“Intelligence without ambition is a bird without wings.”
“Surrealism is destructive, but it destroys only what it considers to be shackles limiting our vision.”
“Mistakes are almost always of a sacred nature. Never try to correct them. On the contrary: rationalize them, understand them thoroughly.”
Salvador Domingo Felipe Jacinto Dalí i Domènech, 1st Marqués de Dalí de Pubol (May 11, 1904 – January 23, 1989), known as Salvador Dalí, was a prominent Spanish surrealist painter born in Figueres, in the Catalonia region of Spain.
Dalí was a skilled draftsman, best known for the striking and bizarre images in his surrealist work. His painterly skills are often attributed to the influence of Renaissance masters. His best-known work, The Persistence of Memory, was completed in 1931. Dalí’s expansive artistic repertoire included film, sculpture, and photography, in collaboration with a range of artists in a variety of media.
Dalí attributed his “love of everything that is gilded and excessive, my passion for luxury and my love of oriental clothes” to an “Arab lineage”, claiming that his ancestors were descended from the Moors.
Dalí was highly imaginative, and also enjoyed indulging in unusual and grandiose behavior. His eccentric manner and attention-grabbing public actions sometimes drew more attention than his artwork, to the dismay of those who held his work in high esteem, and to the irritation of his critics.
Salvador Domingo Felipe Jacinto Dalí i Domènech was born on May 11, 1904, at 8:45 am GMT in the town of Figueres, in the Empordà region, close to the French border in Catalonia, Spain. Dalí’s older brother, also named Salvador (born October 12, 1901), had died of gastroenteritis nine months earlier, on August 1, 1903. His father, Salvador Dalí i Cusí, 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, Dalí 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, Dalí 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.” Images of his long-dead brother would reappear embedded in his later works, including Portrait of My Dead Brother (1963).
Dalí also had a sister, Ana María, who was three years younger.In 1949, she published a book about her brother, Dalí 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.
Dalí attended drawing school. In 1916, Dalí also discovered modern painting on a summer vacation trip to Cadaqués with the family of Ramon Pichot, a local artist who made regular trips to Paris. The next year, Dalí’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, Dalí’s mother died of breast cancer. Dalí was 16 years old; he later said his mother’s death “was the greatest blow I had experienced in my life. I worshiped 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, Dalí’s father married his deceased wife’s sister. Dalí did not resent this marriage, because he had a great love and respect for his aunt.
In 1922, Dalí moved into the Residencia de Estudiantes (Students’ Residence) in Madrid and studied at the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando. A lean 1.72 m (5 ft. 7¾ in.) tall, Dalí already drew attention as an eccentric and dandy. He had 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) Pepín Bello, Luis Buñuel, and Federico García Lorca. The friendship with Lorca had a strong element of mutual passion, but Dalí 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, Dalí 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 Dalí 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. Dalí also experimented with Dada, which influenced his work throughout his life.
Dalí was expelled from the Academia in 1926, shortly before his final exams when he was accused of starting an unrest.His mastery of painting skills was evidenced by his realistic The Basket of Bread, painted in 1926. That same year, he made his first visit to Paris, where he met Pablo Picasso, whom the young Dalí revered. Picasso had already heard favorable reports about Dalí from Joan Miró. As he developed his own style over the next few years, Dalí made a number of works heavily influenced by Picasso and Miró.
Some trends in Dalí’s work that would continue throughout his life were already evident in the 1920s. Dalí 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 Zurbarán, Vermeer, and Velázquez. 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. Dalí grew a flamboyant moustache, influenced by 17th-century Spanish master painter Diego Velázquez. The moustache became an iconic trademark of his appearance for the rest of his life.
In 1929, Dalí 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. Dalí 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, Dalí met his lifelong and primary 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, Dalí 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 Dalí called his paranoiac-critical method of accessing the subconscious for greater artistic creativity.
Meanwhile, Dalí’s relationship with his father was close to rupture. Don Salvador Dalí 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 final 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. Dalí 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 be disinherited, and that he should never set foot in Cadaqués again. The following summer, Dalí and Gala rented 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. Dalí’s father would eventually relent and come to accept his son’s companion.
In 1980, Dalí’s health took a catastrophic turn. His near-senile wife, Gala Dalí, 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, Dalí was a wreck, and his right hand trembled terribly, with Parkinson-like symptoms.
In 1982, King Juan Carlos bestowed on Dalí the title of Marqués de Dalí de Púbol (Marquis of Dalí 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 Dalí changed for life only in 1983. To show his gratitude for this, Dalí later gave the king a drawing (Head of Europa, which would turn out to be Dalí’s final drawing) after the king visited him on his deathbed.
Gala died on June 10, 1982, at the age of 87. After Gala’s death, Dalí lost much of his will to live. He deliberately dehydrated himself, possibly as a suicide attempt, or perhaps 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 Dalí, or possibly simple negligence by his staff. In any case, Dalí 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 Dalí 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 Dalí.
In November 1988, Dalí entered the hospital with heart failure; a pacemaker had already been implanted previously. On December 5, 1988, he was visited by King Juan Carlos, who confessed that he had always been a serious devotee of Dalí.
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. Coming full circle, he 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.
The Gala-Salvador Dalí Foundation currently serves as his official estate. The US copyright representative for the Gala-Salvador Dalí Foundation is the Artists Rights Society. In 2002, the Society made the news when they asked Google to remove a customized version of its logo put up to commemorate Dalí, alleging that portions of specific artworks under their protection had been used without permission. Google complied with the request, but denied that there was any copyright violation.