Salvador Dali

Salvador Dali

Dali is considered one of the most influential artists of the past 100 years. Accomplished in all media, he was above all, a superb draftsman. His excellence as a creative artist will always set a standard for the art of the 20th century. 

Salvador Felipe Jacinto Dali I Domenech was born at 8:45am on the morning of May 11, 1904, in the small agricultural town of Figueres, Spain. Figueres is located in the foothills of the Pyrenees, only sixteen miles from the French border in the Principality of Catalonia. The son of a prosperous notary, he spent his boyhood in Figueres and at the family’s summer home in the coastal fishing village of Cadaques. His parents built his first studio in Cadaques. As an adult, he made his home with his wife Gala in nearby Port Lligat. Many of his paintings reflect his love of this area in Spain. 

The young Dali attended the San Fernando Academy of Fine Arts in Madrid. He was expelled from the academy for indiscipline in 1923. He formed friendships with Federico Garcia Lorca and Luis Bunuel and read Freud with enthusiasm. He wrote the screenplay for Bunuel's “Un Chien Andalou” (produced in 1928), largely thanks to which he was later adopted by the Surrealists. Early recognition of Dali’s talent came with his first one-man show, held in Barcelona in 1925. He became internationally known when three of his paintings, including the Basket of Bread (now in the Salvador Dali Museum Collection) were shown in the third annual Carnegie International Exhibition in Pittsburg in 1928. 

The following year Dali went to Paris where he also held a one-man show. He also joined the Paris Surrealist Group. In Paris he met Picasso and Breton, and his involvement from 1929 onwards, his effervescent activity, his flair for getting publicity through scandal and his vivacity, which counterbalanced the political difficulties encountered by the group, made him a particularly welcome addition. That same year Dali met Gala Eluard when she visited him in Cadaques with her husband, the French poet Paul Eluard. She became Dali’s lover, muse, business manager, and chief inspiration. In 1934 Dali and Gala were married in a civil ceremony and made their first trip to America. 

Over the next few years Dali devoted himself with passionate intensity to developing his method, which he described as 'paranoiac-critical', a spontaneous method of irrational knowledge based on the critical and systematic objectivation of delirious associations and interpretations. It enabled him to demonstrate his personal obsessions and fantasies by uncovering and meticulously fashioning hidden forms within pre-existing ones, either randomly selected (postcards, beach scenes, photographic enlargements) or of an accepted artistic canon (canvases by Millet, for example). Flaccid shapes, anamorphoses and double-sided figures producing a trompe-loeil effect combine in these works to create an extraordinary universe where the erotic and the scatological jostle with a fascination for decay - a universe that is reflected in his other works of this period, including his symbolic objects and poems as well as the screenplay for L'Age d'Or (1930). 

Dali emerged as a leader of the Surrealist movement and his painting Persistence of Memory (1931) is still one of the best-known Surrealist works. But, as war approached, the apolitical Dali clashed with the Surrealists and he was expelled during a “trial” conducted by the group in 1934. Although he did exhibit works in international Surrealists exhibitions throughout the decade, asserting that: “le Surrealisme c’est moi,” by 1940, he was ready to move into a new era, a new type of painting with a preoccupation with science and religion - one that he termed “classic.” 

Just prior to World War II, Dali and Gala fled from Europe, spending 1940-48 in the United States. The subsequent decades were very important years for the artist. The Museum of Modern Art in New York gave Dali his major retrospective in 1941. This was followed in 1942 by the publication of Dali’s autobiography, The Secret Life of Salvador Dali. 

In the years following 1949, Dali moved away from Surrealism and into his classic period and produced his 18 large canvases, many concerning scientific, historical or religious themes.  Among the best-known of these works are Christ of St. John of the Cross, in Glasgow, Scotland; The Hallucinogenic Toreador and The Discovery of America by Christopher Columbus in the Museum’s collection; and The Sacrament of the Last Supper in the collection of the National Gallery in Washington D.C. Also at this time, Dali returned to the Catholic faith of his youth and he and Gala were married in a second ceremony in 1958, this time in a chapel near Girona, Spain. 

In 1974, Dali opened the Teatro Museo Dali in Figueres. This was followed by retrospectives in Paris and London at the end of the decade. After Gala’s death in 1982, Dali’s health began to fail. It deteriorated further after he was severely burned in a fire in Gala’s castle in Pubol, Spain, in 1984. Two years later, a pacemaker was implanted. Much of the years between1980-89 were spent in almost total seclusion, first in Pubol and later in his private room in the Torre Galatea, adjacent to the Teattro Museo Dali. 

On January 23, 1989, Salvador Dali died in a hospital in Figueres from heart failure and respiratory complications. 

As an artist, Salvador Dali was not limited to a particular style or media. The body of his work, from early Impressionist paintings through his transitional surrealist works, and into his classical period, reveals a constantly growing and evolving artist. Dali worked in all media, leaving behind a wealth of oils, watercolors, drawings, graphics, sculptures, films, photographs, performance pieces, jewels and objects of all descriptions. As important, he left for prosperity the permission to explore all aspects of one’s own life and to give them artistic expression. 

“When I paint, the sea roars. The others splash about in the bath.”          Dali