Salvador Dali was born on May 11, 1904, at 8:45 a.m. GMT in the town of Figueres, in the Emporda region, close to the French border in Catalonia, Spain. Dali's older brother, also named Salvador (born
October 12, 1901), had died of gastroenteritis nine months earlier, on August 1, 1903. His father, Salvador Dali i Cusi, was a middle-class lawyer and notary whose strict disciplinary approach was tempered by his wife,
Felipa Domenech Ferrés, who encouraged her son's artistic endeavors. When he was five, Dali was taken to his brother's grave and told by his parents that he was his brother's reincarnation, a concept which he came to
believe. Of his brother, Dali said, "...[we] resembled each other like two drops of water, but we had different reflections." He "was probably a first version of myself but conceived too much in the absolute."
Dali also had a sister, Ana Maria, who was three years younger. In 1949, she published a book about her brother, Dali As Seen By His Sister. His childhood friends included future FC Barcelona footballers Sagibarba and Josep Samitier. During holidays at the Catalan resort of Cadaqués, the trio played football together.
Dali attended drawing school. In 1916, Dali also discovered modern painting on a summer vacation to Cadaqués with the family of Ramon Pichot, a local artist who made regular trips to Paris. The next year, Dali's father organized an exhibition of his charcoal drawings in their family home. He had his first public exhibition at the Municipal Theater in Figueres in 1919.
In February 1921, Dali's mother died of breast cancer. Dali was sixteen years old; he later said his mother's death "was the greatest blow I had experienced in my life. I worshipped her... I could not resign myself to the loss of a being on whom I counted to make invisible the unavoidable blemishes of my soul." After her death, Dali's father married his deceased wife's sister. Dali did not resent this marriage, because he had a great love and respect for his aunt.
In 1922, Dali moved into the Residencia de Estudiantes (Students' Residence) in Madrid and studied at the Academia de San Fernando (School of Fine Arts). A lean 1.72 m (5 ft. 7 in.) tall, Dali already drew attention as
an eccentric and dandy. He wore long hair and sideburns, coat, stockings, and knee breeches in the style of English aesthetes of the late 19th century.
At the Residencia, he became close friends with (among others) Pepin Bello, Luis Buñuel, and Federico Garcia Lorca. The friendship with Lorca had a strong element of mutual passion, but Dali rejected the poet's sexual advances.
However, it was his paintings, in which he experimented with Cubism, that earned him the most attention from his fellow students. At the time of these early works, Dali probably did not completely understand the Cubist
movement. His only information on Cubist art came from magazine articles and a catalog given to him by Pichot, since there were no Cubist artists in Madrid at the time. In 1924, the still-unknown Salvador Dali illustrated
a book for the first time. It was a publication of the Catalan poem "Les bruixes de Llers" ("The Witches of Llers") by his friend and schoolmate, poet Carles Fages de Climent. Dali also experimented with Dada, Dada artists like
Max Ernst influenced his work throughout his life.
Dali was expelled from the Academia in 1926, shortly before his final exams, when he stated that no one on the faculty was competent enough to examine him. His mastery of painting skills was evidenced by his flawlessly realistic Basket of Bread, painted in 1926. That same year, he made his first visit to Paris, where he met with Pablo Picasso, whom the young Dali revered. Picasso had already heard favorable reports about Dali from Joan Miro. As he developed his own style over the next few years, Dali made a number of works heavily influenced by Picasso and Miro.
Some trends in Dali's work that would continue throughout his life were already evident in the 1920s. Dali devoured influences from many styles of art, ranging from the most academically classic to the most cutting-edge avant garde His classical influences included Raphael, Bronzino, Francisco de Zurbaran, Johannes Vermeer, and Diego Velazquez. He used both classical and modernist techniques, sometimes in separate works, and sometimes combined. Exhibitions of his works in Barcelona attracted much attention along with mixtures of praise and puzzled debate from critics.
Dali grew a flamboyant moustache, influenced by seventeenth-century Spanish master painter Diego Velazquez. The moustache became an iconic trademark of his appearance for the rest of his life.
