Artwork Details

Slave Market with the Disappearing Bust of Voltaire

Salvador Dalí
Date Made
Place Made
Arcachon, France
Oil on canvas
Image: 18 1/4 in x 25 3/4 in
Accession ID Number
Credit Line
The Dalí Museum, Gift of A. Reynolds & Eleanor Morse
Worldwide rights ©Salvador Dalí. Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí (Artists Rights Society), 2017 / In the USA ©Salvador Dalí Museum, Inc. St. Petersburg, FL 2017.
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Supplemental material


The Slave Market is an excellent example of Dalí’s skill at creating paranoiac-critical hallucinations for his audience to share. For this particularly successful double-image, Dalí’s visualization of this apparition is created by incorporating the celebrated bust by the French sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon, The Bust of Voltaire in 1778. In the composition, the arrangement of two Dutch women in the marketplace re-creates The Bust of Voltaire. The top of Voltaire’s head is outlined by the opening in the ruined wall; the women’s heads become his eyes, their collars become his upper cheeks and nose, the dark part of their clothing becomes the shadows cast by his nose and cheeks, and the white sleeves of the right-hand figure forms Voltaire’s chin. The fruit dishes also create dual illusions: the apple in the center bowl appears to be the rear of the figure in the background; the pear in the dish on the right dissolves into the hill in the distance.

Voltaire was a skeptical French philosopher from the 18th century whose writings Dalí read as a young man. The Surrealists enjoyed ridiculing the famous philosopher by pointing out that he frequently contradicted himself, yet they liked one of his best known works, Candide, because it attacked the philosophical optimism of previous years. Its conclusion, “Let us cultivate our garden,” instead of speculating on unanswerable problems, expressed Voltaire’s practical philosophy of common sense.

In 1971, The Scientific American magazine, used the Slave Market to illustrate the perceptual “switching effect,” in which each element of a double image can be seen alternatively, but never both at once.

In his autobiography, The Secret Life, Dalí compares the perception of these double images with camouflage; “The invisible image of Voltaire may be compared in every respect to the mimesis of the leaf-insect rendered invisible by the resemblance and the confusion established between the Figure and the Background.”

Exhibition History:
1941, Chicago, The Arts Club of Chicago, “Salvador Dali”
1941, New York, Julien Levy Gallery, “Salvador Dalí”
1943, Boston, Institute of Modern Art
1954, Roma, Sale dell'Aurora Pallavicini, “Mostra di quadri disegni ed oreficerie di Salvador Dalí”
1954, Venice, “Mostra di quadri disegni ed oreficerie di Salvador Dalí”
1954, Milan, “Mostra di quadri disegni ed oreficerie di Salvador Dalí”
1965, New York, Gallery of Modern Art, “Salvador Dalí, 1910-1965”
2004, Venezia, Palazzo Grassi, "Dali Retrospective"
2005, Philadelphia, Philadelphia Museum of Art, "Dali Retrospective"
2009, Melbourne, National Gallery of Victoria, "Salvador Dalí : Liquid Desire"