Salvador Dali


Early Days
Surreal Years
Later Years

Early Days

Salvador Felipe JacintoDali i Domenech (to give his full name) is a well-known artist. He was born on 11 May 1904, in Figueras, near Barcelona, Spain. He was actually the third Salvador Dali in his family, as both his father and his older brother - who died 9 months before his birth - were also named Salvador.

Because of the closeness of the two children’s’ births, Dali’s parents treated him as the reincarnation of their lost son (perhaps why they chose to name him so) and he was brought up to believe this - though he sought attention, to make up for the loss, and the same name.

He said in his later autobiography The Secret Life of Salvador Dali (1942) that he was often haunted for the rest of his by the ghostly presence of his lost brother. He had many strong, disturbing dreams in his is youth, and these were the basis of many of his future works.

His childhood formed his very unique personality. His parents were always very good to him, and allowed him anything he wished, from fear of losing him, although there was always the shadow of his lost brother hanging over him. At school, other children often teased him, by throwing small insects, especially grasshoppers, at him. This was important in his development as we can see in the surreal stage of his life (See page…) where the grasshopper became a symbol of horror in many of his paintings.

In 1908, when Dali was four years old, his parents gave birth to a sister, Anna Maria Dali, who was to become Dali’s closest companion through childhood, and a model for later works.

Although Dali was not especially academically gifted, he showed a talent for art from an early age. He began painting when he was about 10, though his first notable pieces did not come about until he was about 13. His father set him up a studio, where he produced his early works. These mainly consisted of landscapes surrounding his homeland. Another important place for his art was the Roman ruins near Ampurius. This sparked of his enthusiasm for his heritage, which can be seen in many of his works.

Soon after the death of his mother, in 1921, Dali studied art at the San Fernando School of Fine Arts in Madrid. This was a on and on affair as in 1924 he was suspended for a year due to insubordination and then two years later expelled for rebellious behaviour. This included refusing to take an exam, as he did not feel the teacher was qualified judge it. This is interesting, because once Dalí left, he never returned, so as famous as he became, he never had a formal art degree.

Impressionism and Cubism

In the early years, his teens, Dalí was strongly influenced by the Pichot family. The family were his father’s close friends, and artists themselves. Ramon was a painter and Ricard a cellist, and it was largely down to them, through their encouragement, that Dalí was given a studio and he began taking art seriously.

The Pichot family lived just outside Figueras and Dalí would often spend time with them. He was introduced to Impressionism from Ramon, and this can be seen in many of his early works. Ricard was the subject of one of these paintings, and before he went to college, he considered himself an Impressionist.

In about 1923, when Salvador attended college, he began experimenting with a new style: Cubism. Most of Dalí’s friends were still experimenting in impressionism, which Dalí had mastered many years before, and he wished to try something new. It is believed he may have first been introduced to Cubism from a catalogue in the Pichot household.

Self-portrait in a studio. A good example of an impressionist piece. Strong oranges and yellows, and think brushstrokes, produce a rough texture, common in Impressionist pieces which broke away from previous smooth, carefully mixed pieces.

In this period the works of artists such as Picasso influenced him, although this phase of art did not last long. Once he was expelled, he travelled, and in Paris in 1928, he actually met Picasso. After this encounter, he began experimenting further with art and materials. In one painting, of sand, he actually stuck sand onto his canvas. He moved away from Cubism, into the bizarre world of surrealism and his dreams, for what he is more famously known.

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Surreal Years

Between 1929 and 1937 Dalí painted in a new style, that made him world famous, as one of the greatest painters of this style – surrealism. In 1929, Dalí moved to Paris, joined the Paris Surrealists, and met Gala Eluard, the wife of a French poet, Paul Eluard. Although she was married, as soon as they met, the pair became inseparable. She was officially divorced to Eluard in 1932, and in 1934 she and Dalí married.

However, Dalí’s father did not approve of this relationship, and he threw Dalí out of his former house. The pair moved to a small village, Port Ligat, on North East coast of Spain (right next to the border with France), and Dalí painted to make an income. He became more involved with surrealism, and his paintings became even more abstract than when he’d experimented with cubism previously.

It was in the 1930s when Dalí painted the paintings he is most famous for. The anger between him and his father can be seen in his earlier surreal works, and though other surreal painters influenced him, his work was quite unique in its own way.

When painting, Dalí used a method that he called Paranoiac Critical. It allowed him to enter alternate levels of reality, and view everything very differently. This differed to the normal style surrealist painters used, where they focussed on unconscious thought, or dreams. Dalí’s paintings were of a conscious reality. He was able to travel to a place without the aid of drugs, or sleep, and then depict theses images in paint when he returned.

