Salvador Dalí

gigatos | November 15, 2021


Salvador Dalí, born in Figueres on May 11, 1904, and died in the same city on January 23, 1989, is a Catalan painter, sculptor, engraver, screenwriter and writer of Spanish nationality. He is considered one of the main representatives of surrealism, and one of the most famous painters of the twentieth century.

Influenced by Impressionism from an early age, he left Figueres to receive an academic art education in Madrid, where he befriended Federico García Lorca and Luis Buñuel and searched for his style among different artistic movements. On the advice of Joan Miró, he moved to Paris after his studies and joined the Surrealist group, where he met his wife Gala. He found his own style from 1929, when he became a full-fledged surrealist and invented the paranoid-critical method. Excluded from the group a few years later, he lived through the Spanish Civil War in exile in Europe, before leaving war-torn France for New York, where he lived for eight years and made his fortune. On his return to Catalonia in 1949, he made a turn towards Catholicism, drew closer to Renaissance painting and was inspired by the scientific developments of his time to develop his style towards what he called “corpuscular mysticism”.

The themes he most frequently addressed were dreams, sexuality, the edible, his wife Gala and religion. The Persistence of Memory is one of his most famous surrealist paintings, Christ of St. John of the Cross is one of his main paintings with a religious motif. A very imaginative artist, he showed a notable tendency towards narcissism and megalomania, which allowed him to attract public attention, but irritated a part of the art world, which saw this behavior as a form of publicity that sometimes exceeded his work. Two museums were dedicated to him during his lifetime, the Salvador Dalí Museum and the Dalí Theatre-Museum. Dalí himself created the second, as a surrealist work in its own right.

Dalí”s sympathy for Francisco Franco, his eccentricity and his late works make the analysis of his work and his person difficult and controversial.


Salvador Domingo Felipe Jacinto Dalí i Domènech was born at 20 Monturiol Street. This region, the Empordà, with the port of Cadaqués, served as “backdrop, support and stage curtain” for his work. His father, Salvador Dalí y Cusi (1872-1952) was a notary. His mother was Felipa Domènech Ferrés y Born (1874-1921). He was born nine months after the death of his brother, also named Salvador (1901-1903), who died of an infectious gastroenteritis. When he was five years old, his parents took him to his brother”s grave and told him – according to what he reported – that he was the reincarnation of his brother. This scene would have given him a desire to prove his uniqueness in the world, a feeling of being a copy of his brother, and a fear of his brother”s grave.

“I was born double. My brother, the first attempt at myself, an extreme genius and therefore not viable, had still lived seven years before the accelerated circuits in his brain caught fire.”

His father is described, depending on the source, as authoritarian or rather liberal. In any case, he accepted without much difficulty that his son embraced the career of the arts, encouraged by the artistic revival of Catalonia at the beginning of the century. His mother compensated a little for this authoritarian character, supporting her son”s artistic interest, tolerating his tantrums, his bedwetting, his dreams and his lies.

Dalí also had a sister, Ana Maria, four years younger than him. In 1949 she published a book about her brother, Dalí seen by his sister. During his childhood, Dalí became friends with future players of the F.C. Barcelona, like Emilio Sagi-Barba or Josep Samitier. During the vacations, the trio played soccer in Cadaqués. In 1916, he discovered contemporary painting during a family visit to Cadaqués, where he met the family of the impressionist painter Ramón Pichot, a local artist who regularly traveled to Paris, the art capital of the time.

On Pichot”s advice, his father sent him to take painting classes with Juan Núñez at the municipal school of engraving. The following year, his father organized an exhibition of his pencil drawings at the family home. At the age of fourteen, in 1919, Dalí participated in a group exhibition of local artists at the municipal theater in Figueras, where several of his paintings were noticed by two famous critics: Carlos Costa and Puig Pujades. He also took part in a second group exhibition in Barcelona, sponsored by the University, where he received the Rector”s Prize. The impressionist influence is clearly seen in Dalí”s paintings until 1919. Most of them were painted in Cadaqués, inspired by the village and its scenes of daily life.

At the end of the First World War, he joined a group of anarchists and set his sights on the development of the Marxist revolution. The following year, 1919, while a senior at the Ramón Muntaner Institute, he and several of his friends published a monthly magazine, Studium, which featured illustrations, poetic texts and a series of articles on painters such as Goya, Velázquez and Leonardo da Vinci. In 1921 he founded the socialist group Renovació Social with friends.

In February 1921, his mother died of cancer of the uterus. Dalí was then 16 years old. Later he affirmed that it was “the hardest blow that I received in my life. I adored her. I could not resign myself to the loss of a being with whom I intended to make the inevitable stains of my soul invisible”. Later, Dalí”s father remarried the sister of the deceased, which Dalí never accepted. He obtained his baccalaureate in 1922.

Youth in Madrid

In 1922, Dalí moved to the famous student residence in Madrid to begin his studies at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in San Fernando. He immediately attracted attention because of his eccentric dandy character. He wore long hair with sideburns, a gabardine, and thick Victorian-style socks. However, it was his paintings, which Dalí tinged with cubism, that attracted the most attention from his fellow residents, especially those who became figures of Spanish art: Federico García Lorca, Pepín Bello, Pedro Garfias, Eugenio Montes, Luis Buñuel, Rafael Barradas and, more generally, the generation of ”27. At that time, however, it is possible that Dalí did not fully understand Cubist principles. In fact, his only sources were articles published in the press – L”Esprit Nouveau – and a catalog given to him by Pichot, since there were no Cubist painters in Madrid at that time. If his teachers were open to the new, they were behind the student: they adapted French impressionism to Hispanic themes, an approach that Dalí had surpassed the previous year.

Dalí devoted himself, together with Lorca and Buñuel, to the study of Sigmund Freud”s psychoanalytical texts. He considered psychoanalysis to be one of the most important discoveries of his life. Wrongly accused of leading a movement of agitation in Catalonia, he was expelled in 1923 from the academy and imprisoned from May 21 to June 11. The reason for his arrest seems to be linked to the complaint of electoral fraud filed by Dalí”s father following Primo de Rivera”s coup d”état. Dalí returned to the Academy the following year.

In 1924, still unknown, Salvador Dalí illustrated a book for the first time. It was a publication of the Catalan poem Les Bruixes de Llers (The Witches of Llers) by one of his friends at the residence, the poet Carles Fages de Climent. Dalí quickly became familiar with Dadaism, an influence that marked him for the rest of his life. In the residence he refused the amorous advances of the young Lorca, who dedicated several poems to him:

“He was a homosexual, everyone knows that, and he was madly in love with me. He tried to approach me a few times… and I was very embarrassed, because I was not a homosexual, and I was not willing to give in.”

– Salvador Dalí; conversations with Alain Bosquet

The two artists became friends. Together with Maruja Mallo and Margarita Manso, also students of Fine Arts, they participated in the Puerta del Sol in the founding episode of the Las Sinsombrero feminist movement, named after the gesture of taking off one”s hat in public, an act that was then reserved for men in 1920s Madrid. It is likely that each of the young men found in the other a passion for aesthetic discovery that corresponded to their own desires. The writer”s requests came at a turning point in Dalí”s work, which he saw as an echo of his research into the unconscious. Given Dalí”s affabulations, we will probably never know what their relationship was, even though the two artists were “lovingly” portraying each other. The paintings of this period are marked by the onanism of the painter, who claimed to have remained a virgin before his meeting with Gala. Dalí was visited by Federico García Lorca in November 1925 in Cadaqués, and that same year he held his first solo exhibition in Barcelona at the Dalmau Gallery, where he presented Portrait of the Artist”s Father and Young Girl at the Window.

At the end of 1926, the same gallery exhibited other works by Dalí, including The Bread Basket, painted during the year. This was the artist”s first painting to be shown outside Spain, in 1928, at the Carnegie exhibition in Pittsburgh. His mastery of pictorial means is impeccably reflected in this realistic work. The first Barcelona reviews were warm. For one of them, if this “child of Figueres” turned his face towards France, “it is because he can do it, because his gifts as a painter that God gave him must ferment. It doesn”t matter if Dalí uses Ingres”s lead pencil or Picasso”s cubist works to fan the fire”. Dalí was later expelled from the Academy in October 1926, shortly before his final exams, for having stated that no one was in a condition to examine him.

Paris, wedding with Gala

In 1927, probably at the beginning of the year, Dalí visited Paris for the first time, with two letters of recommendation to Max Jacob and André Breton. According to him, this trip “was marked by three important visits, Versailles, the Grévin Museum and Picasso”, whom the young Dalí admired deeply. Picasso had already received glowing comments about Dalí from Joan Miró.

Pablo Picasso was 23 years older than him. Dalí recounted that during this meeting he showed him one of his small paintings, The Girl from Figueres, which Picasso contemplated for a quarter of an hour, and then Picasso did the same with many of his own, without a word. He added that when it was time to leave, “on the doorstep, we exchanged a look that said: ”Understood? – Understood!”.

Picasso remained a constant reference for Dalí, admired and rival. In his Dalinian Analysis of the comparative values of the great painters, he attributed him 2020 to the category of “genius”, on a par with Leonardo da Vinci, Velázquez, Raphael and Vermeer, while he attributed “only” 1920 to himself. At the end of his life, he allowed himself to be more critical of Picasso”s painting: “Picasso refuses legitimacy; he does not bother to correct, and his paintings have more and more legs, all his hasty repentances come out with time; he relied on chance; chance takes revenge.” They remained in contact throughout their lives.

