“The Great Masturbator,” 1929
“The Persistenc of Memory,” 1931
“Soft Construction with Boiled Beans (Premonition of Civil War),” 1936
“Swans Reflecting Elephants,” 1937
“Metamorphosis of Narcissus,” 1937
“Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee Around a Pomegranate a Second Before Awakening,” 1944
“The Elephants,” 1948
Salvador Dalí has become synonymous with surrealism. The image of Dali, with his trademark quirky moustache, is one of the most easily recognized artist portraits. The enigmatic Spanish artist used different mediums in his lifetime, including sculpture, photography and film, and predominantly used symbolism as a tool in his art.
Salvador Dalí was born in Figueres in the Catalonia region of Spain, on May 11, 1904. His father, Salvador Dalí i Cusí was a lawyer and notary, with a strict approach in raising children, very different from his mother, Felipa Domenech Ferrés. Dalí’s spent his childhood in the Spanish villages of Figueres and Cadaques. He displayed a talent for art while still very young, and was encouraged by both his parents who arranged for him to take classes with the Spanish Impressionist painter Ramón Pichot. Dalí’s first public exhibition was held in 1919, when the artist was just 14 years old, at the Municipal Theatre of Figueres. He was influenced by classical painters like the Renaissance master Raphael and the Spanish artist Diego Velazquez.
In 1922, Dalí enrolled at Madrid’s Academia de San Fernando. He attracted attention for his looks and the way he dressed, and soon became known among the students because of his experiments with Cubism and Dada. Dalí’s understanding of Cubism at the time probably came from magazines, as there were no Cubists living in Madrid. He was thrown out of the Academia in 1926 before acquiring a degree, for stirring unrest among the students and claiming that no member of the faculty was qualified to examine him. Dalí’s first solo exhibition was held in Barcelona in 1925.
Between 1926 and 1929, Dalí made many trips to Paris. He met Pablo Picasso, who had a strong influence on his art, in1928. Three of Dalí’s works were exhibited at the Carnegie International Exhibition the same year. André Breton, Joan Miró and Rene Magritte formally introduced him to Surrealism, a style of painting that drew from Sigmund Freud’s theory of unconsciousness – a juxtaposition of the dream state and reality – to create art. Dalí also collaborated with Luis Buñuel on the films “Un Chien andalou” (“An Andalusian Dog”) and “L'Age d'or” (“The Golden Age”) in 1929.
Dalí painted “The Persistence of Memory” (also known as “Soft Watches”), one of his best-known works and a significant Surrealist piece, in 1931. In 1934, the art dealer Julian Levy introduced him to America with an exhibition in New York. Dalí was as colorful in life as in his art and arrived wearing a glass case containing a brassiere at a ball hosted in New York for the occasion. Though his work was being recognized across Europe and North America, his personal life and flamboyant appearance often created controversy.
Unlike many Surrealists who gradually began associating with Leftist politics, Dalí remained ambiguous about his views on politics and art. In 1934, Dalí was expelled from the Surrealist group for, among other things, refusing to denounce fascism, which was becoming a dominant force across Europe at the time. He maintained that his art was apolitical. However he continued to exhibit with the Surrealists throughout the 1930s.
The Second World War and After
During the Second World War, Dalí and his wife Gala fled to the United States. They returned to live in Catalonia in 1948. New York’s Museum of Modern Art held a retrospective of Dalí’s work in 1941 and the following year, the artist wrote his autobiography, “The Secret Life of Salvador Dalí.”
Dalí moved into his classical phase in the 1950s, painting 19 works with religious, scientific and historical themes. Through the 1960s and early 1970s, he focused on building the Teatro-Museo Dalí (Dalí Theatre-Museum) in Figueres.
Dalí was close to his mother who encouraged not only his interest in the arts but also his frequently eccentric behavior. He had a difficult relationship with his father and the two continued to have strong disagreements. After the death of Dalí’s mother Felipa, his father married Felipa’s younger sister.
Dalí met Elena Dmitrievna Diakonova, the wife of Surrealist writer Paul Éluard in 1929. Diakonova, also known as Gala, was 10 years older than him and they soon developed a relationship. The two would marry in 1934 and Gala became Dalí’s muse as well as the manager of his professional affairs.
In his later life, Dalí was prevented from painting by a motor disorder that he developed in 1980. After the death of Gala Dalí in 1982, he moved to a castle in Pubol, which he had gifted to Gala. In 1984, he suffered severe burns in a fire and was subsequently confined to a wheelchair, which led to his return to Figueres. Dalí died of heart failure on January 23, 1989.
1904 - Born in Figueres
1921 - Studies at the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando in Madrid
1929 - Collaborates with Luis Bunuel on “Un Chien Andalou,” considered the first example of Surrealist filmmaking; joins Breton’s Surrealist group; meets Paul Eluard and his wife Elena Diakonova, also known as Gala, with whom he formed a romantic relationship
1934 - Marries Gala
1940 - Moves to the United States
1970 - Returns to Spain to construct the theatre-museum, Dali in Figueres
1980 - Diagnosed with a motor disorder that prohibits him from painting
1982 - Gala passes away and he moves to a castle in Pubol
1983 - Establishes the Gala-Salvador Dali Foundation
1984 - Suffers from severe burns and is confined to a wheelchair
1989 - Passes away following a cardiac arrest
1928 - Carnegie International Museum, Pittsburgh
1941 - Museum of Modern Art, New York
1989 - Scuola Grande San Teodoro, Venice
1991 - Museo d’Arte Contemporanea, Geno
1999 - Palazzo dei Normani, Palermo
2006 - Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York
2013 - Palazzo Medici Riccardi, Florence
Museums / Collections
Art Institute of Chicago
Dallas Museum of Art
Gala-Salvador Dali Foundation, Figeures
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Museum of Modern Art, New York
Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice
Salvador Dali Museum, St. Petersburg, Florida
Tate Gallery, London
National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh
Books / publications
“Dali: The Paintings” by Robert Descharnes and Gilles Neret
“The Secret Life of Salvador Dali” by Salvador Dali
“Dali” by Gilles Neret
“Dali: Les Diners de Gala” by Salvador Dali
“Dali” by Robert Deschernes