In late 1920s, Dali began to involved in Surrealism movement. Surrealism is a collective adventure that began in Paris shortly after the first World War, in the form of an association of individuals grouped around Andre Breton. Among the artists to participate in Surrealism were: Giorgio de Chirico, Yves Tanguy, Max Ernst, Andre Masson, Rene Magritte and Salvador Dali. The Surrealist movement was greatly influenced by the theories of psychologist Sigmund Freud, whose interest was dealing with the unconscious self. Surrealists often dealt with the id, ego and superego. According to The Ego and the ID by Freud, the id is the part of the unconscious that is the source of instinctive energy. The ego is the part of the psyche that reacts to the outside world. The superego mediates between the id and ego.
In 1929, Dali collaborated with surrealist film director Luis Buñuel on the short film Un chien andalou (An Andalusian Dog). His main contribution was to help Buñuel write the script for the film. Dali later claimed to have also played a significant role in the filming of the project, but this is not substantiated by contemporary accounts. Also, in August 1929, Dali met his muse, inspiration, and future wife Gala, born Elena Ivanovna Diakonova. She was a Russian immigrant ten years his senior, who at that time was married to surrealist poet Paul Éluard. In the same year, Dali had important professional exhibitions and officially joined the Surrealist group in the Montparnasse quarter of Paris. His work had already been heavily influenced by surrealism for two years. The Surrealists hailed what Dali called the Paranoiac-critical method of accessing the subconscious for greater artistic creativity.
Meanwhile, Dali's relationship with his father was close to rupture. Don Salvador Dali y Cusi strongly disapproved of his son's romance with Gala, and saw his connection to the Surrealists as a bad influence on his morals. The last straw was when Don Salvador read in a Barcelona newspaper that his son had recently exhibited in Paris a drawing of the "Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ", with a provocative inscription: "Sometimes, I spit for fun on my mother's portrait."
Outraged, Don Salvador demanded that his son recant publicly. Dali refused, perhaps out of fear of expulsion from the Surrealist group, and was violently thrown out of his paternal home on December 28, 1929. His father told him that he would disinherit him, and that he should never set foot in Cadaquès again. The following summer, Dali and Gala would rent a small fisherman's cabin in a nearby bay at Port Lligat. He bought the place, and over the years enlarged it, gradually building his much beloved villa by the sea.
In 1931, Dali painted one of his most famous works, The Persistence of Memory. which introduced a surrealistic image of soft, melting pocket watches. The general interpretation of the work is that the soft watches are a rejection of the assumption that time is rigid or deterministic. This idea is supported by other images in the work, such as the wide expanding landscape, and the other limp watches, shown being devoured by insects.
Dali and Gala, having lived together since 1929, were married in 1934 in a civil ceremony. They later remarried in a Catholic ceremony in 1958.
Dali was introduced to America by art dealer Julian Levy in 1934. The exhibition in New York of Dali's works, including Persistence of Memory, created an immediate sensation. Social Register listees feted him at a specially organized "Dali Ball." He showed up wearing a glass case on his chest, which contained a brassiere. In that year, Dali and Gala also attended a masquerade party in New York, hosted for them by heiress Caresse Crosby. For their costumes, they dressed as the Lindbergh baby and his kidnapper. The resulting uproar in the press was so great that Dali apologized. When he returned to Paris, the Surrealists confronted him about his apology for a surrealist act.
While the majority of the Surrealist artists had become increasingly associated with leftist politics, Dali maintained an ambiguous position on the subject of the proper relationship between politics and art. Leading surrealist André Breton accused Dali of defending the "new" and "irrational" in "the Hitler phenomenon," but Dali quickly rejected this claim, saying, "I am Hitlerian neither in fact nor intention." Dali insisted that surrealism could exist in an apolitical context and refused to explicitly denounce fascism. Among other factors, this had landed him in trouble with his colleagues. Later in 1934, Dali was subjected to a "trial", in which he was formally expelled from the Surrealist group. To this, Dali retorted, "I myself am surrealism."
In 1936, Dali took part in the London International Surrealist Exhibition. His lecture, entitled Fantomes paranoiaques authentiques, was delivered while wearing a deep-sea diving suit and helmet. He had arrived carrying a billiard cue and leading a pair of Russian wolfhounds, and had to have the helmet unscrewed as he gasped for breath. He commented that "I just wanted to show that I was 'plunging deeply' into the human mind."
