Artwork Details

The Average Bureaucrat

Salvador Dalí
Date Made
Oil on canvas
Image: 31 7/8 in x 25 3/4 in
Accession ID Number
Credit Line
Collection of The Dalí Museum, St. Petersburg, FL (USA); Gift of A. Reynolds & Eleanor Morse
In the USA ©Salvador Dalí Museum, Inc. St. Petersburg, FL 2022 / Worldwide rights ©Salvador Dalí. Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí (Artists Rights Society), 2022.
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Supplemental material


As a Surrealist, Dalí had an aversion to bureaucrats. The surrealists were disgusted by bureaucrats who represented the despised bourgeois. Dalí also shared their aversion to bureaucrats, stemming from his days at the Residencia when he and his friends would depict them as “putrefactes” (“putrescent”), the child-like caricatures Dalí and his friends created to write off people who represented philistine or outmoded ways. Dalí’s father, who had expelled him from the family home, was a notary (responsible for land transactions in their agricultural village), and thus a respected bureaucratic. Dalí’s image of the bureaucrat, which appears often during this period, is both universal and personal, and one of the most enigmatic figures in Dalí's work.

Dalí’s bureaucrat, whose yellow wax-like skin resembles one of DeChirico’s mannequins, is portrayed as a pathetic figure. Two empty cavities are carved into his head, stressing the emptiness of the skull, and instead of brains Dalí places tiny sea shells and pebbles from the local beaches near his home. In addition, the bureaucrat’s ears have been removed, so he is unable to hear complaints.Yet this harsh attack on his father is tempered by a tiny image of filial devotion located just to the left of the bureaucrat’s skull. Two small figures stand in the distance, representing the “Paradise Lost” when Dalí and his father were close during his childhood, an image also found in The First Days of Spring.

In addition to the figures, shadows play a major role in Dalí’s composition. An ominous shadow dominates the barren landscape of the lower right of the painting. Initially resembling the shadow of Mt. Paní from Dalí’s early work, here the shadow has a different reference. Dalí said that this is the shadow cast by a grand piano, meant to create anxiety in the viewer. This piano shadow refers to Dalí’s childhood memories of the Pitxots’ summer concerts, when their piano was moved onto the rocks of Cadaqués. Such specific childhood memories are transformed into ominous presences in Dalí’s work, developing from real memories into nightmarish devices of anxiety.

Exhibition History:
1935, Santa Cruz de Tenerife , Ateneo de Santa Cruz de Tenerife, “Exposición Surrealista”
1938, Amsterdam, Galerie Robert, “Exposition Internationale du Surréalisme”
1997, Ft. Lauderdale, Ft. Lauderdale Museum of Art, "Treasures from the Salvador Dalí Museum"
1998, Liverpool, Tate Gallery, “Dali: A Mythology”
2000, St. Petersburg, Florida, The Salvador Dalí Museum, “James Rosenquist: Paintings James Rosenquist: Selects DALI”
2002, París, Centre Pompidou, “La Révolution Surréaliste”
2002, Dusseldorf, Kunstsammiumg Nordrhein-Westfalen, "Surrealismus 1919-1944"
2006, Tokyo, Ueno Royal Museum, “Dalí Centennial Retrospective”
2007, London, The Tate Modern, “Dali and Film”
2008, Los Angeles, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, “Dali and Film”
2008, New York, Museum of Modern Art, “Dali and Film”