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Salvador Dali Full Biography

Salvador was born in a small town just outside of Barcelona called Figueres. Salvador’s older brother died just before he was born; he was also named Salvador. At an early age he was told that he was the reincarnation of his older brother - a story that planted a multitude of ideas in the young man’s head. His interest in art blossomed at a very early age, as well as his extravagant personality. 


Dali found inspiration in the surroundings of his childhood and if one pays attention, they can see this inspiration in key paintings he would produce later in life. Both of his parents supported their child’s interest in art. He produced his first ever drawings at the age of 10 years old and was later enrolled at the Madrid School of Fine Arts, a place where he played around with Pointillist and Impressionist styles. At the age of 16, Dali lost his mom to breast cancer, an experience which he considered to be the largest blow he’d ever dealt with in life. His father still supported his son’s love of the arts and at the age of 19 hosted a solo exhibition of his child’s work in their own home. 


Salvador Dali’s Training

In the year 1922, Salvador was enrolled at the Special Painting, Engraving and Sculpture School of San Fernando based in Madrid, a place where he stayed in the dormitories. Dali came of age there and started to embrace his provocative and flamboyant persona. He was notorious for being eccentric and renowned for the art he produced. As far as style goes, he kept his hair fairly long and dressed in the English aesthetes that came from the 19th century, an outfit that came with knee high britches; he was given the title of dandy because of this. It was also during this time when he experimented with a variety of different styles artistically. He became friends with a number of people, with one of them being the filmmaker Luis Bunuel and the poet Federico Garcia Lorca. He just so happened to be in a residence where he became acquainted with the works of artists such as Einstein, Stravinsky, Calder, and Le Corbusier. He did, however, end up being expelled from the school due to an insult he threw at one of his professors during his graduation final exam.


His being expelled from school resulted in Dali going idle for many months. What snapped him out of it was a life-changing trip he made to Paris. He, during this trip, decided to visit Picasso in his studio and was inspired by the work of the cubists. He found interest in the futurist attempts to show objects from multiple angles simultaneously, and recreate motion. He also began studying the concepts Freud put out as well as Surrealists such as Joan Miro and metaphysical painters of the likes of Giorgio de Chirico. After studying these artists, he incorporated their styles into his own body of work. The first piece of work that seriously incorporate a style that attempts to reinterpret reality and alter perception was Apparatus and Hand. 


Dali’s Maturation

In the year 1928, Dali formed a partnership with the Filmmaker Luis Bunuel on An Andalusian Dog, a film that had a focus on irrational imagery and abject obsessions. The film had a subject matter that was so politically and sexually shocking that Dali became infamous and it caused a stir with the surrealists of Paris. This film resulted in the Parisians attempting to recruit Dali into their circle and they actually sent a group of people out to aid in this effort. Soon after Dali met this group of people, he received a formal invite to join this group of Parisian Surrealists. 


While his career was on the rise, his personal life began to take a hit. His father found out about a woman that Dali had been romantically involved with, Gala, and wasn’t too enthused about the relationship or the fact that she was 10 years older than him. He also started to support his son’s art a bit less as it moved from its original style to more of an Avant Garde style of painting. His father was officially fed up with his son when Dali was quoted having said that he occasionally spit on his mother’s portrait for fun. He was kicked out of his home by this point. 


In the years following Dali’s removal from his father’s estate, he began to travel a bit more while also beginning to study more traditional forms of painting that drew on the styles of the likes of Jan Vermeer, and Gustave Courbet. By this time his fame had grown to the point where he was in demand by the rich and famous. For instance, in the year 1938, he was invited to the home of Coco Chanel, a place where he ended up painting quite a bit. He also ended up somehow meeting his role model. An interesting thing about their meeting was that Sigmund thought very highly of Dali and considered him to be the person to change his mind about the Surrealists, who he thought were a group of crazed individuals. 


