The Elephants by Salvador Dali – A Detailed Analysis

Title: The Elephants (Los Elefantes)

Author: Salvador Dalí (Born, Figueres, Spain, May 11, 1907 – Figueres, Spain, January 23, 1954)

Date: 1948

Genre: Pastoral

Movement: Surrealism

Technique: Oil painting

Support: Canvas

Dimension: Unknown

Location: Private collection

Elephant with huge legs and some monument on top… it is Salvador Dali for sure. Are you up to meet his alternate reality?

Today, I will tell you about a work of Salvador Dali (or Salvador Dalí) called The Elephants made in 1948. The mysterious, bizarre work is straight of out Dali’s subconscious. This artwork, which includes elephants painted in a surrealistic style in a desert landscape, is in a private collection today. The painting is also known as “Los Elefantes” in Spanish.

Salvador Dalí, The Elephants (Los Elefantes), 1948, Oil on canvas.

Born in Spain in 1904, Salvador Dali is among the pioneers of Surrealism‘s art movement. The general thought of Surrealism is directly related to the concept of the unconscious and what happens in the subconscious. Dali often paints irrational stories and dreams in a discordant and naturalistic way. Nevertheless, Dali gives priority to subconscious visions. At the same time, it prompts us to reflect on reality. There are some clues about these views in The Elephants.

The Symbolism and Meaning Behind The Elephants

The elephant figures painted by Salvador Dali, which we can think of in connection with concepts such as domination, power, and masculinity, reflect the traces of symbolism and symbolic visual language in The Elephants (Los Elefantes). In addition, these elephants contribute to the establishment of contrast harmony because elephants can’t stand in balance on these very jointed and long legs. Embroidered covers, Gothic architectural and sculptural vital facts can be seen on Dali’s elephants. We can talk about the painter’s reference to Art History in this respect.

What Inspired Salvador Dali to Paint The Elephants?

Some critics say that Salvador Dali was inspired by Elephant and Obelisk sculpture by Gian Lorenzo Bernini and Ercole Ferrata to paint The Elephants (Los Elefantes). Due to the appearance of obelisks on the elephants as sculptures in Dali’s work “Los Elefantes”.

The union of the elephant and the obelisk has become an icon with the effect of this monument. The image above shows a replica of this monument on a vase from the 19th century. The obelisk in the original work is 5.47 meters tall and is the smallest of the 13 ancient obelisks present in Rome nowadays. The elephant might be a symbol of strength as it carries the enormous obelisk on its back.

A copy of the elephant and obelisk monument by Gian Lorenzo Bernini and Ercole Ferrata in the Piazza della Minerva / Rome.
Salvador Dalí, Dream, Caused by the Flight of a Bee (Around a Pomegranate, a Second Before Waking Up), 1944, Oil on wood.

Also, the figure of the elephant forms a recurring theme in the other paintings of Salvador Dali. It is first seen in the artist’s work “Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee Around a Pomegranate a Second Before Awakening” in 1944. Later, it appears in his works “The Temptation of Saint Anthony” and “Swans Reflecting Elephants.” It is seen that the painter reflected the elephant symbol in various ways in various periods of his life.

Salvador Dalí, Swans Reflecting Elephants,1937, Oil on canvas.
Salvador Dalí, The Temptation of Saint Anthony, 1946, Oil on canvas.


First of all, if we examine the views of The Elephants, we see a desert during the sunset. Since Salvador Dali was born in Catalonia, Spain, this may have influenced the painter’s preference for a desert landscape in this work. In the background of the picture, we see that the tones of red color dominate. In addition, on the floor of the desert, there are probably two human figures, one female and the other male. One of the human figures is running towards the other, we see two prominent elephant figures with four long legs standing on the same ground.

The Movement of The Elephants

Salvador Dalí was particularly fascinated by its emphasis on the subconscious and wanted to use his meticulous drawing skills to create absurd and irrational images. In The Elephants, we encounter traces of his passion for surrealism as in Dali’s other works.

The Technique of The Elephants

The painting is oil on canvas. Salvador Dali studied many Renaissance artists and in The Elephants, you can see his influences or his highly using of details, for that matter. For instance, the painting does not show any random paintbrush, it is like coming out from Renaissance Master.

In addition, the composition in this piece is remarkably balanced, the subject of this piece, the two elephants, are on both sides of the painting, stretching out from top to bottom. Lastly, the background suggests a cozy red sunset with no clouds, which produces a calm atmosphere. The absence of movement in the sky and the rich and vibrant red color allow drawing attention to the two elephants.

What Can You See in The Elephants?

1. The Elephants

By and large, Dalí depicted the elephants with long, multi-jointed, almost invisible legs and carry objects on their backs. Elephants’ enormously tall spindly legs juxtapose with their strong upper body image.

We mentioned that when we have talked about the Elephants and the Obelisk sculptures, the elephant might be a symbol of strength for Salvador Dali. Therefore we could take this interpretation again here and say that the elephant symbolizes strength, however, upon a closer look, the obelisks can be seen floating on their backs. So, this phantasmagoric work separates Dali’s world from our reality and represents the future and his unconventional imaginary.

2. The Man & The Woman

The man and the woman walk towards each other. At first, these figures are hard to notice but once you notice it is unlikely to ignore them. As a matter of fact, the woman might be the angel, if you look closer you can see her wings. So, the angel might come rescuing the man lost in the arid desert, who knows?

Angels symbolize innocence and nobility. They were the intermediary between heaven and Earth and for Dalí, nothing was more exciting and liberating than an angel. Above and beyond, The Surrealist often depicted his wife and muse, Gala as an angel.

Every morning when I wake up, I experience an exquisite joy — the joy of being Salvador Dalí — and I ask myself in rapture, ‘What wonderful things is this Salvador Dalí going to accomplish today?

Salvador Dalí

Wanna continue to read more about art? Check out Figure in the Moonlighthere.

Until next time, stay with art.. ????????✌

See Also:

Salvador Dali’s “The Elephants” Animated By: Branden Craghead