What Is Veristic Surrealism?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Veristic surrealism is a style of surrealistic art which is designed to portray the dream world in rich detail. One of the more famous veristic surrealists was Salvador Dali, who painted ornate scenes of melting clocks, fantastical creatures, and other elements. The style is often marked by strangely veristic, meaning realistic, painting which seems to draw the viewer into a fantasy world that has no connection with reality.

Salvador Dali was one of the most famous veristic surrealists.
Salvador Dali was one of the most famous veristic surrealists.

Surrealism began in the early twentieth century, and included literature, art, and performance. The surrealists were trying to portray the unconscious, and to take viewers away from the horrors of the modern world, exemplified by the First World War. In 1924, Andre Breton, one of the founding fathers of the surrealist movement, described the art form as portraying “an ultimate reality.” Breton believed that by bringing the unconscious into art, people could be provoked into thought and discussion about the world around them.

Andre Breton was one of the founding fathers of the surrealist movement.
Andre Breton was one of the founding fathers of the surrealist movement.

Surrealism expresses itself in many forms, and veristic surrealism is one of the most famous. People who do not study art history still recognize veristic surrealism, with its distinctive realistic portrayal of unreal or fantasy scenes. This type of surrealism brings the viewer face to face with the fantasy world of the painter, and the artist tries not to filter the scene through his or her conscious mind. This means that the viewer is truly seeing into the dreams of the artist, and can interpret the work as he or she wishes.

This is a marked difference from other types of surrealism, which are often filtered through the conscious mind to create a specific structured image or to provoke a particular thought. The artist has already interpreted the work, and presents it to the viewer like an already completed story. Veristic surrealism allows the viewer to imagine the story on his or her own, and to glimpse the inner world of the artist.

Within veristic surrealism, there are a variety of painting and narrative styles. Some artists have fantastic drawings which juxtapose strange objects, sometimes in very ordinary settings. Magritte perfected this sort of surrealism, offering very plain, stark work which interposed items or ideas that clearly clashed with each other. Magritte's work did not often include fantasy creations, but rather used everyday things out of context. Other members of this school went to the opposite extreme and created entirely imaginary dream worlds with their art, which combined elements of fantasy and mysticism.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


@gravois - I visited Florida one year and saw Dali artwork in the celebrated Dalu museum down in St. Petersburg, Florida.

The surrealist paintings were breathtaking. One in particular that caught my attention was his painting of the crucifix hung in space, affixed to three dimensional cubes. That piece is called Corpus Hypercubicus, which is basically a hypercube.

I understood from the museum curator that Dali was a fan of geometry and that the hypercube fascinated him. It’s a concept used in modern science fiction as well, as it suggests the ability to cross space and time in a moment, as if through a warp in space.

Dali was certainly out there, to be sure, but I loved his paintings, and the free rein of his imagination.


You know, I like a lot of these painters too but I can't say that I have ever had a dream that looked anything like one of those paintings, especially Dali. Those pictures are crazy to look at but who really dreams about crazy monsters prancing across the desert or melting clocks. Most of my dreams are in places I recognize. Sure weird things happen but its not like everything goes crazy all at once. I guess I wished there a more subtle surrealism, something where everything is not all bending apart and going technicolor.


A lot of attention gets paid to surrealist paintings but this movement in art spear into all kinds of formats. Some of the most beautiful and thrilling pieces from this period were photographs, films and poems. In fact, surrealism began as a poetic movement and much of the focus on dreams came from writing experiments.

I love a lot of the surrealist painters and in many ways they deserve all the focus they been given. But don't stop there is you really want to understand veristic surrealism. Filmmakers like Luis Brunel made some of the most haunting, dreamlike images ever created.


This kind of surrealism is one of my favorite types of art and I am a big fan of Dali, Magritte and particularly Man Ray. When I was in college I had a poster of Man Rays famous painting The lips showing a huge pair of red lips hovering over one of those characteristic desert landscapes that so many of the surrealists like to use.

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