“Intelligence without ambition is a bird without wings.”
- Salvador Dalí
Salvador Dalí is perhaps the most iconic Surrealist and one of the most recognized faces in 20th century art. His infamous mustache and public spectacle whether it be his own productions in his daily life, like parading around with his pet ocelot Babou, or as he was hosted on such television shows as Johnny Carson or The Name’s The Same ensured that he garnered the attention he so desired to keep him ever in the public eye. Dalí’s approach to art as well as technique continues to influence artists the world over and his pieces are highly sought after by both private collectors and institutions internationally.
Dalí was born in Figueres, Spain on May 11, 1904. Young Salvador was recognized as eccentric and precocious from the start. His lawyer father did not tolerate his more rebellious behavior and the pair experienced tension until his father’s passing. Dali produced sophisticated drawings early on that persuaded his parents, who encouraged his artist talent, to enroll him at the drawing school Colegio de Hermanos Maristas and the Instituto in Figueres in 1916.
Dalí was not a serious student, he instead would daydream during class and preferred to wear odd clothing and grew his hair long as young as 12 years old. After his first year at art school, Dalí became acquainted with local artist, Ramon Pichot while vacationing with his family in Cadaques. The following year, his father organized an exhibition of Salvador's charcoal drawings in the family home. In 1919, at age 15 Dalí held his first public exhibition at the Municipal Theatre of Figueres.
Tragedy struck in 1921 when Dalí’s mother, Felipa, died from breast cancer. Dalí, at the young age of 16, was wrought with devastation. The following year, he enrolled at the Academia de San Fernando in Madrid. He boarded at the student residence, and as before he brought eccentricity unlike any other. During this phase of life he was influenced by Metaphysics and Cubism while also highly admiring classical painters such as Diego Velázquez, who inspired his curled mustache, Raphael and Bronzino. He touched on avant-garde art movements, for example the post-Word War I anti-establishment movement, Dadaism that influenced his work throughout his career although he did not strictly believe their philosophy.
Drama ensued in 1923 when Dalí allegedly began a riot among students over professorship and criticizing instructors. That same year, he was arrested and briefly imprisoned in Gerona for allegedly supporting the Separatist movement, though Dalí was actually apolitical at the time. He returned to the academy in 1926 but was then permanently expelled for stating no member of staff was competent to grade his work. After being expelled, Dalí made trips to Paris where he met painters and intellectuals, among them Pablo Picasso, Joan Miró, and Paul Éluard. Between 1926 and 1929 Dalí’s works displayed Picasso’s influence. Dalí experimented with Impressionism, Futurism, and Cubism involving three general themes of man’s universe, sexual symbolism, and ideographic imagery. It was this experimentation and his new artist association influences that led to brought his first Surrealistic period in 1929. His major contribution to surrealism was the “paranoiac-critical method” inspired by Austrian neurologist Sigmund Freud. In other words, Dalí would exercise his subconscious to enhance his creativity through dreams and thoughts. This allowed mental manipulation of reality to his liking and was not only represented in his art but became a way of life.
Also in 1929, Dalí met Elena Dmitrievna Diakonova who became his muse and inspiration – as well as his wife. At the time, Elena also known as “Gala”, was the wife of Surrealist writer Paul Éluard. Gala soon left Éluard for Dalí and the couple was married in a civil ceremony in 1934. Gala took care of his legal and financial matters, and negotiated contracts with dealers and exhibition promoters, as Dali was incapable with dealing with the business side of being an artist. By the 1930s, Dalí was a major figure of the Surrealist movement and arguably his best Surrealist work is The Persistence of Memory (1931). During this time Dalí clashed with members of the Surrealist movement, namely the movement’s leader André Breton. It was his feud with Breton as well as his failure to take a stance against Spanish militant Francisco Franco and his public antics and flamboyant persona, that led to his expulsion from the group. Many Surrealists aghast at his public antics believing that his persona and eccentricity had taken priority over his actual work. Despite his expulsion, he continued to participate in international Surrealist exhibitions into the 1940s. He was unbothered by the feuds, as his mind continually expanded into new subjects.
Dalí and Gala moved to the United States during World War II, bringing pivotal growth to his career. The Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art located in New York hosted his own retrospective in 1941, followed by his autobiography The Secret Life of Salvador Dalí in 1942. It is also noted during this time of life he ventured into his classical period.
From 1960 to 1974, Dalí occupied the majority of his time to create the Teatro-Museo Dalí in Figueres. This building was formerly the Municipal Theatre of Figueres, the same that housed Dalí’s first public exhibition at 14 years old. Several works were created solely for the museum and as such remain on permanent display. Also in 1974, Dalí dissolved his business relationship with his manager eventually resulting in the loss much of his wealth. Two wealthy American art collectors who had known Dalí since 1942, set up an organization and a foundation to help boost the artist's finances. The organization also established the Salvador Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida.
In 1980, Dalí suffered a motor disorder with his hands forcing him to resign his career, as he was unable to hold a paintbrush. Further sorrow progressed with the loss of his beloved wife and muse Gala in 1982. The loss of expression and his companion caused a spiraling depression that sent Dalí fleeing to Pubol, the castle he designed for Gala. It is speculated whether he desired to hide away from the public, or to die in the castle. In 1989 Dalí passed away due to heart failure at age 84 in Figueres. Dalí’s funeral and burial was held at the Teatro-Museo.
Dali’s pure raw expression derived from his subconscious demonstrates his genius. His incredible imagination allowed access inside his mind and realm of Dalí. 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 artistic expression. 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.
American Fine Art, Inc. is proud to feature the original works and limited editions of Salvador Dali. Visit our 12,000 sq. ft. showroom in Scottsdale, AZ or call today. Our website is offered only as a limited place to browse or refresh your memory and is not a reflection of our current inventory. To learn more about collecting, pricing, value or any other art information, please contact one of our International Art Consultants. We look forward to giving you the one on one attention you deserve when building your fine art collection. We hope you find our website helpful and look forward to seeing you in Scottsdale soon.