Over time, Dalí developed his own style and became a reference point and an influential factor in the painting of these painters. Certain characteristics of Dalí”s painting from this period became the distinguishing marks of his work. He absorbed the influences of various artistic currents, from academicism and classicism to the avant-garde. His classical influences included Raphael, Bronzino, Zurbarán, Vermeer and, of course, Velázquez, whose crooked moustache he adopted and which became emblematic. He alternated traditional techniques with contemporary methods, sometimes in the same work. The exhibitions of this period attracted great attention, provoked debate and divided the critics. His younger sister Anna-Maria often served as his model during this period, often posing from behind in front of a window. In 1927, Dalí, at the age of 23, reached his artistic maturity, which can be seen in his works Honey is Sweeter than Blood and Flesh of a Goose, the former inspired by his relationship with Lorca and the latter by his first intimate encounter with Gala.

A few months later, Luis Buñuel went to Figueras where the two friends wrote the script for the surrealist film Un chien andalou before Dalí returned to Paris in 1928, accompanied by another Catalan, Joan Miró. For Robert Descharnes and Gilles Néret, the film launched Dalí and Buñuel “like a rocket”. For the painter, it was “a dagger in the heart of the spiritual, elegant and cultured Paris”, adding that the film was applauded by a “stupid public that applauds everything that seems new and strange”.

Following the visit of René Magritte and Paul Éluard to Cadaqués in the summer of 1929, and on the advice of Joan Miró, Dalí joined the Surrealists. On his return to Paris he began to frequent the Surrealist group made up of Hans Arp, André Breton, Max Ernst, Yves Tanguy, René Magritte, Man Ray, Tristan Tzara and Paul Éluard and his wife Helena, nicknamed Gala by all. Born under the name of Elena Ivanovna Diakonova, she was a Russian migrant with whom Dalí fell in love, and who was seduced by this man ten years younger than her. Although Dalí claimed to be completely impotent and a virgin, his work reflects his sexual obsession. In particular, he represented desire in the form of lions” heads.

Gala was his muse. She was his family, organized his exhibitions and sold his paintings. In December, because of his affair with Gala – a married woman – Salvador Dalí fell out with his father and his sister Anna-Maria. The legend of a misinterpreted engraving completes the picture of a son at odds with his family. The art critic Eugenio d”Ors reported in a Barcelona newspaper that Dalí had shown the Surrealist group a chromo representing the Sacred Heart, on which was written “sometimes I spit for pleasure on the portrait of my mother”, provoking the ire of his father and forcing Dalí to leave. He and Gala spent the years 1930 to 1932 in Paris. The first months were difficult, however, his paintings sold poorly and the couple lived on little. But the painter made himself known in Paris, where he frequented both the social dinners and the surrealist circles. In 1930, unable to settle in Cadaqués because of his father”s hostility, Dalí and Gala bought a tiny fisherman”s house a few hundred meters from Cadaqués, by the sea, in the small cove of Portlligat. Over the years, with the help of fortune, he transformed his property into a sumptuous villa, now converted into a museum. The landscape on the small cove became a permanent pictorial reference in the work of the painter who affirmed: “I am only at home here, everywhere else I am only passing through. Gala and Dalí were married civilly in 1934, and religiously in 1958.

In 1931, Dalí painted one of his most famous canvases, The Persistence of Memory, also known as The Soft Watches, which, according to some theories, illustrates his refusal of time as a rigid or deterministic entity. Dalí, “in a pathetic desire for eternity, makes the time of the watch, that is, the mechanical time of civilization, a soft, ductile material that can also be eaten like a runny pie”. This idea is developed by other figures in the work, such as the large landscape or certain pocket watches, devoured by insects. On the other hand, insects are part of the Dalinian imagination as a natural destructive entity and, as the painter explains in his memoirs, are reminiscences of his childhood.

Dalí and the surrealist group

Dalí continued to exhibit regularly and officially joined the Surrealist group in the Parisian neighborhood of Montparnasse. In October and November 1933, he participated in the 6th Salon des Surindépendants with members of the group.

During the next two years, his work strongly influenced the Surrealist circle, which acclaimed him as the creator of the paranoid-critical method, which, according to what was said, allowed access to the subconscious, liberating creative artistic energies. It is, according to the painter, a “spontaneous method of irrational knowledge based on the critical and systematic objectification of delusional associations and interpretations”. Breton paid homage to this discovery which had just endowed

“The surrealism of an instrument of all first order in the species the critical paranoid method that it showed itself at once capable to apply to the painting, to the poetry, to the cinema, to the construction of typical surrealist objects, to the fashion, to the sculpture, to the history of the art and even if necessary, to any kind of exegesis.

– André Breton


At this time, Dalí temporarily abandoned his work with double-meaning images, such as The Invisible Man, while the figures of William Tell, Lenin, landscapes and anthropomorphic figures, Millet”s Angelus, Vermeer and Hitler appeared systematically in his paintings. An important activity of this period was the realization with the sculptor Giacometti of surrealist objects. According to Dalí, they were endowed with a “minimum of mechanical functioning, based on the fantasies and representations that could be provoked by the realization of unconscious acts”. He remained impervious to the problems of the Surrealists with politics, an “anecdote of history” according to him. He annoyed the group by systematically studying Hitler and “the swastika old as the Chinese sun”.

If the political divergences moved away little by little André Breton and Louis Aragon, those provoked by Dalí were without common measure. For André Thirion, Dalí “was not a Marxist and did not care”, but between the erotic reveries of Dalí towards 12 years old girls that made react until the Central Committee of the Communist party, and his obsession for the figure of Hitler during two years, the painter was summoned in January 1934 at Breton”s house where he presented himself dressed as a sick person, with a sweater and a thermometer in the mouth. Once Breton”s accusation was over, he read his plea in striptease, asserting in flowery language that he was only transcribing his dreams – particular ones – and that, as a result of his dreams, he and Breton would soon be the subject of a homosexual performance. He was excluded at the end of this meeting. However, Dalí continued to work with the group, which needed him, especially as a publicity agent, in London in 1936 in a diving suit, and in Paris in February 1938, where he showed his Taxi pluvieux, in which two mannequins in a shop window received rain between salads and Burgundy snails.

At the end of 1933, their art dealer Julien Levy exhibited 25 works of Dalí in New York. Dalí was dying to see the United States. The works of Picasso were already exposed there contrary to the French museums. He was easily convinced by Caresse Crosby, a rich American woman, to undertake the trip. Dalí and Gala went to New York for the first time in 1934; Picasso advanced the money for their tickets. The Americans were captivated by the eccentricity of the character and the audacity of a surrealism that they knew little about. To Breton”s great despair, Dalí was considered the only authentic surrealist, which the painter, triumphant and drunk with megalomania, hastened to confirm on November 14 in New York: “The critics already distinguish between surrealism before or after Dalí.” The exhibition at the Julien Levy Gallery was a great success, and Dalí understood that his success lay in the United States. His painting was beginning to be appreciated. Edward James – godson of King Edward VII – became his patron and bought all his production, from 1935 to 1936. Metamorphosis of Narcissus and Cannibalism of Autumn are among the most famous paintings of this period.

Spanish War

Back in Catalonia, Dalí and Gala left Portlligat in 1936 to escape the Spanish Civil War and travelled in Europe. They lived for a time in Fascist Italy, where he drew inspiration from Roman and Florentine works of the Renaissance, particularly in making double images such as Spain. His paintings Soft Construction with Boiled Beans (also known as Premonition of the Civil War) and The Giraffe on Fire were the most representative of this period, which saw the invention of these monsters. These reflect his vision of war, but not his political attitude. He represented the civil war as a phenomenon of natural history, a natural catastrophe, and not a political event, as Picasso had done with Guernica. It was in London that he learned of the murder of his friend Federico García Lorca on August 19, 1936, in Granada by a Francoist, causing him to fall into a deep depression.

During his second trip to the United States, the press and the public gave a triumphant welcome to “Mr. Surrealism”. The portrait of Dalí by the photographer Man Ray made the front page, in December 1936, of Time magazine. In February 1937, Dalí met the Marx Brothers in Hollywood and painted a portrait of Harpo Marx, complete with spoons, harps and barbed wire. The film they planned to make never saw the light of day. In 1938, through the intermediary of Edward James and his friend Stefan Zweig, Dalí met Sigmund Freud in London, whom he had admired for a long time and whose work had inspired his own pictorial research on dreams and the unconscious.

According to Conroy Maddox”s account, the elderly Freud confided to Zweig on this occasion about Dalí:

“I have never seen a more perfect specimen of Spanish; what a fanatic!”

– Conroy Maddox.

In 1939 Dalí published a Declaration of Independence of the Imagination and of the Rights of Man to his own Madness. His European peregrinations took him into exile for five months, from September 1938, in Coco Chanel”s villa, La Pausa, where he prepared the New York exhibition at the Julien Levy gallery. On this occasion, in 1939, he destroyed a work he had created that had been altered without his consent in a Fifth Avenue store.