Also in 1936, at the premiere screening of Joseph Cornell's film Rose Hobart at Julian Levy's gallery in New York City, Dali became famous for another incident. Levy's program of short surrealist films was timed to take place at the same time as the first surrealism exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, featuring Dali's work. Dali was in the audience at the screening, but halfway through the film, he knocked over the projector in a rage. My idea for a film is exactly that, and I was going to propose it to someone who would pay to have it made, he said. "I never wrote it down or told anyone, but it is as if he had stolen it." Other versions of Dali's accusation tend to the more poetic: "He stole it from my subconscious!" or even "He stole my dreams!"
At this stage, Dali's main patron in London was the very wealthy Edward James. He had helped Dali emerge into the art world by purchasing many works and by supporting him financially for two years. They also collaborated on two of the most enduring icons of the Surrealist movement: the Lobster Telephone and the Mae West Lips Sofa.
In 1939, Breton coined the derogatory nickname "Avida Dollars", an anagram for Salvador Dali, and a phonetic rendering of the French avide a dollars, which may be translated as "eager for dollars". This was a derisive reference to the increasing commercialization of Dali's work, and the perception that Dali sought self-aggrandizement through fame and fortune. Some surrealists henceforth spoke of Dali in the past tense, as if he were dead. The Surrealist movement and various members thereof (such as Ted Joans) would continue to issue extremely harsh polemics against Dali until the time of his death and beyond.
In 1940, as World War II started in Europe, Dali and Gala moved to the United States, where they lived for eight years. After the move, Dali returned to the practice of Catholicism. "During this period, Dali never stopped writing," wrote Robert and Nicolas Descharnes.
In 1941, Dali drafted a film scenario for Jean Gabin called Moontide. In 1942, he published his autobiography, The Secret Life of Salvador Dali. He wrote catalogs for his exhibitions, such as that at the Knoedler Gallery in New York in 1943. Therein he expounded, "Surrealism will at least have served to give experimental proof that total sterility and attempts at automatizations have gone too far and have led to a totalitarian system. ... Today's laziness and the total lack of technique have reached their paroxysm in the psychological signification of the current use of the college." He also wrote a novel, published in 1944, about a fashion salon for automobiles. This resulted in a drawing by Edwin Cox in The Miami Herald, depicting Dali dressing an automobile in an evening gown. Also in The Secret Life, Dali suggested that he had split with Buñuel because the latter was a Communist and an atheist. Buñuel was fired (or resigned) from MOMA, supposedly after Cardinal Spellman of New York went to see Iris Barry, head of the film department at MOMA. Buñuel then went back to Hollywood where he worked in the dubbing department of Warner Brothers from 1942 to 1946. In his 1982 autobiography Mon Dernier soupir (English translation My Last Sigh published 1983), Buñuel wrote that, over the years, he rejected Dali's attempts at reconciliation.
An Italian friar, Gabriele Maria Berardi, claimed to have performed an exorcism on Dali while he was in France in 1947. In 2005, a sculpture of Christ on the Cross was discovered in the friar's estate. It had been claimed that Dali gave this work to his exorcist out of gratitude, and two Spanish art experts confirmed that there were adequate stylistic reasons to believe the sculpture was made by Dali.
Starting in 1949, Dali spent his remaining years back in his beloved Catalonia. The fact that he chose to live in Spain while it was ruled by Franco drew criticism from progressives and from many other artists. As such, it is probable that the common dismissal of Dali's later works by some Surrealists and art critics was related partially to politics rather than to the artistic merit of the works themselves. In 1959, André Breton organized an exhibit called Homage to Surrealism, celebrating the fortieth anniversary of Surrealism, which contained works by Dali, Joan Miro, Enrique Tábara, and Eugenio Granell. Breton vehemently fought against the inclusion of Dali's Sistine Madonna in the International Surrealism Exhibition in New York the following year.
