Salvador Dalí, Spanish Surrealist Artist

The artistic career of surrealist master Salvador Dalí transcends the limitations of medium, encompassing painting, writing, sculpture and filmmaking. Dalí’s wild imagination made a strong impression on contemporary culture, earning him fame as the creator of an artistic world where fantasy surpasses reason.

Salvador Dalí’s Early Days

Salvador Felipe Jacinto Dalí was born on May 11, 1904, to a successful notary in the small Spanish town of Figueres. He spent his childhood in Figueres and at the family summer home in the village of Cadaques, where he had his first art studio.

Dalí began his formal studies at the San Fernando Academy of Fine Arts in Madrid, a prestigious institution where his talent was immediately acknowledged. He proved to have an impressive technical ability as a painter, and learned a wide variety of artistic styles during his years as a student.

In 1925, Dalí presented his first individual show in Barcelona. In 1928, he gained international recognition when three of his paintings were featured in the Carnegie International Exhibition in Pittsburgh.

The following year, he met Gala Eluard who, according to the Salvador Dalí Museum, “became Dalí’s lover, muse, business manager, and chief inspiration.”

Sources in this Story

Dalí’s Notable Accomplishments

During the late 1920s, Dalí’s artistic style was heavily influenced by his discovery of Sigmund Freud and his writings on the erotic subconscious. After moving to Paris, he became involved with the surrealists, a group of artists and writers who aimed to create works that placed man’s subconscious over his reason.

Before long, the artist became the leader of the surrealist movement, and his famous painting “The Persistence of Memory,” with its bizarre melting clocks, became iconic of the style.

In order to access the contents of his subconscious mind, Dalí would enter a self-induced hallucinatory state of “paranoiac critical” that allowed him to visualize a fantastic world in which everyday objects were juxtaposed, deformed and metamorphosed into bizarre shapes and positions, writes Encyclopedia Britannica.

Dalí made use of disturbing dream imagery to create unmistakable landscapes of his inner world. His extremely realistic technique enhanced the nightmarish effect of his paintings, which were usually set against desolate backgrounds that evoked his Catalonian home.

Some characteristic paintings of Dalí’s Surrealist period are “The Ghost of the Evening,” “Premature Ossification of the Railway Station” and “The First Days of Spring.”

During his time with the surrealists, Dalí also partnered with Spanish filmmaker Luis Buñuel in the production of two films: “Un Chien Andalou” (An Andalusian Dog) and “L’Age D’or” (The Golden Age), both of which contained fantastically grotesque and erotic imagery.

With the approach of World War II, Dalí’s apolitical stance began to clash with the fervent left-wing ideals of the surrealists, and he was expelled from the surrealist group in 1934. He continued to paint prolifically, however, and by 1940, was focusing on religion and science, eventually producing such renowned pieces as the “Christ of Saint John of the Cross” and “The Discovery of America by Christopher Columbus.”

The Man and His Work

The Rest of the Story

To avoid the war in Europe, Gala and Dalí moved to the United States in 1940. During their stay in New York, the Museum of Modern Art organized a retrospective exhibit of his work in 1941. In 1942, Dalí published his famous autobiography, “The Secret Life of Salvador Dalí.”

In April 1958, Mike Wallace interviewed Dali about genius, the subconscious, weakness, old age and luxury, death, religion, and dreams.

In 1974, Dalí founded the Teatro Museo in his native town of Figueres, a space where many of his works would be permanently exhibited. By the end of the 1970s, retrospective exhibitions were displayed in Paris and London.

After Gala passed away in 1982, Dalí began experiencing health problems. A fire in his Pubol home in 1984 seriously injured him, and he had to use a wheelchair for the rest of his life. He had to have a pacemaker implanted, and spent his remaining years in isolation. Dalí died of heart failure and respiratory complications on January 23, 1989, in Figueres.

This article was originally written by Anita Gutierrez-Folch; it was updated April 10, 2017.