New York

When France entered the war in 1939, Dalí and Gala were in Paris, which they left for Arcachon. Shortly before the German invasion, they left for Spain and then for Portugal. Dalí, who had made a detour to Figueras to see his family, joined Gala in Lisbon from where they embarked for New York. They lived there for eight years, where many French intellectuals in exile also lived. Dalí integrated perfectly into New York high society, painted many portraits of rich Americans – Helena Rubinstein – participated actively in the theatrical life with large murals, made his first jewelry, and was interested in cinema, especially the Marx Brothers, Walt Disney, Alfred Hitchcock. After this move, he also sought the Catholic faith and to bring his painting closer to classicism, which he did not do until 1945.

In 1941, Dalí sent a film script to Jean Gabin, Moontide (The Love Boat). At the end of that year, the first retrospective exhibition of Dalí”s work was held at the Museum of Modern Art, and these sixty works – 43 oils and 17 drawings – travelled around the United States for the next two years. The eight largest cities hosted the exhibition, ensuring the painter”s notoriety, and soon the commercial proposals multiplied, allowing him to amass a solid fortune, which inspired Breton to use the fierce anagram “Salvador Dalí – Avida Dollars”. Robert and Nicolas Descharnes explain that “during this period Dalí never stopped writing”.

In 1942 he published his autobiography, The Secret Life of Salvador Dalí. He wrote regularly for the catalogs of his exhibitions, such as the one organized by Knoedler Gallery in 1943. He stated that “surrealism will have served at least to give experimental proof of the total sterility of the attempts to automate have gone too far and have generated a totalitarian system. The contemporary laziness and lack of technique have reached their paroxysms in the psychological significance of the current use of the university institution”. He also wrote a novel published in 1944, about a car fashion show, which inspired a caricature by Erdwin Cox for The Miami Herald, in which Dalí wears an automobile as a party costume. During these years, Dalí made illustrations for English-language editions of classics such as Don Quixote, the autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini and the Essays of Michel de Montaigne. He also designed the sets for Alfred Hitchcock”s film Spellbound and, together with Walt Disney, undertook the production of the unfinished cartoon Destin, which was edited in 2003, long after the death of its authors.

This was one of the most prolific periods of his life, but one that is disputed by some critics, for whom Dalí was blurring the line between art and consumer goods, abandoning painting to devote himself to design and commercial articles. The paintings of this period were inspired by memories of Catalonia through their colors and spaces, in which the painter represented subjects from America. In this respect, the painting Poetry of America was visionary. It combines in one work the black segregation, the American passion for rugby, and the irruption of a brand in a work of art: Coca-Cola. At the end of the Second World War, he did not immediately return to Europe. He made his turn to classicism in 1945, without cutting himself off from the rest of the world. The atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki inspired him to create Atomic and Uranian Idyll and Three Sphinxes in a Bikini. The abandonment of the “Dalí of psychoanalysis” for the “Dalí of nuclear physics” did not allow him to immediately make his approach to Catholicism. The painting of this period borrowed from the classics the geometric relationships – the golden ratio or divine proportion. This was particularly the case with Atomic Leda.

Return to Catalonia

From 1949, the Dalis returned to live in Catalonia under the Franco dictatorship and spent their winters in Paris, in a suite in the Hotel Meurice. He increased his technical virtuosity tenfold, intensified his interest in optical effects but, above all, he made his return to the Catholic faith. He was received in private audience on November 23, 1949 by Pope Pius XII. His research on classical proportions led him to “sublimate all the revolutionary experiences of adolescence in the great mystical and realistic tradition of Spain”. This conversion took the form of two paintings, The Madonna of Port Lligat (1949) and Christ of St. John of the Cross (1951), which were completed with illustrations for The Divine Comedy (1952, watercolors). By then he had already published his Mystical Manifesto, in which he explained the ins and outs of his nuclear mysticism, and signed his first corpuscular canvases, of which the painting Galatea with spheres is a representative. He linked Catholicism and particle physics by explaining the Elevations – of the Virgin, of Jesus – by the “force of angels”, of which protons and neutrons would be vectors, angelic elements. He linked the rhinoceros horn to chastity, to the Virgin Mary, in a reasoning mixing the “divine” geometry of the logarithmic spiral, the horn the animal and the corpuscular construction “of the most violent rigor” of the Dutch master”s canvas. He painted many subjects composed of this appendage.

On December 17, 1955, he presented these ideas at the Sorbonne in his lecture “Phenomenological Aspects of the Paranoid-Critical Method”. He drove to the university in a yellow and black Rolls-Royce, filled with cauliflowers, which he distributed as autographs. In his presentation, he contrasted France and Spain, the former being the most rational country in the world and the latter the most irrational, and demonstrated the uniqueness of the pachyderm”s hindquarters with a sunflower, all of which was linked to the famous Dentelliere and the corpuscles of atomic physics.

In 1959 André Breton organized an exhibition called “Homage to Surrealism” to celebrate the fortieth anniversary of this movement. The exhibition included works by Dalí, Joan Miró, Enrique Tábara and Eugenio Granell. Breton strongly opposed the inclusion of Dalí”s Sistine Madonna in the International Surrealist Exhibition in New York the following year. According to Robert Descharnes, Dalí”s behavior at that time was a reaction to his fame to protect his creativity. If Picasso, for the same reasons, had taken refuge in the castle of Vauvenargues, Dalí, unable to keep quiet, commented on the phenomena, discoveries and events of his time, and the resulting mixture was not always in the best taste. Confusing the critics, he left it to the mainstream media to analyze his moustaches and focus on some of his paintings, such as Christ of St. John of the Cross. This attitude made Sotheby”s surrealism expert Andrew Strauss say:

“Dalí worked to build his popularity on a global scale. He preceded Andy Warhol in this strategy of the cult of the star artist.”

Dalí was interested in the new scientific discoveries of his time. He was fascinated by DNA and the tesseract, a hypercube in four dimensions. His painting, Corpus hypercubus (1954), represents Jesus Christ crucified on the pattern of such a hyperfigure, where he sought to create a synthesis of Christian iconography and images of disintegration inspired by nuclear physics. An experienced artist, Dalí did not confine himself to painting. He remained very attentive to all the evolutions of post-surrealist painting, including forms that were totally detached from it. He experimented with many new or innovative media and processes, such as projection painting or holography, a technique he pioneered. Many of his works incorporated optical illusions, visual puns and trompe-l”oeil. He also experimented with pointillism, halftoning (a network of dots similar to those used in printing) and stereoscopic images. He was one of the first to use holography in art. Young artists, such as Andy Warhol, proclaimed that Dalí had an important influence on pop art. Discovered in Perpignan station, the stereoscopy fascinated Dalí who produced at the end of his career images on two paintings (right eye and left eye) difficult to reproduce. Many of them are exhibited in the Dalí Museum in Figueras (Athens is burning!).

Dalí had a glass floor in a room near his studio. He used it a lot to study the foreshortening, seen from below as well as from above, to incorporate very expressive characters and objects in his paintings. He also liked to use it to entertain his friends and guests.

Dalí and Gala”s income allowed them to live a life of luxury. In 1960, they hired the manager John Peter Moore. His successor, Enrique Sabater, explained that “Dalí earned more than the president of the United States”. At this time, Salvador Dalí and Gala began to separate. In Paris, Dalí met Amanda Lear, who was then presented as a transsexual. Amanda Lear took painting lessons from Dalí. An article by Julián Ruiz (es) in El Mundo is illustrated by a 1963 photo of the two protagonists. She served mainly as his model and became his muse (for example, with Hypnos (1965) and Bateau Anthotropic), with whom she maintained a relationship that lasted for fifteen years, as she recounted in her book about the painter. From 1965, the model officially accompanied Dalí on his outings. Salvador Dalí also helped her to move into room 9 of the hotel La Louisiane located in the rue de Seine. In 1969, Gala Dalí acquired the old castle in Púbol, near Figueres, which she restored and which houses the Gala-Salvador Dalí Foundation.

Historical and stereoscopic works

The small-scale paintings of the previous years gave way, beginning in 1958, to monumental works on historical subjects, such as The Battle of Tetouan (1962, 308 × 406 cm). The painting represents the Spanish conquest of Tetouan in Morocco in 1860. Dalí painted a large-scale painting every year, such as The Discovery of the Americas by Christopher Columbus (1959). The last masterpieces of this period were The Railway Station of Perpignan (1965), The Hallucinogenic Torero (1968-1970) and Tuna Fishing (1966-1967). From 1966 to 1973, Dalí worked on a commission for a deluxe edition of Alice in Wonderland.

He was interested in improving the representation of the third dimension beyond the classical perspective. According to the painter, the most reassuring moment in the history of painting occurred on November 17, 1964, when he discovered, in the center of the Perpignan train station, the possibility of painting the “true” third dimension in oil using stereoscopy. The discovery of holography allowed him to approach the fourth dimension (time), a technique that he used from the 1970s onwards, in order to obtain the “immortality of the images recorded holographically thanks to the light of the temporary laser”. In 1969 he painted his first ceilings and from the following year he concentrated on stereoscopic images. His best-known holographic paintings date from 1972. The first holograms were shown at the Knoedler Gallery in New York in April 1972.


