Three Sphinxes of Bikini, 1947.
Between the years of 1946 and 1958, the United States conducted 23 nuclear tests at the Micronesian atoll, Bikini. The tests caused the radioactive contamination of the entire system of islands. The (roughly) two hundred Micronesians who inhabited the islands were relocated by the US before the tests, and eventually brought back in 1968. The US lost a lawsuit to the Micronesians in the amount of $100 million when it was discovered, ten years later in 1978, that the levels of radioactivity were still dangerously high.
These experimental explosions on the atoll of Bikini inspired Dalí to paint the Three Sphinxes. Dalí himself was a surrealist painter, it’s the unconscious that is emphasized, and paintings express the workings of the mind by using symbolic imagery and interesting juxtaposition of subject matter.
When looking at the painting, the imagery itself is very striking. There are three subjects: a human head, a tree, and the mushroom cloud of a nuclear explosion. It’s not cookie-cutter clear what Dalí is feeling, but the double-imagery of the human head and the tree suggest a strong and unconscious relationship between humanity, nature, and destruction. The similarity in form among the human, tree, and nuclear test is a phenomenally creative image, giving you a glimpse into the mind of Salvador Dalí.