The present work is a design for the backdrop of the first act of the ballet, and the artist employs some of the iconography for which he is most famous. In the visual design of the ballet, Dalí not only creates a parallel with the traditional love story between Tristan and Isolde, the latter dying of grief in the final act of the opera, but also echoes Classical myth and especially the story of Apollo and Daphne as retold in Ovid's Metamorphoses. As viewers, we are confronted with an array of parallel tree trunks on the lower half of the foreground, our eyes slowly centering upon their human heads and outstretched limbs, powerful expressions of human vitality. The figures appear anguished, in a state of unrest and metamorphosis, in amongst a varied assortment of flowers, visual allusions to nature and mutation. These three hybrid figures recall the myth of Daphne, forever transformed into a laurel tree due to Apollo's lustful desire, and echoes Antonio del Pollaiuolo's rendition of the theme (see fig. 3). The viewers are puzzled, and Dalí offers no clues as to whether these figures might suddenly mutate into real humans or whether they are destined to become static trees. Dalí invokes a range of rich and varied imagery, erotic, human and emotional in a work appealing to the all the senses.
Edwin Denby, a journalist of the time, tells of the way in which "fantastic backdrops, costumes, stage effects tumble out over the stage for half an hour in frenzied profusion... a proliferation of decoration no one in the world but Dalí can rival" (Edwin Denby, "The Ballet: Dalí to the Hilt," in The New York Herald Tribune, December 16, 1944).
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