In 1960, Dalí began to work on his theater-museum in his town of Figueras. It was his biggest project. He devoted most of his energy to it until 1974. He continued to develop it until the mid-1980s. With the agreement of the mayor, Ramon Guardiola, he chose the ruins of the Figueras theater, burned down during the Spanish Civil War, where he had held his first exhibition in 1914. The funds for the renovation were advanced by the Spanish state in 1970. The Byzantine-shaped glass dome was designed by the architect Emilio Pérez Piñero at the request of Dalí, who dreamed of a glass dome in the style of the American architect Buckminster Fuller. Dalí himself designed a large part of the museum, from the monumental eggs on the walls to the height of the toilets. The architect Joaquim Ros de Ramis worked on the renovation, always in accordance with the master”s directives. Construction began on October 13, 1970, and a year later the painter began to work on the ceiling paintings of the theater-museum. In 1971 he was awarded the Gold Medal of Merit for Fine Arts by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Sports. He also inaugurated the first and largest art gallery in Spain at the time, Sala Gaudí Barcelona, together with other celebrities such as Gabriel García Márquez.

Last years

In 1979, the Centre Georges Pompidou held a major Dalí retrospective, exhibiting 169 paintings and 219 drawings, prints and objects by the artist. One of the particularities of the exhibition was in the basement. A Citroën was suspended from the ceiling with a botifarra (Catalan sausage), a 32-meter-long spoon and water running through the car”s radiator.

The following year, Dalí”s health deteriorated considerably. At the age of 76, Dalí showed symptoms of Parkinson”s disease and definitively lost his artistic abilities. In 1982, he received the title of Marqués de Dalí de Púbol (Marquis of Dalí de Púbol) from the King of Spain, Juan Carlos. Dalí made his last drawing for the sovereign, entitled Head of Europe.

Gala died on 10 June 1982, at the age of 87. Dalí moved from Figueras to the castle of Púbol where, in 1984, a fire broke out in his bedroom, the cause of which was never clarified. Dalí was saved and returned to live in Figueras, in his theater-museum. In November 1988, Dalí was hospitalized after a heart attack. He received a final visit from the King of Spain on December 5, 1988. The painter died on 23 January 1989 in Figueres, at the age of 84. He was buried in the crypt of his theater-museum.

The turbulent character has sometimes made us forget the artistic investment of the painter. Dalí was however a meticulous and relentless painter, conceiving his paintings for a long time and realizing them with a care that he wanted close to his classical masters, Raphaël or Vermeer. Michel Déon considers that “his genius, Dalí has, until the vertigo, the conscience of it. It is, it seems, a very comforting intimate feeling”. The first preserved paintings show a real precocious talent, from the age of 6 years. His first portraits of his family in Cadaqués already had an astonishing pictorial force, notably impressionistic. Playing with the material, he mixed gravel with paint for a while (Vieillard crépusculaire, 1918).

He regretted the lack of theoretical training provided at the Academy of Fine Arts in Madrid. At the end of these Madrid years, a period of diverse influences began. The young Dalí immersed himself in various techniques, ranging from pointillism (Mannequin barcelonais, 1927) and Picasso (Venus and a sailor, 1925).

Pictorial work

At the age of ten, Dalí said that he did not want a drawing teacher because he was an impressionist painter. Although this peremptory statement was laughed at, the painter was indeed influenced by the impressionist influence at a very young age, thanks to the proximity of the Pichot family and, in particular, Ramón Pichot. The latter was one of the first Catalan impressionists to have been part of Picasso”s entourage in 1900 and his style was reminiscent of Toulouse-Lautrec. Dalí admired Renoir and Meissonier (“a true nightingale of the brush”), whose lack of genius he mocked but whose incredibly meticulous technique impressed him. In addition to these influences, around 1918, he developed an interest in “pompier” painters, such as Marià Fortuny, from whom he drew inspiration for The Battle of Tetouan (1962). Picasso was a kind of big brother who welcomed him when he arrived in Paris. Dalí tried all his life to confront him, the only contemporary artist to whom he recognized a genius at least equal to his own.

More than any other, the Italian Renaissance was for Dalí a permanent and indispensable reference. If he considered himself the best draftsman of his time, he recognized that his drawings were “worth almost nothing” compared to the great masters of the Renaissance. An admirer of Leonardo da Vinci – in whom he found the roots of his paranoid method – he long held Raphael in high esteem, proclaiming that he was the only contemporary capable of understanding him. Towards the end of his life, Michelangelo”s figures became a significant part of his pictorial output. He also had a lifelong admiration for Diego Velázquez, and Vermeer was another beacon, whose technique he sought to imitate for a long time, sometimes succeeding.

Dalí claimed a very classical technique, even hyperrealist for certain periods, and sought throughout his career to show more and more real virtuosity, remaining faithful to oil painting for almost all his painted work. The work is almost always very meticulous, which gives it the reassuring appearance of academism, with very careful preparatory drawings and meticulous execution, often with a magnifying glass. Some of the tiny works show a real talent for miniaturism (First Portrait of Gala, Portrait of Gala with two lamb chops balanced on the shoulder). He affirmed that ultra-academism was, according to him, a training that every painter should have, “it is only from this virtuosity that something else, that is to say art, is possible”. He hated Cézanne who was, according to him, “the worst French painter”. He opposed modern painters as a whole; rationalization, skepticism and abstraction. Matisse was “one of the last modern painters”, who represented the last consequences of the Revolution and the triumph of the bourgeoisie. In contrast to his conversion to Catholicism, he claimed that young modern painters believed in nothing, and that he was, therefore,

“quite normal that when you believe in nothing, you end up painting almost nothing, which is the case of all modern painting.”

– Salvador Dalí

Before his encounter with surrealism, while he was still in Cadaqués, Dalí began to produce with “diabolical ease in all techniques”, “trompe-l”oeil photographs”, as he called them, anticipating the American hyperrealists by more than 25 years. In the late 1920s, he represented his dreams. His first double image was The Invisible Man (1929) and he maintained this approach throughout most of his career.

The notion of “double” was central to Dalí, both in his painting and in his life. It had its origins in the death of his older brother Salvador, continued with Veermer and the logarithmic spiral, continued with his alter ego Gala, and turned into an opposition between Dentelière and Rhinoceros, in a character who was simultaneously agnostic and Roman Catholic. He refined and diversified his technique of images within images and images based on frames and networks of dots (The Sistine Madonna).

His research on the third and fourth dimensions led him to work successively on stereography, then on holography. In 1973, he declared to carry out “photographs in color with the hand of superfine extra-pictural images of the concrete irrationality”. Until the end, he played with the eye of the spectator, notably in his last works, Fifty abstract images which, seen from two yards away, change into three Lenins disguised as Chinese and from six yards away into the head of a royal Bengal tiger, The Hallucinogenic Torero or Naked Gala Looking at the Sea, which, at 18 meters, reveals President Lincoln.

From then on, his work was filled with personal allusions, often cryptic and dreamlike, which he reused as he pleased, such as the haunting figure of the Great Masturbator, which he used many times in 1929 (Portrait of Paul Éluard and The Great Masturbator). He recognized that Miró”s painting was “made of the same blood” as his own and was influenced by René Magritte, but soon acquired his own style with his paintings Honey is Sweeter than Blood (1927) and Cenicitas (1928), and then with the invention of the paranoid-critical method.

Patrice Schmitt, about a meeting between Dalí and Lacan, noted that “the paranoia according to Dalí is to the antipodes of the hallucination by its active character”. It is at the same time methodical and critical. It has a precise sense and a phenomenological dimension and is opposed to the automatic, whose most known example is the exquisite corpse. Drawing a parallel with Lacan”s theories, he concludes that the paranoid phenomenon is of a pseudo-hallucinatory type. However, the techniques of double images on which Dalí worked since Cadaqués, The invisible Man (conjunction which makes say to Robert Descharnes and Gilles Néret that Dalí was “the only true painter completely surrealist, in the same way that one can say that Monet is the only true painter completely impressionist, of the beginning of his work until the Nymphéas at the end”.

The atomic bomb explosions in Hiroshima and Nagasaki shook the painter “seismically” and gave him a new source of inspiration: nuclear physics. He then declared himself to be an “ex-surrealist” although, according to Robert Decharnes and Gilles Néret, he remained one more than ever. The atomic theory assumes a fundamental discontinuity of matter: nuclear physics says, by simplifying things, that elementary particles separated by a vacuum remain in equilibrium, while forming a coherent whole on a macroscopic scale. Finding in Heisenberg his new father, and with an always irrefutable logic, he affirmed that what physicists produce, painters, who are already specialists of angels, can paint. During this period, the bodies and objects represented by Dalí were in a state of levitation, a new approach that was linked “as much to the golden ratio as to the speculations of modern physics”. They translated the spiritual evolution of the painter, in a constant concern for a double belonging, agnostic and Roman Catholic.

In 1946, he returned to Renaissance painting for inspiration, which allowed the painter to achieve a synthesis of three unlikely approaches: corpuscular, Roman Catholic and Renaissance.

Pictorial themes

The cove of Portlligat, but also the fishing port or the front of the painter”s house, appear in many of his paintings from the time the couple moved there in 1930. The area around Cap de Creus represented for Dalí “the most concrete landscape in the world”. Its rocks with sharp angles and strange shapes are well known to the walkers of Cadaqués. Dalí often used them in his paintings (The Nose of Napoleon transformed into a pregnant woman walking her shadow among the original ruins, 1945). The composite and enigmatic-looking image of the Great Masturbator appeared in 1929, in the Portrait of Paul Éluard. It is composed of several elements that sometimes vary: eyelids, eyelashes, all resting on a nose in profile. A grasshopper is often represented upside down, near the place of the mouth. This element was very present from 1929 to 1931 (La Persistance de la mémoire, 1931). In addition to the author”s own symbolism, the general appearance is that of the rocks Dalí knew well.

