Spanish Surrealist painter, Salvador Dali, was the most famous, and wealthiest, artist of the twentieth century.
Early Life and Education
Salvador Dali was born in Figueres, Spain in 1904, just nine months after the death of his parent’s first son, at 22 months, also named, Salvador. Dali’s father was a notary and a controlling and domineering figure in his life. His mother doted on him, but died when Dali was just sixteen. His younger sister, Anna Maria was born when Dali was four.
Dali was a sickly child who craved attention and began drawing at the age of three. By age ten, Dali was already an accomplished painter. His mother enrolled him in the Municipal Drawing School in Figueres, where he attended classes taught by the painter Juan Nunez.
Dali’s father agreed to allow him to pursue a career as an artist, on the condition that Dali go the the Fine Arts School in Madrid and qualify as a teacher.
During Dali’s first year at school, his mother died. The following year Dali’s father married his deceased wife’s sister, Dali’s Aunt Catarina.
In 1922 Dali took classes at the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, where he met Luis Bunuel and other young people who would become the stars of Spanish culture.
Dail was expelled from the Academia for leading a student protest, calling for the school administration to grant the department chair of painting to the muralist Daniel Vazquez Diaz. After spending some time back in Figueres, and making a trip to Paris with his aunt and sister, Dali returned to the Academie to continue his studies, but was expelled for good when he announced that there was no one at the school competent enough to judge his work.
Once again, Dali returned to Figueres to paint, and spent part of 1927 doing his military service at Sant Ferran castle in Figueres.
Career and Family Life
In 1929, Dali met his future wife, business manager and muse, Gala Diakonova, a Russian immigrant, ten years his senior. Gala had been married to French poet Paul Eluard, and abandoned her husband and daughter to marry Dali. Their partnership became the most productive and lucrative, and in many ways the most surreal, in the history of art. Gala did the marketing and money management and Dali provided the talent and outrageous behavior that made him a public favorite.
Though his initial exhibits in Paris were a critical success, the sales were poor, but as the couple traveled from Paris, to the U.S. and Spain through the 1930s and 1940s, through Gala’s perseverance and talent for promotion, Dali’s work became increasingly sought after.
They traveled to the U.S. in 1940, when the German troops entered Bordeaux, and stayed until 1948. In 1943, Reynolds and Eleanor Morse became lifelong patrons and eventually established the Dali Museum in St. Pete, which houses the largest Dali collection outside of the Dali Museum in Spain.
Hollywood loved Dali. Alfred Hitchcock commissioned him to make a dream sequence for the film Spellbound, and Walt Disney asked Dali to make a cartoon to introduce Surrealism to mainstream America. The project, Destino, was begun in 1945, but due to Disney’s financial troubles during World War ll, was never completed. It was resurrected by Walt’s nephew, Roy Disney, completed and released in 2003.
Dali and Gala returned to Spain in 1948. His views on politics, religion and art were often absurd and naive, and his support of the Franco regime seemed outrageous, especially to fellow artists, who were fleeing Europe when Dali decided to return.
The couple moved to their villa in Port Lligat, where they entertained and reportedly hosted orgies, with Dali as voyeur and Gala in the company of young men.
In 1971, Gala moved to a castle in Pubol, which Dali had bought for her, and to which he went by ‘written invitation only.’
Dali continued to paint and even built a museum to himself in Figueres, but after Gala’s departure, Dali’s health and mental status began to decline, his right hand became tremulous.
Gala died in 1982, at the age of 87. After her death, Dali moved into the castle, secluded himself and was cared for by nursing staff. He painted his last work in 1983. The following year, a fire broke out in his bedroom and he sustained burns over twenty per cent of his body. Friends moved him to living quarters at his museum, where he lived out his final years.
In November of 1988, Dali was hospitalized. One of Dali’s last visitors was King Juan Carlos. Dali died of heart failure in January of 1989 and buried in a crypt beneath the stage of his museum.
A painter, sculptor, jewelry and furniture designer, filmmaker and showman, Salvador Dali’s work continues to intrigue and fascinate, as does the artist himself.
“Every morning upon awakening,” he said, “I experience a supreme pleasure: that of being Salvador Dalí”