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Salvador Dalí as photographed in 1934 by
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Salvador Dalí as photographed in 1934 by Carl Van Vechten

Salvador Felip Jacint Dalí Domènech (May 11, 1904January 23, 1989) was an important Catalan-Spanish painter, best known for his surrealist works. Dalí's work is noted for its striking combination of bizarre dreamlike images with excellent draftsmanship and painterly skills influenced by the Renaissance masters. Dalí was an artist of great talent and imagination. He had an admitted love of doing unusual things to draw attention to himself, which sometimes irked those who loved his art as much as it annoyed his critics, since his eccentric theatrical manner sometimes overshadowed his artwork in public attention.

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Biography

Salvador Dalí was born at 08:45 a.m. May 11, 1904, in the town of Figueres, Spain, the son of the comfortable middle-class notary Salvador Dalí i Cusí and Felipa Domenech Ferres. Dalí's father, a lawyer who was a strict disciplinarian, was tempered by his wife who encouraged her son's drawing. Dalí had an older brother, also named Salvador, who died prior to Dalí’s birth. He also had a younger sister 3 years his junior.

Dalí attended Municipal Drawing School, where he first received formal art training. In 1916 Dalí discovered modern painting on a summer vacation to Cadaqués with the family of Ramon Pichot, a local artist who made regular trips to Paris.

The next year Dalí's father organized an exhibition of his charcoal drawings in their family home. He had his first public exhibition at the Municipal Theater in Figueres in 1919. In 1921 Dalí’s mother died of cancer, when he was only 16 years old. After her death, Dalí’s father married the sister of his deceased wife; Dalí somewhat resented this marriage.

In 1922 Dalí moved to Madrid, where he studied at the Academy of Arts (Academia de San Fernando). Dalí already drew attention as an eccentric, wearing long hair and sideburns, coat, stockings and knee britches in the fashion style of a century earlier. But his paintings, where he experimented with Cubism, got him the most attention from his fellow students (even though in these earliest Cubist works he arguably did not completely understand the movement, for his only information on Cubist art came from a few magazine articles and a catalogue given to him by Pichot, since there were no Cubist artists in Madrid at the time).

Dalí also experimented with Dada, which arguably influenced his work throughout his life. He became close friends with poet Federico García Lorca, with whom he might have become romantically involved, and with Luis Buñuel at this time. Dalí was expelled from the Academy in 1926 shortly before his final exams when he stated that no one on the faculty was competent enough to examine him.

That same year he made his first visit to Paris, where he met with Pablo Picasso, whom young Dalí revered; the older artist had already heard favorable things about Dalí from Joan Miró. Dalí did a number of works heavily influenced by Picasso and Miró over the next few years, as he groped towards developing his own style. Some trends in Dalí's work that would continue throughout his life were already evident in the 1920s, however: Dalí omnivorously devoured influences of all styles of art he could find and then produced works ranging from the most academic classicism to the most cutting edge avant-garde, sometimes in separate works, and sometimes combined. Exhibitions of his works in Barcelona attracted much attention, and mixtures of praise and puzzled debate from critics.

Dalí collaborated with Spanish filmmaker Luis Buñuel in 1929 on the short film Un Chien Andalou and met his muse and future wife, Gala, born Helena Dmitrievna Deluvina Diakonova, a Russian immigrant eleven years his senior who was then married to the surrealist poet Paul Eluard. In the same year, Dalí had important professional exhibitions and officially joined the Surrealist group in the Montparnasse quarter of Paris (although his work had already been heavily influenced by Surrealism for 2 years). The Surrealist hailed what Dalí called the Paranoiac-critical method of accessing the subconscious for greater artistic creativity.

In 1934 Dalí and Gala, having lived together since 1929, were married in a civil ceremony.

Upon Francisco Franco's coming to power in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War, Dalí came into conflict with his fellow Surrealists over political beliefs. As such Dalí was officially expelled from the predominantly Marxist Surrealist group. Dalí's response to his expulsion was "Surrealism is me." Andre Breton coined the anagram "Avida Dollars," by which he referred to the Dalí after the period of his expulsion; the Surrealists henceforth would speak of Dalí in the past tense, as if he were dead. The surrealist movement and various members thereof (such as Ted Joans) would continue to issue extremely harsh polemics against Dalí until the time of his death and beyond.

As war started in Europe, Dalí and Gala moved to the United States in 1940, where they lived for eight years. In 1942 he published his entertaining autobiography, The Secret Life of Salvador Dalí.

He spent his remaining years back in his beloved Catalonia. The fact that he chose to live in Spain while it was ruled by Franco drew criticism from progressives and many other artists. Some think that the common dismissal of Dalí's later works has more to do with politics than the actual merits of the works themselves.

