Drawers of Memory:
A Glimpse into
Surrealistic Humanity
by Elizabeth Parsons




It is not every day we see a painting, which gives us both great sadness and hope.  The Drawers of Memory, as drawn by Salvador Dali, represents the ending of all that we know and all that we are.  In doing this, it masters us and holds us captive for one extra second as we wonder, “What is that?”  The work represents a woman lying as though having collapsed in front of a mountain.  The woman has many drawers, which protrude from her body--being from Dali’s classical period of Surrealism that is to be expected.  Her head hangs wearily from her shoulders, drooping into the uppermost drawer.   An angel perches atop the mountain, sitting in the well-known “thinker’s” position.  The cloak of the angel flows down the mountain to a clearing with a few trees scattered throughout. 


The clearing is far away, giving great depth to the drawing.  It appears the woman has walked a great distance from that little clearing, and now that she has reached this place, before the angel.  This woman has spent everything she had physically to reach this point; she is completely exhausted.  There is only one part of her that remains erect, as the rest of her body lies collapsed in total surrender.  Her arm is raised like a flagpole holding the crutch, often seen in Salvador Dali’s paintings, like a white flag of surrender.  Our lady has given everything, offering her last attachment to the mortal world.  She holds a crutch up towards the angel begging him to take it from her.   She has walked from the clearing, much as the Israelites walked through the desert from Egypt.  Her walk has provided her with purification, giving her the ability to petition the angel.  The crutch is a very simple design, a line with a curve at the top.  Consider for a moment what the cutch would look like if we unflexed the arc.  It is a cross, the great crucifix, ever reoccurring throughout Dali’s work. 

The woman’s body is very similar to that found in the “Venus de Milo,” which Salvador Dali used repeatedly in the Halluanogenic Toreador and other works.  It is believed to have been modeled from his wife Gala, who was often his muse.  The hair of the woman in portrait is very messy, falling all over her face.  She has given up care for personal appearances.   Sliding down the lines of the woman you see the empty drawers, having pulled everything out hastily.    The drawers in the Venus de Milo symbolize the scent of man.  The drawers are containers holding the smell in.  The open drawers here give us insight as to her bodily odor, which must ooze from her in great waves of stench.  Her hips are generously proportioned, giving a post-motherhood look.  As the eye is drawn further downwards over her curves, in a blatant sexual matter, we are slightly surprised to discover that unlike many of Dali’s works, this one has been subtly shaded, gliding our eyes further still to her knees and feet, both being made up of as few lines as possible.  This technique allows the viewer to immediately notice the miles the woman must have walked, both physically and mentally to reach this point; age has take its toll.  Consider the possibility here that the woman we are viewing is not just any woman past child bearing years, rather the Madonna, who has given everything to her son.

Moving away from the woman, our eyes move upward again in a circular motion.  We see the base of the mountain, which is cracked with age; the ever-watching angel sits on the mountain, thinking, contemplating the plights of this middle-aged woman.  If the angel would tilt his head a fraction of an inch, he could view the world as it is laid out before him, much as the woman is.  This is a hidden repetition, which you would not see without first looking to the angel.  Note the angel is not reaching for the crutch being held out to him.  Rather he is sitting, appearing relaxed.  There are lines drifting over the sloping side of the mountain.  The soft gentleness of them flow outward from the angel.  It would seem that he too came from the clearing, climbing up the mountain.  This would give him great insight to the woman below him. 


Salvador Dali has many reoccurring themes, a few of which are seen in the Drawers of Memory.  One is the seed of fertility, which is found in this drawing, just below the woman, looking as though it has dried up and has now been tossed away.  Our lady is caught in an unending plight forever captured, drawers thrown open, begging the angel to notice her.  The eye is drawn in a circular motion throughout the portrait, delicately reminding us of the circle of life, ever flowing, in contrast.