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Salvador Dalí

Salvador Felipe Hasinto Dalí (May 11, 1904 – January 23, 1989, Figueres) was a Catalan and Spanish surrealist painter, writer, sculptor, stage designer and actor. He was one of the most influential artists of the 20th century and is often called the Grand Master of Surrealism. Dalí’s works of art prove that he was one of the most creative painters of his time. His prevalent theme is the world of space, inebriation, fever and religion. Dalí expressed great respect for the Spanish dictator Francisco Franco as well as for Adolf Hitler, which called the perception of his personality and works of art into question more than once. He spent his whole life believing that he was special. Many consider him the greatest genius, while for others he represents a disordered egocentric whose works are insignificant.

He was born on May 11, 1904 in Figueres, Catalonia. His father was a notary and an atheist, while his mother was a catholic. The name of his older brother, who died nine months before the artist’s birth, was Salvador as well. Salvador was the family’s only child until the birth of his sister Anna Maria. Being raised in an urban society and receiving education from his father, a reputable notary, Dalí developed a need for security and discipline, which became very important for him later in life. When he was five years old, Dalí’s parents took him to his brother’s grave and told him that he was his reincarnation – a claim that Dalí believed in for the rest of his life.

In 1921, Dalí’s mother died of breast cancer and his father, after the death of his wife, married her sister. Sixteen-year-old Dalí never got over his mother’s death, but – contrary to the belief of many – he did not disapprove of his father’s second marriage.

When he was only sixteen years old, Dalí wrote in his diary: “I'll be a genius, and the world will admire me. Perhaps I'll be despised and misunderstood, but I'll be a genius, a great genius, I'm sure of it.”

In 1922, Dalí moved to Madrid, where he attended the San Fernando Academy of Fine Arts. At this time, Dalí was already considered an eccentric, with his long hair and sideburns, coats, socks and trousers which had been fashionable a hundred years earlier! However, it was his paintings, in which he experimented with Cubism, which drew the most attention to him.

Salvador Dalí had a very high opinion of himself, which is why he was expelled from the Academy in 1926. Namely, Dalí incited student demonstrations against mediocre professors, which is how he described the professors at the Academy. This happened shortly before his final exams, which he refused to take, because he did not deem any of the professors competent enough to examine him. He withdrew to Cadaqués, where he proved his artistic genius with the painting The Basket of Bread, which is said to be the peak of Dalí´s realism. At this time he began to develop his own style, which was reflected in a variety of sexual symbols. Even though the works based on this theme were shocking, some would say scandalous, critics embraced his work with enthusiasm.

He was one of the first artists to introduce holography into art. Many of his works contain optical illusions.

In 1925, Dalí put on his first independent exhibition in Barcelona.

Dalí moved to Paris in 1926, where he met Pablo Picasso. His works were heavily influenced by Picasso, but over time, Dalí developed his own style. Back then, he painted Venus and Cupid, which can be assigned to Cubism. Besides Cubism, he experimented with Impressionism, Pointillism, Futurism, and Fauvism.

He grew a mustache based on the model of the Spanish painter Diego Velázquez. For Dalí, the mustache served for communication with aliens.

He worked together with Walt Disney and with the legendary director Alfred Hitchcock on the film Spellbound. Avant-garde films like An Andalusian Dog and The Golden Age were the result of successful collaboration with his friend, director Luis Buñuel. An Andalusian Dog, in which Dalí acted, is especially significant. The film caused a stir because of its extravagance, which is largely reflected in the opening scene. In this scene the spectator observes how the actor slits the eye of a girl with a razor. This scene is one of the most shocking scenes in the history of cinematography. Despite all of this, the film was a huge success.

Dalí painted his most famous work The Persistence of Memory in 1931. The painting is also known under the name of Soft Watches. The accepted interpretation of this work is that the watches represent the rejection of the assumption that time is rigid and deterministic, which is supported by some appearances on the painting like the ants and the fly devouring some of the watches. During this period, surrealists were deeply concerned because of Dalí´s creations, as he was beginning to be considered a true Surrealist and Surrealism began to be equated with him, which he himself confirmed by commenting: “Surrealism is already being considered as before Dalí and after Dalí. People saw and judged only in terms of Dalí; (...) the soft, deliquescent ornamentation, (...), the gluey, the biological, putrefaction – was Dalínian. A bizarre anguishing glance discovered in a painting by Le Nain was Dalínian. The bread of Paris was no longer the bread of Paris. It was my bread, Dalí´s bread, Salvador´s bread.”