Several animals take on a morbid character for him. This is the case, for example, with ants, which have been very present since Portrait of Paul Éluard (1929). According to him, they are related to a childhood scene where, after having taken in a small injured bat, the young Salvador had found the animal dying the next morning: “The bat, covered with frantic ants, grumbled, mouth open, revealing the teeth of a little old lady. The rotten donkey is also part of these representations. It was present in the film Un chien andalou (1929), and in several paintings of the same period – Honey is sweeter than blood (1927), Cenicitas (1928), The rotten donkey (1928) -, as well as several corpses of rotting animals. According to the painter, these images reminded him of the traumatic scene of the corpse of his tamed hedgehog, invaded by an army of worms: “His spiky back was heaving over an unheard-of swarm of frenzied worms.”

The grasshoppers also refer to scenes from his childhood and his terror of grasshoppers, which his classmates sometimes sent to him in class. Grasshoppers were very present in his works of the 1920s and 1930s, and they were often associated with the Great Masturbator.

The rhinoceros – and especially its horn – was, on the other hand, a divine instrument in relation to his nuclear mysticism, as well as an obvious phallic appendage (Young Virgin self-sodomized by the horns of her own chastity). Dalí used it as early as 1951 (Splintered Raphaelic Head) and then, above all, around 1955 (Paranoid Study of Vermeer”s Lacemaker). He explained that “The Lacemaker reaches a maximum of biological dynamism thanks to the logarithmic curves of the rhinoceros horns”.

Flies, on the other hand, would be linked to a positive feeling. Dalí said that he adored these insects and that in Portlligat he used to let them cover his body. He would have considered them as “the fairies of the Mediterranean”. Michel Déon tells that he used to delight in reading L”Éloge de la mouche, by Lucien de Samosate.

Like his father, who hid to taste them, Dalí loved to eat the sea urchins that were brought to him from the nearby sea. He used them in his pictorial work (The Madonna of Port Lligat 1950), in photography, and even as an artist, by sticking a straw in their mouths, a straw whose movements drew shapes on a screen. This is probably the first use of an echinoderm as a pictorial artist.

In 1954 he signed six ceramics “The red starfish” promoted by Maurice Duchin, Spanish minister.

Food, and the act of eating, have a central place in Dalí”s work and thought, for whom “beauty will be edible or will not be, bread was very present from 1926 (The Bread Basket). The very classic Bread Basket, Rather Death than Defilement (1945) was exhibited in a place of honor by Dalí in the Figueras museum, expressing the importance of this painting. It was with a 2-meter-long baguette that he arrived in the United States for the first time, and with a 12-meter-long baguette carried by several bakers that he presented himself at a Parisian conference in 1959. Its symbolism seemed very important to Dalí: “Bread has been one of the themes of fetishism and one of the earliest obsessions of my work, the first, the one to which I have remained most faithful.”

The fried egg without the dish is a regular feature of his work. It would have reminded the painter of the phosphenes that appear when the eyeballs are compressed and which he associated with an intrauterine memory. Perhaps Dalí”s best-known pictorial creation is the Montres molles. They flow like a camembert: “The soft watches are like cheese, and especially like the camembert when it is fully ripe, that is to say, when it has the tendency to start to drip. So what does cheese have to do with mysticism?” The backs and buttocks of women were present very early in the work, especially in the portraits of his sister Anna-Maria in Cadaqués (Personage at a window, 1925, Young girl from behind (Anna Maria), 1926). Later, a more explicit painting, Young Virgin Self-Sodomized by the Horns of Her Own Chastity (1954), shed light on the erotic meaning of these poses. They remained present throughout the painter”s work.

Gala appeared in 1931 in a tiny work (First Portrait of Gala), a real miniaturist”s tour de force, exhibited at the Teatre-Museu Gala Salvador Dalí; a magnifying glass is available to better appreciate the details. Her portraits were then very numerous, her face and her characteristic hairstyle making her easily recognizable. She appeared from the front (Gala”s Angelus, 1935) or from the back (My wife, naked, looking at her own body becoming, three vertebrae of a column, sky and architecture, 1945), naked (Leda Atomica, 1949), as the Virgin Mary (The Madonna of Port Lligat, 1950), a naked breast (Galarina, 1945).

The discovery of a pair of crutches abandoned in the attic of his father”s house was a revelation. He defines it as “a wooden support derived from Cartesian philosophy. Generally used to support the tenderness of soft structures”. It immediately became a fetish object that proliferates in his work, often to support a soft appendage. We can see in it the anguish of impotence that dominated Dalí before his sexual encounter with Gala. In 1929, the presence in the painting, Jeu lugubre, of a man wearing stained underpants caused a scandal in the Surrealist circle. Gala was sent on a delegation to make sure that the young Catalan had no coprophagous tendencies, which horrified the Surrealists. Gala was able to reassure them, at the same time as she warned Dalí against the very “petty bourgeois” state of mind of a group of artists who claimed to be totally sincere.

Millet”s Angelus became a real obsession for Dalí. Its characters were represented in a great number of his paintings, from Imperial Monument to the Woman-Child, Gala – Utopian Fantasy (1929) to The Railway Station of Perpignan, in 1965. Dalí often explained the eroticism of the painting, as well as his belief that the couple was praying around the coffin of their dead child. Surprisingly, an X-ray in the Louvre reveals a dark, rectangular area under the ground between the two figures.

The Venus de Milo was an occasional reference. She first appeared in a sculpture hijacked with his friend Marcel Duchamp, then as an image metamorphosing into a bullfighter in The Hallucinogenic Torero.

Death is present throughout the work since the first surrealist paintings, even the first portraits of old men. Death first appears in its most repulsive physical aspect, that of rotting corpses. Later, it became more discreet but was always present, even in the Christian paintings – mainly crucifixions. It is notable in Portrait of my dead brother (1963), Tuna fishing (1967), The hallucinogenic Torero (1970).

The Love Alphabet was born of Dalí”s passion for graphic arts and for his muse Gala. From their initials, “S”, “D” and “G” and a crown, he invented eight abstract characters, symbol of their love. The alphabet became public in the 1970s when he ordered a handbag from Lancel to give to Gala.

This bag is a small gusseted model whose handle is a bicycle chain. Its leather is adorned with a Dalígram type print, using the characters of the love alphabet.


For a long time, sculpture remained anecdotal in Dalí”s creation, with rare exceptions, such as the Scatological Object with Symbolic Functioning (1931) or the Rhinocerontic Bust of the Lacemaker by Vermeer (1955). He returned to three-dimensional creation in the 1960s, and especially 1970, with the creation of the Teatre-Museu Gala Salvador Dalí: Bust of Dante (1964), Chair with vulture wings (1960), Lilith. Homage to Raymond Roussel (1966), Funeral Mask of Napoleon that can serve as a lid for a rhinoceros (1970).

Salvador Dalí told that as a child he made a model of the Venus de Milo, because it appeared on his box of pencils: it was his first attempt at sculpture. From the 1930s, Dalí tried his hand at the third dimension with surrealist objects. He created with Giacometti objects with symbolic function, Bust of retrospective woman. Bust: bread and inkwell, by assembling a marotte of modiste in painted porcelain with various other objects of recovery (1933). In 1936, Marcel Duchamp and Salvador Dalí collaborated to create the Venus de Milo with drawers.

From this period dates the realization of bronze sculptures made from his most famous paintings, such as The Persistence of Memory, The Profile of Time, The Nobility of Time, Venus with a Giraffe, The Hallucinogenic Toreador, The Space Venus, Alice in Wonderland, The Space Elephant, which testify with extreme vigor to the expressive power of his iconographic surrealist images.

Dalí made his first jewels after the Second World War in New York: The Eye of Time (1949), Ruby Lips (1950), The Royal Heart (1953).

Between 1969 and 1979, Salvador Dalí made a collection of 44 bronze statues, of which only 4 were made: Collection Clot de Dalí.


In 1939, for the New York International Fair, he created the Dream of Venus pavilion. It was a surrealist fairground attraction with, among other things, a Venus overcome by love fever on a bed of red satin, mermaids and giraffes. All that remains of this house are the memories, some forty photos by Eric Schaal, an eight-minute film and the sumptuous quadriptych of soft watches, preserved in Japan. The painter had made surrealism an art of living.

In Portlligat, he decorated his house in his own way, “as a prince of kitsch, irony and derision”. His library was deliberately inaccessible, with rows of books set high up on the wall so that no one could reach them. In the axis of the phallic pool was a temple with a large altar table, where he sheltered from the sun and received his friends. The bottom of his pool was lined with sea urchins; this was a commission from the master to the sculptor César, who had made a polyester casting to “walk on the sea urchins as Christ walked on the waters”. The patio was shaped like a woman”s silhouette from Millet”s Angelus. The sofa was made from a cast of Mae West”s lips. The back wall, called the “Pirelli wall” was decorated with large tire advertisements.

At the beginning of the 1970s, the project for the theatre-museum in Figueres finally took shape. Dalí took to heart the design of this museum built to his glory: “I want my museum to be a single block, a labyrinth, a great surrealist object. It will be a theatrical museum. Visitors will leave with the sensation of having had a theatrical dream.