On top of the highly respected individuals, he met around this time, he also ended up meeting a high-net-worth patron of his, Sir Edward James. James ended up purchasing a great deal of Dali’s art as well as supporting Dali financially for the span of 2 years and worked with him on a few of his most famous pieces. 


Dali in the US

Dali was well-known in the US despite having never visited the country. He had a collection of his work presented in an exhibition in the year 1934. This exhibition was well-received by the people and thus turned Dali into a sensation. He did end up visiting the country sometime in the 1930s however. He continued to cause a ruckus wherever he went, and had become somewhat known for staging public appearances, which demonstrated the man’s love for public performance and interaction. An example of this would be the time when he went to a masquerade ball with his wife Gala dressed as the baby of Lindbergh and his kidnapper. This little exploit caused such a ruckus that Dali ended up having to apologize via the press. 


Dali also ended up being a part of other surrealist events while in New York. He managed to get a spot in the exhibition on Fantastic Art, Surrealism at the Museum of Modern Art, and Dada. He was still prone to making scenes however. For instance, he made quite a scene at Joseph Cornell's Surrealist Film showing by knocking over the projector, because he felt as if the individual who made the movie stole the idea from him. 


After the second World War devastated Europe, Gala and Dali came back to the US in the year 1940. They managed to stay there for 8 years. During their stay there Dali became hyper productive, and expanded his love for the arts into a variety of other creative interests. He expanded himself into things such as furniture, jewelry, clothing, sets for ballets and plays, and display windows for stores. Salvador often allowed his eccentric personality to take hold in a number of the tasks he pursued. One instance of this happening is when he designed a window for the store Bonwit Teller and they made changes to the window, he was so angry by the changes that he threw a bathtub through the window. 


Gala and Dali, in an effort to become stars, ended up moving to Hollywood. They didn’t manage to succeed in their quest for cinematic stardom but Dali did manage to get asked by the director Alfred Hitchcock to be the one who creates the dream sequence in the thriller Spellbound. Dali also worked with Walt Disney on the cartoon Destino, but the movie didn’t make it to the cinema due to financial hardship after World War II; it did end up being finished in 2003. 


Returning to Port Lligat

After he was removed from his family’s home in the year 1929, he ended up purchasing a small home by the seaside near Port Lligat. As time went on, he continued to purchase the surrounding homes and turned the property into a villa. In 1948, the couple moved back to Port Lligat and made it their home for the remaining 30 years. 


Dali’s work was continually evolving. He began to move past simply using different mediums and started incorporating negative space, optical illusions, trompe l’oeil, and visual puns into his own works. He began painting at least one monumental painting per year, called the “Dali Masterworks”. 


Between the 1940s and 50s, Dali’s paintings focused on his growing interest in the supernatural. He made a proclamation that stated that he was attempting to portray space as subjective reality. This method was titled paranoiac-critical, a way of expressing his dreams directly onto canvas. 


Later in life for Dali

The final 2 decades of Dali’s life were the most arduous psychologically. In the year 1968 Dali decided to purchase a castle for Gala to stay in by herself. During her time at the castle, she would stay there for weeks at a time and forbid Dali from visiting her without express permission beforehand. This separation from her caused Dali to spiral into bouts of depression and develop a fear of abandonment. Gala inflicted permanent damage on Dali when he found out that she had been giving him unprescribed medication that marred his health. The damage that she brought onto his health severely inflicted Dali’s art-making ability until he died. Despite this he still experienced a severe bout of depression when Gala died and even moved into the castle she stayed in while she was alive. 


In the year 1989 on January 23 Dali died of heart failure while listening to Tristan and Isolde, his favorite record. He is buried beneath a museum that he built before he died, The Dali Theatre Museum in Figueres.


Dalí, S. (2013). The secret life of Salvador Dali. Courier Corporation.

De Burca, J. (2018). Salvador Dali at Home. White Lion Publishing.

Carter, C. (1984). Salvador Dali.

Reviewed by an art historian and appraiser

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