Salvador Dali (1904-1989)
Salvador Felipe Jacinto Dali was born May 11, 1904 in the small Spanish town of Figueras in the province of Catalunya. The name ‘Salvador’ had been given to an older brother who died in infancy. When Dali was born the name was passed on to him. No one could have known just how revolutionary and important this name would become to the art world. Growing up, Dali was a difficult child and refused to conform to family or community customs. Dali’s father, a respected notary, his mother and younger sister all encouraged Dali’s early interest in art. In fact, a room in the family home was the young artist’s first studio. Early on, Dali’s talent was already refined beyond his years, and with each year his talent only grew, as did his interests.
After receiving private art lessons in Figueras for some time, Dali enrolled at the Escuela de Pintura, Escultura y Grabado de Bellas Artes de San Fernando in Madrid in 1921. There he joined an avant-garde circle of students that included film-maker Luis Bunuel and poet-dramatist Federico Garcia Lorca. Although Dali excelled in his academic pursuits, he never took final examinations, deeming that he had no need for the type of education offered by formal schooling. He was expelled and reinstated, yet it mattered little to him. Salvador Dali’s passion for the arts and his need to experience life on his own terms could not be met within the confines of school. He left. This did not sit well with Dali’s father however, and Salvador was subsequently disowned. With no true home left to him, Dali moved into a fisherman’s shack in the small village of Port Lligat, two miles from Cadaques and not far from the French border. Port Lligat would become the site of Dali’s future mansion home where he would spend many years of his life.
It was at this time that Dali came under the influence of two forces that shaped his philosophy and his art. The first was Sigmund Freud’s theory of the unconscious, introduced to Dali in Freud’s book The Interpretation of Dreams. The second was his association with the French surrealists, a group of artists and writers led by the French poet Andre Breton. When Dali visited Paris for the first time, he was introduced to the leading surrealists in the movement, but because of his lack of interest in politics, he was eventually shunned by this group.
It was also around this time that Dali met the woman who was to become one the most important people in his life… his wife and soul mate, Gala. Gala was a Russian girl Dali met following her marriage to the French poet Paul Eluard. She served as a stabilizing force through most of the remainder of Salvador Dali’s life. Gala saved him from serious nervous disorientation and took charge of every aspect of his existence: financial, artistic and sexual. With Gala’s help, Dali became established as a notable painter in Paris. During the 1930’s his paintings were exhibited in surrealist shows in most major European cities and in the United States.
Under the influence of the surrealist movement, Dali’s artistic style crystalized into the disturbing blend of precise realism and dreamlike fantasy that became his trademark. His paintings combined meticulous draftsmanship and detail with a unique and stimulating imagination. Dali often described his pictures as `hand-painted dream photographs,’ and had certain favorite and recurring images, such as the human figure with half-open drawers protruding from it, burning giraffes, and watches bent and flowing as if made from melting wax. Dali moved to the U.S. in 1940, where he remained until 1948. His later paintings, often on religious themes, are more classical in style. They include Crucifixion (1954, Metropolitan Museum, New York City) and The Sacrament of the Last Supper (1955, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.). Dali truly created a new movement in art, but it was his own unique brand. Along with his other pursuits in the art realm – which included jewelry design, film production and clothing — it is his paintings and graphic works which remain the pinnacle of his sweeping importance and mystifying genius. To this day, they hang in museums all over the world.
Salvador Dali died January 23, 1989.