Salvador Dalí

Salvador Dalí is a world-famous Spanish painter and an icon of 20th-century Spanish art.
Salvador Dalí was born in Figueres, in the Catalan province of Gerona, on May 11, 1904. He was a great painter who was sometimes recognized more for his eccentricities than for his artistic work. Although he was best known as a painter, Dalí did not shy away from other fields or from working together with other artists of the time. His incursions into the world of cinema were famous, especially his collaborations with his friend Luis Buñuel, which gave rise to two of the world’s most acclaimed surrealist movies, An Andalusian Dog (1929) and The Golden Age (1930), and with Alfred Hitchcock in Spellbound (1945), for which he helped design the dream sequence.

Like many other Spanish intellectuals at the start of the 20th century, Salvador Dalí went to study painting in the San Fernando Art Academy in Madrid and lived in its famous student residence in 1922. This progressive institution invited some of the time’s most brilliant minds to speak or organize exhibitions: Juan Ramón Jiménez, Severo Ochoa, Miguel de Unamuno, Manuel de Falla, Ortega y Gasset, Marie Curie, Louis Aragon, and Le Corbusier would pass through its doors before 1936. Immersed in this environment of intellectual freedom and heightened creativity, Dalí forged friendships with various figures who would later be known as the Generation of ’27, including poets Federico García Lorca and Luis Cernuda, cinematographer Luis Buñuel, and engineer Pepín Bello, who did not pursue an artistic career but had a clever and creative personality and was often the man behind the ideas that inspired those around him.

In 1926 Dalí took his first trip to Paris. While he was there he met Picasso, who had already heard about Dalí from Joan Miró. These were restless years for Dalí: he had his first successful exhibitions, but he was also expelled from the San Fernando Art Academy due to his rebellious personality, which led him to declare that the professors were not sufficiently competent to assess his work. During another trip to Paris in 1929, again through Joan Miró, Dalí came in contact with Surrealist and Dada circles.

These were the painter’s formative years: during this time he was like a sponge that absorbed influences from many types of art, from classic academic formalism to the most cutting-edge avant-garde, and he was even capable of mixing them in the same piece of work. In the 1930s, with a clear personal style and a firm position within the Surrealist group, Dalí gained wide recognition as a painter. In 1931 he had his first individual exhibition in the Pierre Colle gallery in Paris, which included one of his most famous and influential works, The Persistence of Memory.

In 1932, Dalí married Gala, a woman he had met in 1929 during a vacation in Cadaqués (Gerona) when she was married to the Surrealist French poet Paul Éluard. Despite the initial scandal, Dali’s father’s opposition to the marriage, and the age difference — Gala was more than 10 years older — the couple formed a solid emotional and professional bond in which she played the part of the muse and became the painter’s agent, thanks to her more practical mind.

Before the Second World War, Dalí began to have increasingly intense conflicts with André Breton and his circle due to Dali’s political inactivism. Most Surrealist artists had positioned themselves toward the left and against the German Nazi government, but Dalí, who considered himself apolitical, refused to publicly denounce the Nazi regime. This led to his famous expulsion from the Surrealist movement in 1934 and a series of falling-outs with his former colleagues.
In 1940 Dalí and Gala traveled to the United States to escape the war that was destroying Europe. Over the eight years they stayed in the country, Dalí rediscovered his Catholic faith, strengthened his apolitical beliefs, and was greatly prolific in painting, illustrating, and writing. He also had a failed collaboration with Walt Disney, among other activities that blurred the line between art and consumption. These years cemented Dalí’s reputation as an eccentric, which would continue to grow until the end of his life.

Dalí returned to Catalonia in 1949, making him a target once again for criticism from his former colleagues, who accused him of supporting Franco’s dictatorship. This ideological conflict led to a definitive break with Breton and much of the Surrealist circle of his youth. Nevertheless, Dalí continued to prosper. He channeled his creativity into artistic endeavors very different from painting, creating famous surrealist objects like the Lobster Telephone, pieces of jewelry, and set designs.

In 1980, Dalí’s health began to greatly deteriorate. Parkinson’s disease affected his ability to paint, and Gala’s death in 1982 cast him into a deep depression. Dalí moved to the Castle of Púbol, which he had bought for her, where he became severely dehydrated — seemingly due to a deliberate effort on his part — which further worsened his condition.

In these years, Dalí was again surrounded by controversy when the authorship of his latest works was called into question. Many reported that some of Dalí’s friends had made him sign blank canvases to later sell them as authentic paintings.

On January 23, 1989 Dalí died of heart failure at age 84. His whole life was a piece of surrealist art; being buried in the crypt of his museum in Figueras, not far from the house where he was born and the church of San Pere, where he was baptized, closed the circle of his life. He left his entire estate in the hands of the Spanish state.



His work is extensive and touched on many different themes. Among his masterpieces are:
  • The Great Masturbator (1929)
  • The Persistence of Memory (1931)
  • Soft Construction with Boiled Beans (Premonition of the Civil War) (1936)
  • Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee around a Pomegranate a Second Before Awakening (1944)
  • The Elephants (1948)
  • The Last Supper (1955)
  • Rhinoceros Dressed in Lace (1956)