The Life and art of Salvador Dali

"Painting is an infinitely minute part of my personality."

How true are these words by Legendary Surrealist painter Salvador Dalí who would have been 111 years old today. There was more to Salvador Dali than his paintings – which were surreal in the true sense of the word. He is best known for his work “The Persistence of Time” which many believe is related to Einstein’s theory of relativity. He was viewed as an eccentric artist, managing to find a spotlight with his antics and at times facing controversies.

His love for a grand and luxurious life was evident and he wasn’t shy in admitting it –

“Liking money like I like it, is nothing less than mysticism. Money is a glory.”

He created jewellery, designed clothes and furniture – the famous Mae West Lips Sofa is his creation.

Mae West lips sofa

Dali was part of the Surrealist Movement from which he was later expelled. He created over 1500 paintings and was a versatile artist as his artworks included photography, sculptures, theatre, and fashion among other things.

“Each morning when I awake, I experience again a supreme pleasure – that of being Salvador Dali.”

Salvador Dali was born on the 11th of May, 1904 in Figueres, Spain. From the age of five he believed that he was a reincarnation of his brother as this was what his parents told him. His older brother, also named Salvador had died nine months prior to his birth. He considered his brother a “first version of himself” and later painted ‘Portrait of my Dead Brother’:

Portrait of my dead brother

“In being born I followed the footsteps of my adored dead brother who they continued to love through me [...]. As happened in the myth of Castor and Pollux, by killing my brother within myself I gained my Dali was greatly affected by the loss of his mother at an early age of sixteen. In his family, she encouraged his creativity as opposed to his strict middle-class lawyer father. In his autobiography Salvador said,

“This was the greatest blow I had experienced in my life. I worshiped her. . . . I swore to myself that I would snatch my mother from death and destiny with the swords of light that some day would savagely gleam around my glorious name!”

Salvador Dali studied art in the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando (Royal Academy of Fine Arts In San Fernando) in Madrid. There was no doubt when it came to his talent and “The Basket of Bread” painted in 1926 stands proof of that. However, he was expelled the same year from the Academy by blatantly pronouncing the teachers unworthy of examining him. Grounds for expulsion before his final examination were also based on him causing unrest.

The basket of bread

“I have Dalinian thought: the one thing the world will never have enough of is the outrageous.”

In 1929, Dali met Gala who was his muse and later became his wife in 1934. At that time, Gala (who was a Russian immigrant ten years senior to Dali) was married to a fellow surrealist poet Paul Eluard. Dali’s father did not approve of his romance with Gala neither did he look upon his connection with Surrealists in a good light. Finally, Dali’s father threw Dali out and disinherited him when he found out that Dali drew the “Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ” with the inscription ‘Sometimes I spit for fun on my mother’s portrait’.

“Without Gala, divine Dali would be insane.”

Dali married Gala in secret in 1934 and later in Catholic ceremony in 1958. After Dali was thrown out of his home he rented a fisherman’s cabin at Port Lligat. Later, he started buying cabins around him over the years to build a villa. Gala was his inspiration in many paintings but also served as his business manager throughout his life. Gala tolerated Dali’s younger muses being confident in her position of Dali’s prime interest. In 1968, Dali bought a castle in Pubol for Gala and from 1971 she would disappear there for certain periods of time. Dali admitted that he needed written permission to meet his wife and he soon succumbed to depression due to distance from his beloved.

In 1980, Dali lost his talent due to trembling in his right hand, probably due to drug dosage from his wife affecting his nervous system. After Gala died in 1982, Dali lost his desire to continue living without her. He tried to end his life through severe dehydration claiming that he wanted to stay in a state of suspended animation. He moved to Pubol, the site of Gala’s resting place. He later died in 1989 from heart failure when he was 84. Their relationship spanning over 50 years was converted into an opera ‘Jo, Dali’ by Xavier

“There is only one difference between a madman and me. The madman thinks he is sane. I know I am mad.”

