Chapter 1: Early Works (1904-1922)
Salvador Dalí was born in Figueres, in Spain’s Catalonia region, in 1904. The open and liberal atmosphere of the town, situated between the Catalan capital of Barcelona and the French border, was a key factor in Dalí’s artistic development. He was able also to acquaint himself with the latest artistic trends in Barcelona thanks to his uncle, the owner of a Barcelona bookshop. Dalí’s boyhood geographic and family background is fundamental to understanding his character and his art.
While familiarizing himself with art from books, Dalí took private drawing classes in Figueres with teacher, painter and printmaker Juan Núñez Fernández (1877-1963). Dalí spent summers in the fishing village of Cadaqués where his highly educated and well-to-do parents had a summer home. There he met painter Ramon Pichot Gironès (1871-1925), who introduced the young Dalí to Impressionism and Post-Impressionism. Throughout his lifetime, Dalí repeatedly painted the Cadaqués landscape and coastline that he so deeply loved.
Chapter 2: Quest for Modernity (1922-1929)
In 1922, Dalí entered the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, a special school in Madrid for painting, sculpture and etching. Living at the Residencia de Estudiantes, one of the most advanced and progressive cultural centers in Spain at the time, he developed relationships with filmmaker Luis Buñuel (1900-1983) and poet Federico García Lorca (1898-1936).
Works Dalí exhibited at the First Exhibition of the Society of Iberian Artists and in his individual exhibitions in Barcelona during this period show influences of Cubism. He had first become aware of the movement only through catalogues and magazines. Aside from Cubism, Dalí became absorbed in currents of Purism and Futurism, and interested in classical subjects. At the same time, his paintings took on influences of the Fauvism of Henri Matisse (1869-1954).
References and analogies to Picasso’s works became apparent in Dalí’s painting after his 1926 visit with Picasso at his Paris studio. Then, during his stay in Paris in 1928 and 1929, Dalí became involved with André Breton (1896-1966) and his group, and focused on Surrealism.
Chapter 3: Surrealist Period (1929-1939)
Dalí’s 1929 film collaboration with Luis Buñuel, Un Chien andalou, was favorably received by André Breton and his Surrealist group. Breton felt that Dalí lent a new direction to Surrealism and Dalí soon became a representative Surrealist artist. In 1934, however, Dalí’s sympathy towards Adolf Hitler and his appropriation of Lenin’s visage as William Tell in his painting The Enigma of William Tell provoked moves to expel him from the group. Dalí continued to participate with the Surrealists until 1939, when critical remarks published by Breton caused him to break away from the group.
Dalí’s development of his paranoiac-critical method, a technique of superimposing multiple images, revolutionized Surrealism’s concerns with automatism and the unconscious as revealed in dreams.
Chapter 4: Gala as Muse
Gala — Elena Ivanovna Diakonova — was born in 1894 in Tatarstan, the current Russian Federation of Kazan. She spent her childhood in Moscow but, diagnosed with tuberculosis, was sent at age seventeen to a sanatorium in Switzerland. There she met Paul Éluard (1895 -1952) who in 1917 would become her first husband. Éluard was acquainted with the Surrealists and Gala participated in some of the group’s meetings.
Gala first met Dalí in the summer of 1929 in Cadaqués. They immediately bonded and became lifelong companions. Gala was the artist’s collaborator as well as manager of his financial affairs and sales of his art.
Gala was Dalí’s wife and muse. They became fused as Gala Salvador Dalí, the signature Dalí used for his painting from the 1930s.
Chapter 5: Exile in America (1939-1948)
Dalí and Gala first visited the United States in 1934 for Dalí’s second solo exhibition in New York. The press greeted them enthusiastically at the harbor and, with the exhibition a sold-out success, Dalí’s reputation in the United States soared. His portrait appeared on the cover of Time magazine in 1936 and he was asked to design the 1939 New York World’s Fair “Dream of Venus” Pavilion.
The outbreak of the Second World War led Gala and Salvador Dalí to take refuge in the United States, where they were to live from 1940 until 1948. The 1941 Dalí retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, New York sealed the artist’s public image and popularity. His commissions to paint portraits and murals for the wealthy and celebrities, covers for magazines such as Vogue, ballet costume and stage set designs, as well as jewellery, placed him in the eye of the general public.
Dalí’s autobiography, published in 1942, lent to the construction of the Dalí persona as enigmatic and excessive artist.
Chapter 6: Expansion of Dalí’s World
Dalí’s interest in media other than painting is evident in his seminal involvement in Surrealism. His forays in writing poetry and screenplays, however, increased from the time of his stay in the United States. His intention was to create the image of a Renaissance man, while at the same time appealing to the masses.
For the ballet Bacchanal (1939), for example, he designed the costumes and stage sets, and also worked on the script and overall production. In Hollywood, he designed some of the sets for Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbound (1945). A year later, in 1946, Dalí turned his attention to animation, working with Walt Disney on a project for a short film, Destino.
In publishing, Dalí had commissions for illustration of classical literature. His novel, Hidden Faces, was published in 1944. In 1949, he undertook various jewelry design and corporate advertising projects.
Chapter 7: Art in the Atomic Age (1945-1950s)
The atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 had a deep impact on Dalí’s art. He said that many of his landscapes at the time, faithfully depicting the geographically distant coast of Cadaqués, expressed ‘the great fear inspired in me by the announcement of that explosion.’
From the mid-1940s, Dalí became engrossed in the study of atomic physics and painted in a highly realistic style he termed “nuclear painting.” The theory of atomic physics, postulating suspension of separate atomic particles, is reflected in his Leda Atomica (1947-49) and The Madonna of Port Lligat (1950). In his Manifeste mystique (1951), Dalí speaks of himself as a “nuclear mystical painter,” and cites a fusion of religion and science embodied in his “particle paintings.”
At this time, Dalí also gave homage to the great painters of the past. He declares himself the “saviour of modern art,” pointing to his belief in the responsibility to join new understandings of the world with traditions dating to the Renaissance.
Chapter 8: Return to Portlligat (1960s-1980s)
From the 1960s to the end of his career, Dalí’s concentration was on producing large canvases, often with classical themes. His interest in late nineteenth century academism, present since the time of his association with Surrealism, is apparent in paintings such as The Battle of Tetuan (1962) inspired by Catalan painter Marià Fortuny (1838-74).
His interest in science persisted, and he now incorporated the structure of DNA and the genetic code in his pictorial and written work. In addition, he experimented with stereoscopy and holography, based on the latest technical advances.
In the 1960s, Dalí was absorbed with the planning of his Dalí Theatre-Museum (opened in 1974) in his native Figueres. It was built around a transformed old municipal theater, and conceived of as a total work of art and culmination of Dalí’s career as an artist.
During the 1980s, Dalí paid tribute to the great masters, such as Velázquez and Michelangelo, while adding his figurative language to the traditions of western art.