When Francisco Franco came to power after the Spanish civil war, Salvador Dalí was expelled from the Surrealist group for being supportive of Hitler´s fascistic regime. His reaction to such a development of the situation was shocking: „I myself am Surrealism!“

In 1929, Dalí met his muse, inspiration and future wife Gala, born Elena Ivanovna Diakonova – a Russian, emigrant, ten years older than him, and at that time married to the surrealist poet Paul Éluard. They met when he was 26 years old. She recognized his great talent and his artistic soul. As a consequence, she decided to give everything to support the fulfillment of the potential of these two characteristics.

When they got married, Dalí was just another poor and unrecognized artist. He painted and drew everything he saw and his art was chaotic. It was when Gala entered his life that he discovered discipline and a striving for the real art of painting and other forms of real art.

In the year of 1939, they went to America in pursuit of fame. The Americans liked Dalí immediately. He was a real showman. He and Gala were the perfect eccentric couple observed through the prism of a wider public. They organized masquerade balls that enchanted Hollywood.

It was not until 1943 that his paintings began to sell, when a rich married couple from Colorado, Reynolds and Eleanor Morse, became his lifelong protectors upon seeing his works at an exhibition. From then on, the price of his paintings grew. Salvador Dalí got to the top and his name was soon greater than those of all of his contemporaries. Gala had been the key element in his success. She was his guide, his linchpin, and in Dalí´s eyes – his queen. As she said herself, she took care of life and he took care of art. The selling of the paintings, bills, money, contracts– everything that Dalí was incapable of was taken on by Gala. She took care of everything and lived under the constant pressure of his fame. He was completely inapt for the real world, he did not know anything about the worth of money and he did not differentiate currencies. One anecdote describes how he paid the taxi driver a hundred dollars instead of ten, not knowing how much it was.

He bought Gala Púbol Castle, which she was later buried in.

A crisis in their marriage emerged, when Gala, in the dark shadow of her husband, suddenly gained a reputation of not being an easy woman to deal with, a woman always ready for conflict. Her old desire for younger men emerged again and she started having love affairs, which did not bother Dalí. Their relationship changed in a vertiginous manner and, under the dark shadow of fame, they irrevocably entered the world of perversion together. Dalí and Gala moved on from organizing masquerade balls to organizing orgies.

They returned to Spain, with the excuse that Dalí had lost inspiration – that he could not create and needed his home. They bought a small house in a village, thinking that the withdrawal from the world would bring back their former love, full of art and understanding. However, this turned out to be a mistake. Gala wanted solitude and peace, satisfaction and pleasure, while Dalí craved for attention and life in the light of his fame.

During one stay in Paris in 1965, Salvador Dalí got involved in an affair with Amanda Lear, a renowned model back then, with whom he would spend the next fifteen years of his life. Gala accepted Amanda and, for a while, the three of them traveled together and shocked the public with their appearance. Finally, Gala asked Dalí to buy her the promised villa in Púbol and leave her alone. He kept his promise and Gala left forever.

Her parting hurt Dalí more than he first showed. He stayed with Amanda, but he still idealized his queen. For him, she always remained an unreachable goddess, mother and guide, rescue and haven. She prohibited his visits and told him to come only upon receiving a written invitation. The only pillar holding him was suddenly breaking away.

When he was 70 years old, he came down with Parkinson’s disease, which affected his painting. Gala was angry when she heard that. She claimed that he was useless and that he should not exist if he could not paint. She became greedy and scared for her future and, regardless of all the love they had once shared, she saw Dalí as a source of money. Gala died a few years after and Dalí soon isolated himself from the world completely and did not leave the dark rooms of his castle anymore. He refused to drink water and almost died that way. His behavior was interpreted as attempted suicide and there were rumors that he had already tried to kill himself twice. A fire broke out in the castle and Dalí was only just rescued again. He stayed at the hospital for five months and even the Spanish king Juan Carlos visited him.

Dalí spent the last year of his life in depression, at his museum. He was admitted to hospital again because of a rapid weakening of the heart in 1988. He died on January 23, 1989 and, upon his death, he left all of his works and wealth to Spain. He was buried in his museum in Figueres.