Dalí”s writings form an important corpus that has only been published as a whole in Spanish. He wrote at least since his adolescence (Studium), poems, some literary texts and a diary that was published in 2006. He published numerous texts that expose his ideas, his conception of painting and give biographical elements that allow us to understand the genesis of some of his paintings. Oui exposes his theoretical conceptions in two major texts: “The Paranoid-Critical Revolution” and “Scientific Archangelism”.

Written in a very personal style, Dalí”s two most famous autobiographical texts are The Secret Life of Salvador Dalí, which gives biographical details of his childhood, his problematic relationship with his father and the conviction acquired from childhood that he was a genius, and The Diary of a Genius, which deals with the years 1952 to 1963. Dalí wrote a single novel during the war, Hidden Faces. He puts in scene the French aristocracy during this war, and in particular the love passion of two characters, the duke of Grandsailles and Solange de Cléda. The latter is the illustration of what he himself named clédalisme, aiming to close “the passionate trilogy inaugurated by the Marquis de Sade”, whose first two elements are sadism and masochism.

In 1938 he also wrote a paranoid-critical interpretation of one of his reference works, in Millet”s Tragic Myth of the Angelus, published in 1963. He illustrated Fantastic memories (1945), La Maison sans fenêtre, Le Labyrinthe (1949) and La Limite (1951) by Maurice Sandoz, whom he met in New York in the early 1940s.


Dalí”s youth coincided with the golden age of silent cinema. He met Luis Buñuel at the student residence in Madrid – he made him the subject of one of his first paintings. This friendship led to a collaboration that developed in the context of surrealism. In complicity with him, he participated in the writing of two emblematic films of surrealist cinema. The first, Un chien andalou (1929), is a short film of sixteen minutes. It was financed by the viscount and viscountess of Noailles, following an exhibition in Paris. After a brutal introductory image intended to better mark the split between the real world and the surrealist world, various dreamlike scenes follow one another, endowed only with the logic of dreams. The film caused a scandal in Parisian intellectual circles. However, according to Robert Descharnes, Dalí and Buñuel wanted to make something “different from anything that had been shot before”. It was with this in mind that the second film, The Golden Age, was made in 1930. Dalí wanted to represent love, creation and Catholic myths in the setting of Cap de Creus. What was to create for Dalí a subtle, refined and profound sacrilege was transformed by Buñuel into a primary anticlericalism. The film, which lasted one hour, provoked public unrest between royalists and surrealists. Judged at the time as insolent, it was banned until 1981.

Dalí participated in the making of several films that were not completed. In 1941 he wrote the first dream scene for the film Moontide, by Fritz Lang, which was not shot because of the entry of the United States into the war. In 1945, Dalí began to direct with Walt Disney the cartoon Destino, which was stopped after a few months because of financial problems related to the war. Dalí and Disney were very fond of each other, and Dalí considered the filmmaker to be a “great American surrealist” in the same way as the Marx Brothers and Cecil B. DeMille.

He wrote a screenplay for the Marx Brothers, entitled Giraffes on Horseback Salad, which remained in draft form. In 1945, he created the set for the spellbound scene in Alfred Hitchcock”s film, The House of Dr. Edwardes. In this scene, Gregory Peck, psychoanalyzed by Ingrid Bergman, sees a curtain of wide-open eyes – an idea taken from the film Un chien andalou – and enormous scissors that cut out eyelids and retinas.

Dalí himself produced some experimental surrealist short films in which he put himself on stage. In the 1950s he produced The Prodigious Adventure of the Lacemaker and the Rhinoceros, directed by Robert Descharnes, in which images and objects were associated by the logarithmic curve and the golden ratio. In 1975, it was Impressions de la Haute Mongolie (Homage to Raymond Roussel). In this film with the appearance of a fake documentary, Salvador Dalí tells the story of a disappeared people whose trace he found during a trip to “Upper Mongolia”. The story is completely invented. Dalí had urinated on the ring of a pen and waited for the corrosion to act, filming the effects at macro and microscopic distances, all of which was accompanied by a “historian” commentary.

He directed, with Jean-Christophe Averty and Robert Descharnes, The Soft Self-Portrait of Salvador Dalí (1967), an advertisement for Lanvin chocolate in 1968. Alejandro Jodorowsky, in his aborted film project for the novel Dune, had asked Dalí to play the role of the emperor Shaddam IV. This one demanded, among other things, to be paid at the astronomical rate of 100 000 dollars of the hour and proposed a throne of scatological inspiration.


Dalí participated in several projects related to the theater. In 1927 he collaborated with Federico García Lorca on the play Marina Pineda and wrote the libretto for Bacchanal, inspired by Richard Wagner”s Tannhäuser. During his stay in New York, Dalí created several backdrops, sets and costumes for ballets, Labyrinth (1941), Helena (1942), Romeo and Juliet (1942), Café de Cinitas (1943) and Tristan Fou (1944).

Fashion world

Throughout his life and work, Dalí remained in symbiosis with the polymorphic world of fashion. In his insatiable desire to materialize the limitless creativity that singled him out, he explored the most heterogeneous creative registers of the fashion sector. His models were preferably women with prominent hips – coccyx women – and beardless underarms, such as Greta Garbo. Among his most notable achievements, he produced many fabric patterns and decorative designs for clothing. He collaborated with Coco Chanel to design the costumes and set designs for the play Bacchanal, “paranoid-kinetic”, participated in the creation of some hat designs including a famous shoe-shaped one and, with the couturier Elsa Schiaparelli, created the “lobster” dress (1930s), commissioned by Edward James for his friend the actress Ruth Ford. He imagined with Christian Dior in 1950 the “suit of the year 1945″ with drawers. Salvador Dalí created the Dalígram Canvas in the late 1960s, based on a Louis Vuitton case. In 1970, a Lancel handbag was decorated with his love alphabet, while the handle was formed by a bicycle chain. He created women”s swimsuits that compress the breasts and thus give an angelic appearance; an aphrodisiac tuxedo covered with shot glasses filled with peppermint; ties; the hair design of his metamorphic mustache-antennas; perfume bottles.

Many of her creations remained as models without ever being realized. This was the case of dresses with fake spacers and stuffed with fake anatomies; make-up on hollow cheeks to eliminate shadows under the eyes; kaleidoscopic glasses for car trips; fake nails made of minimirrors in which one can contemplate oneself.


Dalí showed a real interest in photography, to which he gave an important place in his work. He harmonized the settings and the photographs as a painter works his canvas with his brushes. Dalí the photographer was the revelation of a major and unknown part of the Dalinian creation. He worked with photographers like Man Ray, Brassaï, Cecil Beaton and Philippe Halsman. With the latter, he created the famous Dalí Atomicus series. It was undoubtedly Robert Descharnes, his friend and collaborator-photographer for 40 years, who took the most photographs of Dalí, the man and his work.

The photographer and journalist Enrique Sabater met Dalí in the summer of 1968, when he was commissioned by the American agency Radical Press to interview the painter at his home in Portlligat. A friendship was born between them and the photographer spent twelve years with Dalí as his secretary, right-hand man and confidant. Enrique took thousands of photos of Dalí and Gala. In 1972, when Elvis Presley visited him, Dalí was so impressed by his country shirt with embroidered patterns and mother-of-pearl buttons that the singer gave it to him as a gift. He then wore it to realize Dalí with the shirt of Elvis. The master told Marc Lacroix, who took the photograph: “When Elvis Presley came to meet me in my studio he immediately noticed that I was fascinated by his country shirt. As he was leaving he said to me, “Do you like my shirt? Yes. Very much so. Without a word he undid the buttons and left shirtless. Since then I never leave it to paint.”

With Marc Lacroix, fashion photographer, Dalí posed in 1970 for a series of portraits where he put himself in scene, in delirious photos: Dalí with the crown of spider of sea, Dalí with the flowered ear, Avida Dollars. This last photograph was realized above a sign of the Bank of France, surrounded by bills to his effigy. Still with Marc Lacroix, he tried an experiment that he had been thinking about for a long time. He made a three-dimensional painting, Eight Pupils, using a stereoscopic camera to render depth.

Dalí had a friendly relationship with the singer of the hard rock band Alice Cooper, Vincent Furnier. The two artists admired each other, Alice Cooper using a painting of Dalí to illustrate his album DaDa in 1983, after this last had dedicated to him ten years earlier a hologram entitled First cylinder. Portrait of the brain of Alice Cooper. One of the most striking photographs is that of the painter, wearing a top hat, on the sides of which he had placed Mona Lisa masks. According to Thérèse Lacroix, he created it for his participation in a ball given by the Baroness Rothschild. Only half of Dalí”s face appears amidst enigmatic, frozen smiles.

The Bread Basket

The Bread Basket (31.5 × 31.5 cm), (Salvador Dali Museum), is an oil on wood made in 1926. It was the first work of Dalí”s to be exhibited outside of Spain, at the International Exhibition at the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh in 1928. This early work was created shortly after he finished his art studies in Madrid, while studying the Dutch masters. In it, at the age of twenty-two, Dalí demonstrated the full possession of his pictorial means.

