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Salvador Dali Biography

Madhavi Ghare
Salvador Dalí is well-known for his eccentricity and involvement in surrealistic art movement. This story aims to walk you through some major events in this artist's life.
Every morning upon awakening, I experience a supreme pleasure: that of being Salvador Dalí, and I ask myself, wonderstruck, what prodigious thing will he do today, this Salvador Dalí.
- Salvador Dalí
Salvador Dalí is world famous for more than fifteen hundred of his surrealist paintings, sculptures, movies, and a host of designs for costumes and book illustrations. He was also a talented author and screenplay writer for certain films. Here is a biographical essay on life of Salvador Dalí.

Brief Introduction

Salvador Dalí was born on May 11, 1904 in Figueres, Catalonia in Spain. His birth name was Salvador Domingo Felipe Jacinto Dalí i Domènech. The Dalí family is believed to have a Moorish ancestry. Dalí's father Salvador Dalí I Cusi was a lawyer and a notary by profession. His mother's name was Felipa Domenech Ferrés.
She succumbed to breast cancer in the year 1921. Since Dalí was merely 17 years old at that time, his mother's death was a shocking experience for him. Consequently, Dalí's father married Felipa's sister. Dalí had an elder brother, also named Salvador, who died before his birth. He also had a younger sister named Ana María.

Emergence of an Artist

As a teenager, Dalí used to attend a drawing school. It was Dalí's mother, Felipa, who encouraged him to pursue art as a profession. In the year 1916, Dalí visited Cadaqués for a vacation with Ramon Pichot (popular Spanish artist and mentor to young Dalí) and discovered modern painting.
The following year, an exhibition of Dalí's charcoal drawings was arranged by his father in their family home. By 1919, Salvador Dalí had held his first public art exhibition in Figueres. After that, there was no looking back.

Life in Madrid

In 1922, Dalí moved to Madrid and stayed at the students' residence at the San Fernando School of Fine Arts. This is where he began to wear his hair long and grew sideburns. His new hairdo caught attention of a lot of people around him. He was known for wearing coats, stockings, and breeches too.
This was perhaps the beginning of his eccentricities which were to gain him a lot of attention in the future. This period is also marked the beginning of Dalí's experimentation with cubism and surrealism.
He had not seen many examples of these techniques of painting, but for a few pictures in catalogs and magazines which his friend Pichot lent him. He painted nevertheless. Dalí's paintings at that time were also influenced by a popular movement called Dadaism.
In 1926, Salvador Dalí got expelled from San Fernando School because he claimed that none of his teachers were competent enough to examine him.

Artistic Journey Begins

Dalí painted his famous 'Basket of Bread' in 1926. That same year, Dalí met popular artist Pablo Picasso. Consequently, a lot of Dalí's paintings had a noticeable influence of Picasso's style. On personal front, Dalí started sporting a new mustache which pointed upwards in a flamboyant manner.
This signature mustache style was retained by him for the rest of his life.

In 1929, Dalí started working with filmmaker Luis Buñuel, who was a school friend and a fellow surrealist. Together, they created a short film called Un Chien Andalou. Dalí is said to have hugely contributed towards the film's script and filming aspects.
Around the same time, Dalí had a chance meeting with Helena Diakanoff Devulina (known as Gala), who was to be his future wife. She was a Russian immigrant, eleven years senior to him, and already married to the surrealist poet Paul Éluard. Soon, Dalí and Gala began living together.
Dalí considered Gala his muse and used her as a subject for several of his paintings and sculptures.

Around 1929, Dalí joined a group of surrealist painters from Montparnasse, Paris. For more than two years, his work had shown definitive influences of surrealism.
In 1930, Dalí collaborated with Luis Buñuel for the second time, to make a film titled 'L'Age d'Or'.

In 1931, Dalí painted 'The Persistence of Memory' one of his best-known and well-liked paintings. This painting depicts three pocket watches melting away and a fourth watch being eaten by ants and flies, in a vast landscape of a mountain and a sea.
It is said that this painting conveys several ideas; chiefly that time is not rigid and that everything is destructible. This painting is also said to reflect Albert Einstein's Theory of Relativity.

