to see shapes within the random patterns of rocks and other groupings. The presence of the sleeping man could be representative of the adult Dali as he dreams up this scene from his past.

After analyzing the various elements of the painting, it seems clear Dali is presenting an image that explores the forgotten horizon between reality and fantasy inherent in the past while also commenting on how the choices one made in the past contribute to the direction one takes in the future. The fantasy dancers that float in the foreground demand our attention and emphasize Dali’s insistence that fantasy must be allowed to play an important role in our lives. At the same time, the image of the cousin heading out toward the broken boat, ignoring the dancers and the flights of fancy they represent, has no means of escaping the boring and mundane world of which she is expected to take part. While it seems a solid and worthwhile endeavor, this process toward the mundane is seen to be an empty and fragile thing as represented by the piece of the boat’s hull nearby.

  • Dali, Salvador. “Forgotten Horizons.” (1936). Oil on Mahogany painting.
  • Smithen, Patricia. “Salvador Dali’s Forgotten Horizon.” Tate Gallery. (January 2012). Web.
  • Tate Gallery. “Salvador Dali, Forgotten Horizon, 1936.” (December 2005). Web.