1904 - 1989
Salvador Felipe Jacinto Dali I Domenech was born at 8:45 on the
morning of May 11, 1904 in the small agricultural town of
Figueres, Spain. Figueres is located in the foothills of the
Pyrenees, only sixteen miles from the French border in the
principality of Catalonia. The son of a prosperous notary, Dali
spent his boyhood in Figueres and at the family's summer home in
the coastal fishing village of Cadaques where his parents built
his first studio. As an adult, he made his home with his wife
Gala in nearby Port Lligat. Many of his paintings reflect his
love of this area of Spain.
The young Dali attended the San Fernando Academy of Fine Arts in
Madrid. Early recognition of Dali's talent came with his first
one-man show in Barcelona in 1925. He became internationally
known when three of his paintings, including The Basket of Bread
(now in the Museum's collection), were shown in the third annual
Carnegie International Exhibition in Pittsburgh in 1928.
The following year, Dali held his first one-man show in Paris.
He also joined the surrealists, led by former Dadaist Andre
Breton. That year, Dali met Gala Eluard when she visited him in
Cadaques with her husband, poet Paul Eluard. She became Dali's
lover, muse, business manager, and chief inspiration.
Dali soon became a leader of the Surrealist Movement. His
painting, The Persistance of Memory, with the soft or melting
watches is still one of the best-known surrealist works. But as
the war approached, the apolitical Dali clashed with the
Surrealists and was "expelled" from the surrealist group during
a "trial" in 1934. He did however, exhibit works in
international surrealist exhibitions throughout the decade but
by 1940, Dali was moving into a new type of painting with a
preoccupation with science and religion.
Dali and Gala escaped from Europe during World War II, spending
1940-48 in the United States. These were very important years
for the artist. The Museum of Modern Art in New York gave Dali
his first major retrospective exhibit in 1941. This was followed
in 1942 by the publication of Dali's autobiography, The Secret
Life of Salvador Dali.
As Dali moved away from Surrealism and into his classic period,
he began his series of 19 large canvases, many concerning
scientific, historical or religious themes. Among the best known
of these works are The Hallucinogenic Toreador, and The
Discovery of America by Christopher Columbus in the museum's
collection, and The Sacrament of the Last Supper in the
collection of the National Gallery in Washington, D.C.
In 1974, Dali opened the Teatro Museo in Figueres, Spain. This
was followed by retrospectives in Paris and London at the end of
the decade. After the death of his wife, Gala in 1982, Dali's
health began to fail. It deteriorated further after he was
burned in a fire in his home in Pubol in 1984. Two years later,
a pace-maker was implanted. Much of this part of his life was
spent in seclusion, first in Pubol and later in his apartments
at Torre Galatea, adjacent to the Teatro Museo. Salvador Dali
died on January 23, 1989 in Figueres from heart failure with
As an artist, Salvador Dali was not limited to a particular
style or media. The body of his work, from early impressionist
paintings through his transitional surrealist works, and into
his classical period, reveals a constantly growing and evolving
artist. Dali worked in all media, leaving behind a wealth of
oils, watercolors, drawings, graphics, and sculptures, films,
photographs, performance pieces, jewels and objects of all
descriptions. As important, he left for posterity the permission
to explore all aspects of one’s own life and to give them
Whether working from pure inspiration or on a commissioned
illustration, Dali's matchless insight and symbolic complexity
are apparent. Above all, Dali was a superb draftsman. His
excellence as a creative artist will always set a standard for
the art of the twentieth century.
Salvador Dali is considered as the greatest artist of the
surrealist art movement and one of the greatest masters of art
of the twentieth century. During his lifetime the public got a
picture of an bizarre paranoid. His personality caused a lot of
controversy. After his death in 1989 his name remained in the
headlines. But this time it was not funny at all. The art market
was shaken by reports of great numbers of fraudulent Dali
prints. What's all behind it?
The Prodigy Child without an Exam
Salvador Dali was born as the son of a prestigious notary in the
small town of Figueras in Northern Spain. His talent as an
artist showed at an early age and Salvador Felipe Jacinto Dali
received his first drawing lessons when he was ten years old.
His art teachers were a then well known Spanish impressionist
painter, Ramon Pichot and later an art professor at the
Municipal Drawing School. In 1923 his father bought his son his
first printing press.
Dali began to study art at the Royal Academy of Art in Madrid.
He was expelled twice and never took the final examinations. His
opinion was that he was more qualified than those who should
have examined him.