Represented in a very realistic way in a very classical chiaroscuro, a wicker basket of bread is presented with four slices of bread, one of them is buttered. The whole is placed on a white tablecloth with many volutes. In the center, the back of the tablecloth is represented, revealing the details of the fabric in a very clear way. The background is dark, even black. The raw white light seems to vitrify the scene.

Metamorphosis of Narcissus

The Metamorphosis of Narcissus (Tate Gallery, 50.8 × 78.3 cm) was painted in 1936-1937, when the painter was in the midst of his Surrealist period. It is a mythological scene whose most detailed story is told in Ovid”s Metamorphoses.

According to Ovid, after an encounter with the nymph Echo, who could not seduce him, Narcissus, son of the nymph Liriope and the river Cephis, was forced by Nemesis, the goddess of vengeance, to drink clear water. However, “in love with his image which he sees in the wave, he lends a body to the vain shade which captivates him: in ecstasy in front of himself, he remains, the immobile face like a statue of marble of Paros”. Narcissus fell in love with his reflection but, unable to separate himself from his body, he began to cry. His tears disturbed the image which disappeared. Narcissus struck out in despair and, once the water became calm again, he contemplated his bruised reflection. He let himself die lamenting with an “alas”, that Echo repeated untiringly until a last “farewell” to which the nymph also answered. At the time of his burial, “one finds in his place only a yellow flower, crowned with white leaves in the middle of its stem”.

Dalí presented with his painting a “paranoiac poem” of the same name and subject, all preceded by a meta-text, an instruction manual. According to the painter, this was the first work, painting and poem, to be entirely conceived according to the critical paranoid method. If, according to the poem, the snow God is present in the mountains in the background, the scene takes place in spring, the season of daffodils. The painter exploits a double image, resulting from his critical paranoid method, by representing the state preceding Narcissus” transformation on the left, and his transformation on the right, using the Latin reading direction. On the left, the character with imprecise contours is reflected in the water. He is bent over and his head is resting on his knees, awaiting death. On the right is the double of the image after transformation. The figure becomes a thin, stony hand emerging from the earth. It carries on its three fingers a huge egg from which a narcissus is emerging. Both the nail and the egg are broken and the group is represented in a stony, cadaverous gray, on which ants are rising, symbols of putrefaction.

In the background and in the center is represented what Dalí defines in the poem as a “heterosexual group in a state of waiting”. It is a group of eight naked men and women rejected by Narcissus, which, according to Dalí, includes a Hindu, a Catalan, a German, a Russian, an American, a Swedish woman and an English woman. Another interpretation is made by Shnyder who considers the opposite transformation. The hand on the right is the initial state; on the left, shifted by translation, is the painter Dalí, in a double of this image. This group is metamorphosed into a seated and leaning character, reflecting in a frozen water, which represents the Narcissus of Ovid”s myth. The colors are warm, golden and soft. Dalí says of the character of Narcissus in his initial state that “when you look at him insistently, also to melt in the red and golden rocks.

Premonition of the civil war

Like many of Dalí”s paintings, this one has a double title: Soft Constructions with Boiled Beans. Premonition of the Civil War. It is an oil on canvas, 100 × 99 cm, kept in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. It was begun in Paris in 1936, when the increase in armed unrest in Spain left little doubt about the country”s immediate future, about “the approach of the great armed cannibalism of our history, that of our coming civil war. The painter tells in Secret Life of Salvador Dalí how, in 1934, when the Catalan republic was proclaimed, he and Gala fled Barcelona for Paris, between anarchist blockades and the declaration of independence of Catalonia. Their driver was murdered on the way back.

In the background, most of the canvas is occupied by the sky. On the earthy and sunny ground is a huge being, with a grimacing face and absurd anatomy. The whole is seen from a low angle. Dalí realizes in this painting a form of decomposition, dissection and recomposition of a giant in a monster. It is, according to Jean-Louis Ferrier, a canvas where “a gigantic human body tears itself apart, splits, strangles, grimaces with pain and madness”. One hand is on the ground in the dust while the other, raised to the sky, clutches a breast. They are both contracted and of a cadaverous gray. The arms form an angle and extend into a sort of leg connected to a pelvis. On the pelvis, a decomposing foot and its upright leg form, with the parts previously mentioned, an immense trapezium whose large side is surmounted by a grimacing head raised towards the sky. The whole is supported by a morbidly cut foot and a tiny bedside table, both placed between boiled beans scattered on the floor. On the basin, to the right of the foot, is a turd.

Dalí himself commented on the presence of these beans, which justifies the first title of the work: “The soft structure of this enormous mass of flesh in the Civil War, I have garnished with boiled beans, because one cannot imagine swallowing all this insensitive meat without the accompaniment of some melancholic and mealy vegetable.

The association war-food-love is the central theme of another of his paintings on the same theme: Cannibalism of Autumn.

The Temptation of Saint Anthony

The Temptation of Saint Anthony was painted in 1946. It is a surrealist oil on canvas measuring 90 × 119.5 cm and is kept in Brussels at the Royal Museum of Fine Arts. The painting was done in 1946 in New York and is representative of the period when surrealism gradually gave way to religion. Dalí had become close to the cinema and created this work during a competition organized for a film adaptation of Guy de Maupassant”s novel Bel-Ami. The competition was won by Max Ernst and Dalí”s painting was not accepted. For Gilles Néret, without limiting himself to it, the painting plays on the religious-erotic opposition.

“An alchemy of fears and desires, The Temptation of Saint Anthony achieves a subtle synthesis between classical painting and its author”s keen sense of spirituality.

– Gilles Néret

The painting shows Saint Anthony in the desert, kneeling and carrying a cross to protect himself from the temptations that attack him in a gesture of exorcism. These temptations take the form of a giant horse, a line of elephants with huge and grotesque “spider legs”. Saint Anthony is represented as a beggar, while each animal has a temptation on its back, among the most common among men. Triumph is represented by the horse with dirty and worn hooves; to his right, a naked woman covering her breasts offers her voluptuous body. She represents sexuality. Then come the riches. It is a golden obelisk on the following elephant, inspired by Bernini”s obelisk in Rome. This is followed by a naked woman imprisoned in a golden house. This one is topped by the trumpets of fame. In the background, a last elephant is carrying a huge phallic monolith, protruding from a cloud on which a castle is depicted. In the middle of the deserted landscape, under the elephants, two men are arguing. One is dressed in a red cape and carries a cross. The other is gray and leaning forward. A white angel flies over the desert.

Christ of Saint John of the Cross

Christ of St. John of the Cross is one of the painter”s most famous paintings. It is an oil on canvas, painted in 1951, measuring 205 × 116 cm, and is kept in the Kelvingrove Museum in Glasgow. The originality of the perspective and the technical skill made the painting very famous, so much so that in 1961 a fanatic tried to vandalize it with little success. During the 1950s, the artist represented the crucifixion scene several times, as in Corpus hypercubus, painted in 1945. In this painting Dalí based himself on the theories of the Discourse on the Cubic Form by Juan de Herrera, who was in charge of the monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial in the 16th century.

Dalí was inspired by a mystical drawing of St. John of the Cross preserved in the Monastery of the Incarnation in Ávila, and by an image he said he had dreamed of of a circle in a triangle. This figure, which he said was like the nucleus of an atom, was similar to the drawing in the monastery and he decided to use it for his painting. The painting shows the crucified Jesus, taken from a bird”s-eye perspective and seen from above the head. The head looks down and is the focal point of the painting. The lower part of the painting represents an impassive landscape, formed by the bay of Port Lligat. At the bottom right, two fishermen are busy near a boat. They are inspired by a drawing by Velázquez for The Surrender of Breda and a painting by Le Nain. Between the Crucified One and the bay are clouds of mystical and mysterious tones, illuminated by the light emanating from Jesus” body. The powerful chiaroscuro used to enhance the figure of Jesus creates a dramatic effect.

Christ is represented in a human and simple way. He has short hair – contrary to classical representations – and is in a relaxed position. The sign on the upper part of the cross is a sheet of paper with the initials INRI. Unlike classical representations, Christ is not wounded, is not nailed to the cross, has no cuts, very little blood and has none of the classical attributes of the crucifixion – nails, crown of thorns, etc. It seems to float next to the cross. Dalí justified this by explaining that in a dream he changed his initial plan to put flowers, carnations and jasmines, in the wounds of Christ, “perhaps because of a Spanish proverb that says A mal Cristo, demasiada sangre. Some commentators say that this is the most human and humble work on the theme of the Crucifixion.

Main pictorial works

Salvador Dalí painted 1,640 pictures, mainly oils on canvas. The titles and dates are taken from the book by Gilles Néret and Robert Descharnes.

A large number of Salvador Dalí”s works are exhibited at the Fondacion Gala-Salvador Dalí in Figueras, in the Dalí Theatre-Museum, which he described as “the largest surrealist object in the world”.

Main museums

Along with Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalí was one of the two artists for whom two museums exclusively dedicated to his work were created during his lifetime. The first to open was founded by the collectors A. Reynolds Morse and Eleanor Morse, who over the years had assembled a vast collection. In 1971, the first museum, located in Beachwood (Cleveland), was opened by Salvador Dalí himself. In the 1980s, the couple bequeathed the works to the city of St. Petersburg, Florida, which opened a new Salvador Dalí Museum in 1982. Ninety-six of Dalí”s paintings are housed there, along with more than 100 watercolors and drawings, more than 1,300 photographs, sculptures, jewelry, and numerous archives. A new hurricane-proof building opened in 2011. The second museum to open was the Dalí Theatre-Museum. Located in his hometown of Figueras, Catalonia, it was built in the ruins of an old theater ravaged by the flames of the Spanish Civil War. It was transformed in the 1970s into a museum by the painter and gave the city a new tourist place. It opened in 1974.