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Salvador Dalí in his later years, with his famous flamboyant moustache

Late in his career Dalí did not confine himself to painting but experimented with many unusual or novel media and processes; for example, he made bulletist works and claimed to have been the first to employ holography in an artistic manner. Several of his works incorporate optical illusions.

Dalí's flamboyant moustache became well known. It was influenced by that of 17th century Spanish master painter Diego Velázquez.

In 1958, Dalí and Gala were re-married in a Roman Catholic ceremony.

In Dalí's later years, young artists like Andy Warhol proclaimed Dalí an important influence on pop art.

In 1960 Dalí began work on the Teatro-Museo Gala Salvador Dalí in his home town of Figueres; it was his largest single project and the main focus of his energy through 1974. He continued to make additions through the mid 1980s. He found time, however, to design the Chupa Chups logo in 1969.

In 1982 King Juan Carlos of Spain bestowed on Dalí the title Marquis of Pubol, for which Dali later payed him back by giving him a drawing (Head of Europa, which would turn out to be Dali's final drawing), after the king visited him on his deathbed.

Gala died on June 10, 1982. After Gala's death, Dalí lost much of his will to live. He deliberately dehydrated himself--possibly as a suicide attempt, possibly in an attempt to put himself into a state of suspended animation, as he had read that some microscopic animals could do.

He moved from Figueres to the castle in Pubol which he had bought for Gala and was the site of her death. In 1984 a fire broke out in his bedroom under unclear circumstances--possibly a suicide attempt by Dalí, possibly a murder attempt by a greedy caretaker, possibly simple negligence by his staff-- but in any case Dalí was rescued and returned to Figueres where a group of his friends, patrons, and fellow artists saw to it that he was comfortable living in his Theater-Museum for his final years.

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Dali museum in Figueres.

There have been accusations against his caretakers for having presumably forced Dalí to sign blank sheets that would be later (even after his death) printed and sold as originals. Art dealers are wary of late works attributed to Dalí.

Salvador Dalí died of heart failure on January 23, 1989 at Figueres, Catalonia, Spain. He is buried in the crypt of his Teatro Museo in Figueres.

Asteroid "2919 Dali" was named after the artist.

Dalí's politics

Dalí has sometimes been portrayed as a Fascist, especially by his enemies in surrealist groups. The reality is probably somewhat more complex.

In his youth Dalí embraced for a time anarchism and communism. His writings account various anecdotes of making radical political statements more to shock listeners than from any deep conviction. When he fell into the circle of mostly Marxist surrealists who denounced as enemies the monarchists on one hand and the anarchists on the other, Dalí explained to them that he personally was an anarcho-monarchist.

With the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, Dalí fled from fighting and refused to align himself with any group.

Dalí became closer to the Franco regime after his return to Catalonia after World War II. Some of Dalí's statements supported the repression of Franco's Fascist regime, congratulating Franco for his actions aimed "at clearing Spain of destructive forces". Dalí sent telegrams to Franco, praising him for signing death warrants for political prisoners. Dalí even painted a portrait of Franco's daughter. Dalí's eccentricities were tolerated by the Franco regime, since not many world-famous artists would accept living in Spain. One of Dalí's few possible bits of open disobedience was his continued praise of García Lorca even in the years when Lorca's works were banned.

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Notable works

Dalí produced over 1,500 paintings in his career, in addition to producing illustrations for books, lithographs, designs for theater sets and costumes, a great number of drawings, dozens of sculptures, and various other projects, including an animated cartoon for Disney. Below is a chronological sample of important and representative work.

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Lithography by Salvador Dali. Epreuve d'Artiste

The largest collections of Dalí's work are the Teatro Museo Gala Salvador Dalí in Figueres, Catalonia, Spain, followed by the Salvador Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida, and the Salvador Dalí Gallery in Pacific Palisades, California.

The unlikeliest venue for Dali's work was the Rikers Island jail in New York City: a sketch of the Crucifixion he donated to the jail hung in the inmate dining room for 16 years before it was moved to the prison lobby for safekeeping. The drawing was stolen in March 2003 by 4 prison guards and has not been recovered.

Quotations

  • "The only difference between myself and a madman is that I am not mad."
  • "The only difference between me and the Surrealists is that I am a Surrealist"
  • "At the age of six years I wanted to be a chef. At the age of seven I wanted to be Napoleon. My ambitions have continued to grow at the same rate ever since."
  • "Every morning when I wake up, I experience an exquisite joy – the joy of being Salvador Dalí – and I ask myself in rapture: What wonderful things this Salvador Dalí is going to accomplish today?"
  • "I tried sex once with a woman and that woman was Gala. It was overrated. I tried sex once with a man and that man was the famous juggler Federico Garcia Lorca [the Spanish Surrealist poet]. It was very painful."

External links

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