The paintings depicted ordinary, familiar images shown in bizarre ways or strange situations. “Hand painted dream photographs” he called them, as they were the images of hallucinations.

In 1934, he was expelled from the Surrealist Group of Paris, because of his interest in Hitler and Chamberlain, and their meetings. He, like many surrealists, was officially banned from the Surreal Movement, by 1939, but by that time, he was moving away from the style. His paintings were moving away from surreal, to something totally new that incorporated surreal and everyday life.

In 1940, Dalí left Europe and travelled to the USA. He remained there with Gala Eluard until 1948, when he returned an international figure – several public stunts had assured this. In addition to painting, he designed and made costumes for several ballets, handcrafted jewellery, and produced several commercial illustrations, which secured his finances. His style though, had now shifted completely from surrealism, and was about to begin on a whole new path.

The Persistence of Memory, 1931. One of Dali’s earlier surreal pieces. Like many of them it is set on a blank landscape, with a simple sky. Many objects in strange places, again common to surrealism: melting clocks, a melting face, and a tree growing from a table.

Sleep, 1937. Six years later, and another well known surreal piece. Again set on a desert with a simple sky. The sleeping head is stretched again, propped up on sticks and appears to be bleeding. Ironic really, Dali’s paintings were waking dreams and this is entitled ‘Sleep’.

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Later Years

From 1941 onwards Dalí moved away from surrealism that had made him famous. His wife, Gala, had a great influence in this. She managed to convince him that, for all the glory he had received from his surreal work, he was capable of even greater masterpieces. It was largely down to her in the first place he became so famous; she told him how he should behave towards other artists and the public eye.

The painting from then onwards were much more realistic, displaying more traditional images, and worldwide themes. Although critics were not kind on his new style, believing they lacked the originality of his previous works as they featured ideas that had been seen for a long, his many paintings were popular with the public and reproduced many times. The paintings were technically brilliant. One painted in 1976, Gala Contemplating the Mediterranean Sea, if you stand twenty meters away, will appear as the Portrait of Abraham Lincoln - Homage to Rothko.

As with the painting mentioned above, many of his works featured Gala, his muse. Religion and science also had an important influence in his later works, which was why the critics disapproved. This can be seen in such pieces as Crucifixion and The Sacrament of the Last Supper.

Besides painting, Dalí also spent a short amount of time from 1965, sculpting, working in bronze or crystal. The art ran on similar lines to his strange paintings, for example, an elephant with legs of a spider, and crucifixes.

Dalí’s health began to decline after Gala’s death in 1982. This was not helped when he suffered severe burning in a fire two years later. He had a pacemaker installed in 1986, and lived another 3 years. After the death of Gala, he lived in almost total seclusion, and his last painting was Warrior in 1982.

He died of heart failure in a hospital in Figueras, on January 23, 1989, 84 years old. Following his wishes, he was buried in the Teatro Museo Dali in Figueras, a museum that he set up in 1974 which features many of his pieces.

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Many people thought of Dalí as an eccentric. This was indeed the idea that he and Gala showed to the public of the time, with their many public stunts and the strange things he came out with. Dalí once said, “The only difference between myself and a madman, is that I am not mad!” one of his more famous quotation, which is a rather strange thing to say. However, I tend to believe him.

He was not on drugs, “I don't take drugs: I am drugs.” and he can be credited as one of the most amazing artists. The ability to reach another reality and depict the images he saw there is incredible. Though he was influenced by many people throughout his life, he had a style all of his own, and was not afraid to voice his own thoughts. The technicality of his art was astounding, and though he was not as experimental as Picasso, he did try out sculpture as well as painting.

I loved Dalí’s work from the moment I laid eyes on The Persistence of Memory. The style is so strange and wonderful, and suits me perfectly. I can only hope that taking influence from such a master can help me in my artwork, many of my ideas come from a conscious-almost-asleep-mind.

Dalí had been dead for 15 years, but he will live on forever. His amazing art has certified this, as well as the autobiography he published in 1942, The Secret Life of Salvador Dalí. One of the most influential, controversial characters of art, and famous even after his death.

Warrior, 1982. Dalí’s final painting. Still strange, even though Dalí had moved away surrealism.

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Thanks to Henry B of New Zealand!

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This page was created by Elizabeth Taylor, 10W, Kirk Balk School. You are free to use any of this, but please don't just copy large chunks into your own work.
Created: 8th June 2005. Last revised: 12th October 2005.