Hallucinogenic Toreador

Salvador Dali – The Hallucinogenic Toreador

The Hallucinogenic Toreador is an oil painting created by 20th-Century surrealist Salvador Dali. Dali’s work exemplifies the surrealist movement, with frequent use of unexpected contrasts in form, abstract symbolism, physical distortions of common objects and human figures, and complex optical illusions. In this piece, Dali opted for less anatomical curiosity, focusing instead on playing tricks on the viewer’s eye. The painting itself is placed within the walls of a bullfighting stadium, the edges of which expand beyond the border in order to create a feeling of immersion in the viewer.

This also sets the theme for the piece’s intended message, a visual commentary on the painter’s own disdain for bullfighting. Against the stable backdrop of the stadium, Dali makes use of his skill at cleverly introducing chaos, with seemingly impossible silhouettes disappearing into a ground that has given way to a virtual horizon. The nude figures of Venus de Milo, upon closer inspection, take on the forms of a human face – the matador – behind the banner of the Spanish flag. The mottled body of a fresh-slain bull lies before his killer, as columns of flies in a militaristic flight formation begin to swarm upon him. As usual with Dali’s work, these are not simply intended to be only the insects; rather, they form a toreador’s traditional hairnet, cap, and cape. In the lower right, a small boy, rumored to be Dali himself as a youth, calmly watches on.

Underlying the entire scene is a busy confusion, stimulating the viewer’s senses in order to force him to try and make sense of it by looking closely, then further away, watching the shapes change into unexpected forms. There is chaos cast over stability, a technique Dali used to produce his own perception of the entire sport of bullfighting. He grew up in a culture that embraced bullfighting, and this culture is portrayed by the classic sculpture in the background; his own abhorrence for the sport, though, flies over the scene with vivid depictions of negativity and filth. Ultimately, a social commentary and an autobiography, with painted forms as his language.

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