Late in his career, Dali did not confine himself to painting, but experimented with many unusual or novel media and processes: he made bulletist works and was among the first artists to employ holography in an artistic manner. Several of his works incorporate optical illusions. In his later years, young artists such as Roy Lichtenstein proclaimed Dali an important influence on pop art. Dali also had a keen interest in natural science and mathematics. This is manifested in several of his paintings, notably in the 1950s, in which he painted his subjects as composed of rhinoceros horns. According to Dali, the rhinoceros horn signifies divine geometry because it grows in a logarithmic spiral. He also linked the rhinoceros to themes of chastity and to the Virgin Mary. Dali was also fascinated by DNA and the hypercube (a 4-dimensional cube); an unfolding of a hypercube is featured in the painting Crucifixion (Corpus Hypercubus).
Dali's post-World War II period bore the hallmarks of technical virtuosity and an interest in optical illusions, science, and religion. He became an increasingly devout Catholic, while at the same time he had been inspired by the shock of Hiroshima and the dawning of the "atomic age". Therefore Dali labeled this period "Nuclear Mysticism." In paintings such as "The Madonna of Port-Lligat" (first version) (1949) and "Corpus Hypercubus" (1954), Dali sought to synthesize Christian iconography with images of material disintegration inspired by nuclear physics. "Nuclear Mysticism" included such notable pieces as "La Gare de Perpignan" (1965) and "Hallucinogenic Toreador" (1968-70). In 1960, Dali began work on the Dali Theatre and Museum in his home town of Figueres; it was his largest single project and the main focus of his energy through 1974. He continued to make additions through the mid-1980s.
In 1968, Dali filmed a television advertisement for Lanvin chocolates, and in 1969, he designed the Chupa Chups logo. Also in 1969, he was responsible for creating the advertising aspect of the 1969 Eurovision Song Contest and created a large metal sculpture that stood on the stage at the Teatro Real in Madrid.
In the television programme Dirty Dalì: A Private View broadcast on Channel 4 on June 3, 2007, art critic Brian Sewell described his acquaintance with Dali in the late 1960s, which included lying down in the fetal position without trousers in the armpit of a figure of Christ and masturbating for Dali, who pretended to take photos while fumbling in his own trousers.
In 1980, Dali's health took a catastrophic turn. His near-senile wife, Gala, allegedly had been dosing him with a dangerous cocktail of unprescribed medicine that damaged his nervous system, thus causing an untimely end to his artistic capacity. At 76 years old, Dali was a wreck, and his right hand trembled terribly, with Parkinson-like symptoms.
In 1982, King Juan Carlos bestowed on Dali the title of Marqués de Dali de Púbol (English: Marquis of Dali de Púbol) in the nobility of Spain, hereby referring to Púbol, the place where he lived. The title was in first instance hereditary, but on request of Dali changed for life only in 1983. To show his gratitude for this, Dali later gave the king a drawing (Head of Europa, which would turn out to be Dali's final drawing) after the king visited him on his deathbed.
Gala died on June 10, 1982. After Gala's death, Dali lost much of his will to live. He deliberately dehydrated himself, possibly as a suicide attempt, or possibly in an attempt to put himself into a state of suspended animation as he had read that some microorganisms could do. He moved from Figueres to the castle in Púbol, which he had bought for Gala and was the site of her death. In 1984, a fire broke out in his bedroom under unclear circumstances. It was possibly a suicide attempt by Dali, or possibly simple negligence by his staff. In any case, Dali was rescued and returned to Figueres, where a group of his friends, patrons, and fellow artists saw to it that he was comfortable living in his Theater-Museum in his final years.
There have been allegations that Dali was forced by his guardians to sign blank canvases that would later, even after his death, be used in forgeries and sold as originals. As a result, art dealers tend to be wary of late works attributed to Dali.
In November 1988, Dali entered the hospital with heart failure, and on December 5, 1988 was visited by King Juan Carlos, who confessed that he had always been a serious devotee of Dali.
On January 23, 1989, while his favorite record of Tristan and Isolde played, he died of heart failure at Figueres at the age of 84, and, coming full circle, is buried in the crypt of his Teatro Museo in Figueres. The location is across the street from the church of Sant Pere, where he had his baptism, first communion, and funeral, and is three blocks from the house where he was born.
Intelligence without ambition is a bird without wings. ”