In 1934, Dalí and Gala got married in a civil ceremony. That same year, art dealer Julian Levy introduced Dalí to American art lovers. Dalí's exhibition in New York created quite a stir. In 1936, Dalí participated in the London International Surrealistic Exhibition where he delivered a lecture titled 'Fantomes paranoiaques authentiques'.
When General Franco came into power post the Spanish civil war, Dalí was one of the few people to support his regime. This conflicted with the political views of several of his surrealist friends, resulting in his isolation.
Thereafter, many of his surrealist colleagues would refer to him as if he were dead. Andre Breton coined an anagram 'Avida Dollars' (which means 'eager for dollars') from the name Salvador Dalí. To this, Dalí had only one answer, 'Le surrealisme, c'est moi' (which means 'Surrealism, that's me').
When World War II began, Dalí and Gala moved to the United States of America. In 1942, he published his autobiography 'The Secret Life of Salvador Dalí'. In 1944, Dalí created another famous painting titled 'Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee around a Pomegranate a Second Before Awakening'.
In 1949, Dalí returned to Catalonia, Spain and spent the rest of his life there. His work had now taken on the sheen of technical brilliance. From 1960 to 1974, Dalí dedicated a major part of his efforts in creating the Dalí Theater and Museum in Figueres. This theater complex had been previously damaged because of bombing during the war.

Most Popular Paintings

  • The Great Masturbator 1929
  • The Persistence of Memory 1931
  • Soft Construction with Boiled Beans 1936
  • Swans Reflecting Elephants 1937
  • Sting Caused by the Flight of a Bee 1944
  • The Elephants 1948
  • Christ of Saint John of the Cross 1951
  • The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory 1954
  • Galatea of the Spheres 1952
  • Crucifixion 1954
  • The Sacrament of the Last Supper 1955

Beyond Paintings

In 1936, Dalí made 'Lobster Telephone' for a Scottish patron, Edward James.

In 1937, Dalí also made the 'Mae West Lips Sofa' out of wood and satin. As the name suggests, it was inspired from the lips of actress Mae West, for whom Dalí had a fascination. He had previously painted 'The Face of Mae West' in 1935.
Between 1941 and 1970, Dalí created an ensemble of 39 jewels. 'The Royal Heart' is most famous amongst all of them. It has been crafted with gold and is encrusted with 46 rubies, 43 diamonds and 4 emeralds. The center of this piece resembles a real heart and actually beats. This makes its viewing an awe-inspiring experience.
In 1945, Dalí worked with Alfred Hitchcock to create the dream sequence of the movie 'Spellbound' which is themed on psychoanalysis.

Dalí also contributed to photography by collaborating with famous photographers like Man Ray, Brassai and Philippe Halsman.
His 'Dalí Atomica' series of photographs were quite well received when they were published in 1948.

He contributed to Italian designer Elsa Schiaparelli's design efforts by creating for her a white dress with a lobster print, a shoe shaped hat and a pink colored belt with lips as a buckle.
He also created textile designs and perfume bottles. With Christian Dior, he made the 'Costume for the Year 2045' in 1950.

Dalí is well-known for his sculptures 'Rinoceronte Vestido con Puntillas', 'Homage to Newton', 'Profile of Time' and so on.

Dalí's Personality

Dalí made quite a presence with his appearance: a long cape, a walking stick, a haughty expression and his characteristic upturned mustache. Each time Dalí signed autographs for his fans, he would retain their pens for himself. Dalí was quite well-known for his various eccentricities.
Once, when he appeared on the 'Tonight Show' for an interview, he carried a leather rhinoceros with him and refused to sit on anything else.

Dalí often made close connection between food and sex, through his art. The Lobster telephone was created to convey this idea.
Dalí's works have also depicted an egg, which conveys something that is prenatal and intrauterine. He also used eggs to show love and hope. Dalí had once used an image of a snail to show the human head. Apart from this, Dalí often used ants to show death.

It is a well-known fact that Dalí loved money and fame.
In fact, both Dalí and Gala loved to indulge in excessive lifestyle. Dalí had cunningly devised certain practices that helped him save his money and enjoy an expensive life at the same time. One of them was his trick of drawing beautiful art on the reverse side of bank checks that he issued.
More often than not, the beneficiary of the check would prefer retaining it as an original piece of Dalí's art, rather than cashing it.

Last Days

On June 10, 1982, Gala died at Port Lligat, on account of old age. Struck with grief and loneliness, Dalí had no will left to continue living. In order to hasten his death, Dalí began to dehydrate himself gradually. That same year, King Juan Carlos of Spain bestowed upon Salvador Dalí the title of Marqués de Dalí de Púbol.
In return, Dalí presented him a drawing titled 'Head of Europa', when the King visited Dalí on his deathbed.

In 1984, a mysterious fire broke out at the Castle of Púbol, one of the Dalí residences. Soon, Dalí's caretakers shifted him to Figueres, his place of birth.
During the last years of Dalí's life, several people got Dalí to sign illegally on blank canvasses. That is why, several art dealers and experts doubt the authenticity of Dalí's paintings claimed to have been painted during his last years.
On January 23, 1989, Salvador Dalí died of heart failure at the ripe old age of 84. He is buried in the Teatro Museo in Figueres.
Dalí's work was more often than not, criticized on the basis of politics than on the merit of art. In spite of all this, his huge contribution to the world of art cannot be denied. Today, he is rightly called the 'Father of Surreal Art'.