In 1928 Dali went to Paris where he met the Spanish painters
Pablo Picasso and Joan Miro. He established himself as the
principal figure of a group of surrealist artists grouped around
Andre Breton, who was something like the theoretical
"schoolmaster" of surrealism. Years later Breton turned away
from Dali accusing him of support of fascism, excessive
self-presentation and financial greediness.
By 1929 Dali had found his personal style that should make him
famous - the world of the unconscious that is recalled during
our dreams. The surrealist theory is based on the theories of
the psychologist Dr. Sigmund Freud. Recurring images of burning
giraffes and melting watches became the artist's surrealist
trademarks. His great craftsmanship allowed him to execute his
paintings in a nearly photo-realistic style. No wonder that the
artist was a great admirer of the Italian Renaissance painter
Salvador Dali and Gala
Meeting Gala was the most important event in the artist's life
and decisive for his future career. She was a Russian immigrant
and ten years older than Dali. When he met her, she was married
to Paul Eluard.
Gala decided to stay with Dali. She became his companion, his
muse, his sexual partner, his model in numerous art works and
his business manager. For him she was everything. Most of all
Gala was a stabilizing factor in his life. And she managed his
success in the 1930s with exhibitions in Europe and the United
Gala was legally divorced from her husband in 1932. In 1934 Dali
and Gala were married in a civil ceremony in Paris and in 1958
in church after Gala's former husband had died in 1952. However
from around 1965 on, the couple was seen less frequently
together. But Gala continued to manage Dali's business affairs.
In the U.S.A.
In 1933 Salvador Dali had his first one-man show in New York.
One year later he visited the U.S. for the first time supported
by a loan of US$500 from Pablo Picasso. To evade World War II,
Dali chose the U.S.A. as his permanent residence in 1940. He had
a series of spectacular exhibitions, among others a great
retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
Besides creating a number of great paintings, Dali caused the
attention of the media by playing the role of a surrealist
clown. He made a lot of money and was contemptuously nicknamed
Avida Dollars (greedy for dollars) by Andre Breton.
Dali became the darling of the American High Society.
Celebrities like Jack Warner or Helena Rubinstein gave him
commissions for portraits. His art works became a popular
trademark and besides painting he pursued other activities -
jewelry and clothing designs for Coco Chanel or film making with
The Classic Period After World War II
In 1948 Dali and Gala returned to Europe, spending most of their
time either in their residence in Lligat/Spain or in
Paris/France or in New York. Dali developed a lively interest in
science, religion and history. He integrated things into his art
that he had picked up from popular science magazines. Another
source of inspiration were the great classical masters of
painting like Raphael, Velasquez or the French painter Ingres.
The artist commented his shift in style with the words: "To be a
surrealist forever is like spending your life painting nothing
but eyes and noses."
In 1958 the artist began his series of large sized history
paintings. He painted one monumental painting every year during
the summer months in Lligat. The most famous one, The Discovery
of America by Christopher Columbus, can be seen at the Dali
Museum in St.Petersburg in Florida. It is breath-taking. The
artist's late art works combine more than ever his perfect and
meticulous painting technique with his fantastic and limitless
Death in His Own Museum
Salvador Dali is the only known artist who had two museums
dedicated exclusively to his works at lifetime.
* The Dali Museum in St. Petersburg in Florida/U.S.A.
This art museum was founded in 1971 by the Dali collector A.
Reynolds Morse and his wife Eleanor. The collection was first
exhibited in a building adjacent to their home in
Cleveland/Ohio. In 1982, the museum was moved to St. Petersburg
in Florida. It hosts 95 oil paintings including six of Dali's
eighteen large-sized historical paintings.
* Dali Museum-Theater in Figueres, Spain
The Museum was the former Municipal Theater of Figueres. In
1918, when Salvador Dali was only fourteen years old, it had
shown his first public exhibition.
Since 1970 the artist had dedicated his energy to transform the
former Municipal Theater into a museum and art gallery. In 1974
the Theatro Museo Dali was officially opened.
In 1980 Dali was forced to retire due to palsy, a motor
disorder, that caused a permanent trembling and weakness of his
hands. He was not able to hold a brush any more. The fact that
he could not follow his vocation and passion of painting and the
news of Gala's death in 1982 left him with deep depressions.
After Gala's death he moved to Pubol, a castle, he had bought
and decorated for Gala. In 1984, when he was lying in bed, a
fire broke out and he suffered sever burns. Two years later, a
pacemaker had to be implanted.
Towards the end of his life, Dali lived in the tower of his own
museum where he died on January 23, 1989 from heart failure.
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This web page was last updated on:
09 December, 2008