Dali’s long twirling moustache isn’t the only eccentric aspect of his life, nor is it the most bizarre. In 1934, Dali won acclaim for his work in New York exhibition. A Dali Ball was thrown in his honour where he turned up wearing a glass case on his chest encasing women’s lingerie. During the same year, he attended heiress Caresse Crosby’s masquerade in New York, where he and his wife Gala dressed up as the Lindbergh baby and his kidnapper. Dali later had to apologise for such an outrageous action but was later confronted by surrealists for his apology. Dali soon started to become unpopular among the surrealists regarding his political stand. In the same year he was subjected to a formal trial and faced the verdict of expulsion from the Surrealist Movement. He left but not before letting everyone know that “I myself am surrealism”.

In 1936, at the London Internationalist Surrealist Exhibition, Dali arrived in a deep-sea diving suit and helmet holding a billiard cue leading a pair of Russian Wolfhounds. He wanted to show that he was plunging into the human subconscious. However, he almost suffocated inside the suit. Given his reputation, when he started to gesture for help inside the soundproof suit his admirers thought it was part of his act. It was when he nearly collapsed that poet David Gascoyne rushed to his help with a spanner. In the same year during a screening of Joseph Cornell’s Rose Hobart at Julien Levy’s Gallery, Dali angrily knocked over the projector claiming that the director stole the idea from his In 1938, when Dali sketched Sigmund Freud, Freud described him as a “fanatic”. Dali later was very pleased to hear what his hero thought about him. In the sixties, Dali was accompanied by his pet Babou, an ocelot (dwarf leopard). In a restaurant in Manhattan, the sight of Babou alarmed a diner to which Dali assured him that his pet was a normal cat “painted over in an op art design”. In 1962, for promoting ‘The World of Salvador Dali’ he autographed his books from a bed, wired into machines recording his pulse and brain waves and then offering the data charts to the buyer of his book. In 1968, he filmed an advertisement for Lanvin’s chocolates where his iconic moustache would curl up.

“Drawing is the honesty of the art. There is no possibility of cheating. It is either good or bad.”

While “Persistence of Memory” still remains the most famous work of Dali other works include the “Lobster Telephone”, “Swans reflecting Elephants”,“The Great Masturbator”, “Rainy Taxi”, a three-dimensional art form (1938), “The Elephants” and others. His interest in science and Mathematics is evident from works like “Corpus Hypercubus” and “Madonna of Port Lligat”. He also showed fascination in the tesseract, DNA and Rhinoceros horns. He admitted he was interested in logarithmic spirals, one can see the small particles in “Raphaelesque Head Exploding” are rhinoceros Other than the Rhino horn there are many recurring images in Dali’s works such as an egg (The Metamorphosis of Narcissus), elephant ( Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee Around a Pomegranate a Second Before Awakening) and skull heads (Ballerina in Death’s Head).Dali’s last painting was the “The Swallow’s Tail” in 1983. Dali, while he was arrogant and pulled publicity stunts at the smallest chance, he encouraged young artists like American Pop Art painter James Rosenquist and Dawn Ades. When Dali was 70, he opened the Dali Theatre-Museum – a surrealist exhibition mostly comprising of Dali’s bizarre favourites.

Here are the some of his famous paintings. Click on the link below anyone to read what they represent and to see the details Dali painted on them

Interpretations on The Persistance of Memory

Interpretations on The Elephants

Interpretations on Dream Caused By The Flight Of A Bee Around A Pomegranate A Second Before Awakening

Interpretations on Swans Reflecting Elephants

Interpretations on Galatea of the spheres

See details on the great masturbator with visual tools

See details on ballerina in a death's head

See details on The Swallow's Tail

Dali still remains one of the greatest inspirations for surrealism. His mad-eyed expression with the thin, wild moustache remains a trademark. Surrealism through his eyes was best described through his own words:

“Surrealism is destructive, but it destroys only what it considers to be shackles limiting our vision.”


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