The iconic antihero of Spanish literature, Don Quixote has been a totemic figure for many generations of Spanish writers and artists. However, the fantastical nature of his story made him particularly important for the Surrealists. Dalí was known to have had a copy of the great novel on his bookshelves as a young man and the adventures of its protagonist are echoed in a number of his works. In Don Quichotte et l'âge atomique
Dalí depicts one of the best-known episodes of the story in which the hapless knight challenges a windmill – which he believes to be a giant – to a duel. Dalí’s brilliantly imaginative treatment of this story updates it to the atomic age, with the sails of the windmill transformed into a visible explosion of energy. The collaged elements – both mechanomorphic and natural – are typical of Dalí’s idiosyncratic imagery and combine wonderfully with the distinctive hyper-realism of his drawing.
This original work was the basis for one of the lithographs used to illustrate Pages choisies de Don Quichotte de la manche by Joseph Forêt, published in 1957. This was Dalí’s first venture into lithography, although he had also worked on a set of illustrations of Don Quixote in 1946. Dalí appears to have been particularly enthusiastic about this project and was involved in a number of publicity stunts surrounding the process of producing the lithographs, including using a rhino horn dipped in ink to outline the sails of the mills.