In the mid-1990s, two other museums opened in Spain. The first is the castle of Púbol, which was the residence of his wife Gala. After her death in 1982, the castle served as Salvador Dalí”s residence for two years until a fire broke out in the room in 1984. Likewise, his house in Portlligat in the port of Cadaqués has been transformed into a public museum. In France, Dalí Paris presents the collection of more than fifteen original sculptures, giving this exhibition its status as the most important collection in France. In Germany, the Dalí Museum in Leipzig Square in Berlin brings together more than 400 works by the Catalan artist.

Cinema on Dalí

Dalí”s relationship with the cinema was the subject of a documentary film entitled Cinema Dalí in 2004, and a retrospective by the Tate Modern in London in 2007. In 2009, the film directed by Paul Morrison, Little Ashes, retraces Dalí”s youth in Madrid. Robert Pattinson plays the role of Salvador Dalí.

In 2011, a comedy directed by Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris, tells the story of two young Americans in the milieu of artists in 1920s Paris. They meet Salvador Dalí, played by Adrien Brody. The film received the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay in 2012.

The character

The figure remains controversial among art critics and historians. On the hundredth anniversary of Dalí”s birth, the literary critic Peter Bürger pointed out in Die Zeit that the classifications of modern artists established from 1955 onwards do not generally include Dalí, unlike other Surrealist painters such as André Masson, Joan Miró and Max Ernst. From the 1940s in the United States, Dalí was the target of criticism because of his work for haute couture, jewelry, and more generally design. He was accused of blurring the line between art and consumption. This attitude of the critics only ended with the advent of pop art, which completely assumed this confusion. His obsession with Hitler was also controversial.

The art historian Michael Peppiatt wrote, in this regard, that “Dalí went from the subversive brilliance of his youth to a growing vacuity and a remunerative exhibitionism”, opposing Jean Dutourd, of the French Academy:

“Salvador Dalí, who was very intelligent, understood several things that artists generally fail to understand, the first being that talent (or genius) is a fairground. To attract customers, you have to talk a good game, have a sharp tongue, do antics and antics on a stage. This is what Dalí excelled at from the very beginning. He considered himself to be the greatest painter of the 20th century, that is to say, a classical artist who had the misfortune to fall into a low period of his art. The Trissotinos of the Western intelligentsia and the bourgeoisie that followed them made the law, that is to say, the opinion.”

“There are two ways to conciliate these people, on whom reputations depend; the first is to be as serious as they are, as imbued with dignity. They immediately recognize a member of the tribe and know how to show it. The disadvantage is that to succeed in such an attitude one must be a bit of an imbecile oneself… There was only the other way out, which is provocation, that is to say, extravagance and the unexpected in thought as well as in words, brutal sincerity, a taste for facetiousness, iconoclasm with regard to everything that is fashionable and therefore untouchable.

However, Dalí used academicism and nineteenth-century salon painting in a completely unexpected way, which forced some critics to reconsider their judgment of his art in more recent times. This was particularly the case after the retrospectives on Dalinian surrealism in Paris and Düsseldorf. According to Peter Bürger, “Dalí, who died in 1989, has not yet found his place in the art of the 20th century.

In the preface to the Diary of a Genius, Michel Déon summarizes the originality of the painter: “What is most lovable about Dalí are his roots and his antennae. Roots plunged deep into the earth where they go in search of all that man has been able to produce of succulent (according to one of his three favorite words) in forty centuries of painting, architecture and sculpture. Antennae directed towards the future that they smell, foresee and understand with a lightning speed. It cannot be said enough that Dalí is a spirit of insatiable curiosity”. Thérèse Lacroix, Marc Lacroix”s wife and collaborator, who visited Salvador and Gala on numerous occasions over a period of ten years, observed that Dalí “was impressive in his look and in the way he carried his head. He was haughty but amusing, did not take himself seriously”.

Political views

Dalí”s relationship with politics was often equivocal and misunderstood. However, they played a notable role in his artistic career. As a teenager, Dalí “leaned towards radical anarcho-syndicalism”, followed with passion the Russian revolution and the progress of Trotsky”s Red Army, and defined himself as a socialist at that time. He was arrested and imprisoned for several weeks in Girona for revolutionary agitation. But his political vision gradually evolved towards a “violently anti-social anarchism”, and then a provocative apolitism. His visceral individualism could probably not be accommodated in the long run by a popular movement. He provoked in 1934 the anger of the surrealists by representing William Tell under the features of Lenin, what André Breton considered as an “anti-revolutionary act”. The rupture was complete when Dalí concentrated his works on Hitler, towards whom he made ambiguous remarks at the end of the 1930s, until Breton definitively excluded the painter. Dalí fled Spain just in time when the Civil War broke out.

For Robert Descharnes and Gilles Néret, Dalí lived this Spanish war with incomprehension. They note the words of the painter: “I did not have the soul and the historical fiber. The more the events went, the more I felt apolitical and enemy of the history. He was stunned by the “ignominy” of the assassination of his friend Lorca, “the most apolitical painter par excellence on earth”. Pressed to choose between Hitler and Stalin “by the hyena of public opinion”, he chose to remain himself. He had the same attitude during the Second World War, fleeing France at war, and was very criticized, for example by George Orwell: “When the war in Europe approached, he had only one concern: to find a place with good food and from which he could quickly get out in case of danger”, adding in his biography that Dalí was an exceptional draughtsman and a disgusting man.

After his return to Cadaqués in 1948, Dalí displayed an almost mystical monarchism. Jean-Louis Gaillemin notes the words of the painter:

“Absolute Monarchy, perfect aesthetic dome of the soul, homogeneity, unity, supreme hereditary biological continuity, all that on top, raised near the dome of the sky. Below, swarming and super gelatinous anarchy, viscous heterogeneity, ornamental diversity of ignominious soft structures, compressed and giving up the last juice of their ultimate forms of reaction.”

This attitude was interpreted either as a rapprochement with Franco”s regime – notably by André Breton – or as a way of not directly supporting it, which nevertheless made use of some of the painter”s declarations and awarded him the Grand Cross of the Order of Isabel the Catholic in 1964. His attitude remained ambiguous. In addition to surrealist considerations, if on the one hand Dalí did not forgive the death of Lorca by Franco”s militias and denounced to the end the censorship of the work of his poet friend, he met Franco personally in 1953 and painted a portrait of his granddaughter in 1974.

For Robert Descharnes, Dalí was above all close to the Spanish monarchist tradition, which complemented other aspects of his traditionalist turn towards Roman Catholicism and Renaissance painting. Dalí claimed his support for the monarchy, which he promoted as a betrayal of the bourgeoisie, his original social class. Started in the extreme left, his political course changed to the right. In France, Dalí was mainly supported in the 1950s and 1960s by right-wing intellectuals, such as Louis Pauwels, but when he declared, in 1970, that he was “anarcho-monarchic”, he opened the door to speculation on this political orientation, which was certainly a minority one.

According to Vicente Navarro, in 1975 Dalí congratulated the old general Franco, shortly before his death, for his actions to “clear Spain of destructive forces”, after signing orders to execute four ETA prisoners. If, for many, Dalí was playing his role as Franco”s “court jester”, others, such as the architect Óscar Tusquets in his book Dalí y otros amigos, pointed out that the extreme exaggeration of these congratulations to a dictator at death”s door should be interpreted ironically, as the painter”s permanent provocations aimed at building a surrealist public figure.

Salvador Dalí”s paintings are highly sought after works by art collectors. The oil on wood My Naked Woman Looking at Her Own Body Becoming Steps, Three Vertebrae of a Column, from 1945, was sold at Sotheby”s in London on December 4, 2000 for £2,600,000 or 4,274,140 Euros. The oil on canvas, Nostalgic Echo, measuring 96.5 × 96.5 cm, was sold at Sotheby”s in London on November 2, 2005 for $2,368,000 (2,028,665 euros).

It is rumored that Dalí was forced by his entourage to sign blank canvases so that they could be painted by others and sold after his death as originals, feeding suspicion and consequently devaluing the late works of the master.Regarding his lithographs with butterflies, Salvador Dalí cut out photographs of these insects from magazines, pasted them on a sheet of paper and had them copied by the lithographer Jean Vuillermoz. These lithographs were printed on sheets already pre-signed by Dali.

In 2017, a fortune teller, Pilar Abel, claimed to be his daughter. To determine whether the painter is indeed the biological father, the court of Madrid ordered on June 26, the exhumation of his body “in order to obtain samples of his remains.” The exhumation took place on July 20, in the Dalí Museum in Figueras, where the painter rested in a crypt. On September 6, 2017, the Dalí Foundation revealed that the DNA results prove that the Spanish artist is not the father of Pilar Abel.

Salvador Dalí is a secondary character in the animated film Buñuel after the Golden Age (2018): he is mentioned several times and we hear his voice (played by Salvador Simó, the director) in a scene where Luis Buñuel phones him.

External links


  1. Salvador Dalí
  2. Salvador Dalí
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