Born in Figueras in 1904, the Catalan artist Salvador Dalí is one of the most recognised names in 20th-century art. He was a leading Surrealist, known for his startling juxtapositions and dream-like images, including melting clocks, stork-legged elephants and lobster telephones.
Dalí’s first recorded painting was a landscape in oils supposedly painted in 1910, when he was six years old. While studying at the San Fernando Academy of Fine Arts in Madrid, Dalí became close friends with the older poet Federico García Lorca and the director Luis Buñuel, with whom he would later collaborate on the films Un Chien Andalou and L’Age d’or. Dalí’s early paintings followed the styles of Impressionism, Pointillism and for the most part, Cubism.
In 1926 he made his first trip to Paris. On his second visit, he was introduced by his fellow Catalan Joan Miró to the Surrealist group, whose activities Dalí had read about in a variety of periodicals. Welcomed by the Surrealists as a powerful new imagination, Dalí became fully associated with the movement in 1929. During these years he was also profoundly influenced by the writings of Sigmund Freud and the subconscious. Fusing the painterly style of Yves Tanguy’s mysterious landscapes with images from his hometown of Cadaqués, Dalí created a Surreal visual language rooted in bizarre transformations and fantastical visions of familiar objects and landscapes. His most iconic work, The Persistence of Memory (1931), sees melting clocks draped across a dreamlike vista. Dalí’s experiments through the 1930s culminated in his ‘Paranoiac-Critical Method’.
In the summer of 1929 Dalí met his future wife, muse and personal manager, Gala, when she visited him in Cadaqués with her husband, the poet Paul Éluard. He painted her repeatedly throughout his career, and Gala often became a vehicle for his visual experimentation. Throughout this period Dalí’s relationship with André Breton and the Surrealists grew increasingly strained until in 1934 he was expelled from the group.
Between 1940 and 1948 Dalí lived in the United States, where he gained great commercial success thanks to his bold strategies of self-promotion. He worked on several ballet and theatre productions during these years, designing stage sets and costumes. He also collaborated with both Walt Disney and Alfred Hitchcock on film projects. His eager commercialism displeased Breton and led to him being anagrammatically dubbed ‘Avida Dollars’ by the Frenchman.
After 1945 and the explosion of the atomic bombs, Dalí seized upon the innovations of the post-war generations of painters. He became interested in nuclear physics, biology and mathematics. At the same time, he was drawn to Christian devotional subjects, merging his atomic theory and devout Catholicism into powerful religious paintings such as his depiction of the crucifixion in Christ of Saint John of the Cross (1951). In the 1960s Dalí became concerned with recherches visuelles, exploring the optical mechanisms of illusion and the perceptions of images.
On his death in 1989, he bequeathed his estate to the Kingdom of Spain and the Independent Region of Catalonia. Dalí was buried in the Teatre–Museu Dalí in Figueres, which had been founded in 1974 as both a home for his work and a theatrical monument to his ideas and personality.
Onan . [Paris :] Éditions Surréalistes (José Corti), 1934.
Carmen . New York : Shorewood publishers, 1970.
Desert Landscape (paysage désertique), rideau de fond pour le décor une scène du film Spellebound (La maison du docteur Edwardes) d'Alfred Hitchcock