This is a classic example of a Surrealist object, made from the conjunction of items not normally associated with each other, resulting in something both playful and menacing. Dalí believed that such objects could reveal the secret desires of the unconscious. Lobsters and telephones had strong sexual connotations for Dalí. The telephone appears in certain paintings of the late 1930s such as Mountain Lake (Tate Gallery T01979), and the lobster appears in drawings and designs, usually associated with erotic pleasure and pain. For the 1939 New York World's Fair, Dalí created a multi-media experience entitled The Dream of Venus, which consisted in part of dressing live nude models in 'costumes' made of fresh seafood, an event photographed by Horst P. Horst and George Platt Lynes. A lobster was used by the artist to cover the female sexual organs of his models. Dalí often drew a close analogy between food and sex. In Lobster Telephone, the crustacean's tail, where its sexual parts are located, is placed directly over the mouthpiece.
In 1935 Dalí was commissioned by the magazine American Weekly to execute a series of drawings based on his impressions of New York. One drawing was given the caption 'NEW YORK DREAM - MAN FINDS LOBSTER IN PLACE OF PHONE'. In the Dictionnaire Abrégé du Surréalisme of 1938 Dalí contributed an entry under 'TÉLÉPHONE APHRODISIAQUE' which is accompanied by a small drawing of a telephone, its receiver replaced by a lobster surrounded by flies. A similar drawing is printed in The Secret Life of Salvador Dalí which contains the following:
I do not understand why, when I ask for a grilled lobster in a restaurant, I am never served a cooked telephone; I do not understand why champagne is always chilled and why on the other hand telephones, which are habitually so frightfully warm and disagreeably sticky to the touch, are not also put in silver buckets with crushed ice around them.
Telephone frappé, mint-coloured telephone, aphrodisiac telephone, lobster-telephone, telephone sheathed in sable for the boudoirs of sirens with fingernails protected with ermine, Edgar Allen Poe telephones with a dead rat concealed within, Boecklin telephones installed inside a cypress tree (and with an allegory of death in inlayed silver on their backs), telephones on the leash which would walk about, screwed to the back of a living turtle ... telephones ... telephones ... telephones ...
There are numerous versions of this object. This piece was made for the English poet and collector of Surrealist art, Edward James. The telephone in this version was made by the Bell Company at Antwerp in Belgium, and has a Siemens handset made in London.
Tate Gallery 1980-82 Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1984, pp.76-7, reproduced
Dawn Ades, Dalí, revised edition, London 1995, p.43, reproduced p.160