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The Top 10 Most Controversial Artworks of All Time

The Top 10 Most Controversial Artworks of All Time

Picture of Bethany Stuart
Updated: 11 January 2017
In his 1896 essay Leo Tolstoy demanded that we cease to view ‘l’art pour l’art’ and consider art as a method of communication between humans about the conditions of life itself. By freeing art from its traditional boundaries, he sought to forge a space for the abstract and the innovative. We check out 10 of the most controversial artworks of all time that continue to shock even the most hardened of art lovers.

The Enigma of William Tell (1933) | Salvador Dali

This painting by Salvador Dali is the last in a series of canvases based on the Swiss folklore of William Tell, a legendary figure known for his skills with a cross-bow who – in order to rescue himself and his son – is set the challenge of shooting an apple of his son’s head. Dali reinterprets this paternal sentiment as cannibalism by, allegedly, placing himself as the infant in Tell’s arms and using the lamb cutlet to suggest a juxtaposition between father and destroyer. The most explicitly shocking component of the image is clearly the enlarged and phallic buttock that, in being propped up, suggests impotence. Dali received wide criticism for depicting the face of Tell in this image as Russian despot Vladimir Lenin and was eventually rejected from the surrealist school. The painting itself was nearly destroyed by founder Andre Breton.