Salvador Domènec Felip Jacint Dalí i Domènech, Marquis of Dalí de Púbol (May 11, 1904 – January 23, 1989), commonly known as Salvador Dalí was a prominent Spanish Catalan surrealist painter born in Figueres.
Dalí was a skilled draftsman, best known for the striking and bizarre images in his surrealist work. His painterly skills are often attributed to the influence of Renaissance masters. His best-known work, The Persistence of Memory, was completed in 1931. Dalí’s expansive artistic repertoire includes film, sculpture, and photography, in collaboration with a range of artists in a variety of media.
Dalí attributed his “love of everything that is gilded and excessive, my passion for luxury and my love of oriental clothes” to a self-styled “Arab lineage,” claiming that his ancestors were descended from the Moors.
Dalí was highly imaginative, and also had an affinity for partaking in unusual and grandiose behavior. His eccentric manner and attention-grabbing public actions sometimes drew more attention than his artwork to the dismay of those who held his work in high esteem and to the irritation of his critics.
Dalí employed extensive symbolism in his work. For instance, the hallmark “soft watches” that first appear in The Persistence of Memory suggest Einstein’s theory that time is relative and not fixed. The idea for clocks functioning symbolically in this way came to Dalí when he was staring at a runny piece of Camembert cheese on a hot day in August.
The elephant is also a recurring image in Dalí’s works. It first appeared in his 1944 work Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee Around a Pomegranate a Second Before Awakening. The elephants, inspired by Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s sculpture base in Rome of an elephant carrying an ancient obelisk, are portrayed “with long, multijointed, almost invisible legs of desire”along with obelisks on their backs. Coupled with the image of their brittle legs, these encumbrances, noted for their phallic overtones, create a sense of phantom reality. “The elephant is a distortion in space,” one analysis explains, “its spindly legs contrasting the idea of weightlessness with structure. “I am painting pictures which make me die for joy, I am creating with an absolute naturalness, without the slightest aesthetic concern, I am making things that inspire me with a profound emotion and I am trying to paint them honestly.” —Salvador Dalí, in Dawn Ades, Dalí and Surrealism.
The egg is another common Dalíesque image. He connects the egg to the prenatal and intrauterine, thus using it to symbolize hope and love; it appears in The Great Masturbator and The Metamorphosis of Narcissus. The Metamorphosis of Narcissus also symbolized death and petrification. Various animals appear throughout his work as well: ants point to death, decay, and immense sexual desire; the snail is connected to the human head (he saw a snail on a bicycle outside Freud’s house when he first met Sigmund Freud); and locusts are a symbol of waste and fear.
Endeavors outside painting
Dalí was a versatile artist. Some of his more popular works are sculptures and other objects, and he is also noted for his contributions to theatre, fashion, and photography, among other areas.
Two of the most popular objects of the surrealist movement were Lobster Telephone and Mae West Lips Sofa, completed by Dalí in 1936 and 1937, respectively. Surrealist artist and patron Edward James commissioned both of these pieces from Dalí; James inherited a large English estate in West Dean, West Sussex when he was five and was one of the foremost supporters of the surrealists in the 1930s. “Lobsters and telephones had strong sexual connotations for [Dalí],” according to the display caption for the Lobster Telephone at the Tate Gallery, “and he drew a close analogy between food and sex.” The telephone was functional, and James purchased four of them from Dalí to replace the phones in his retreat home. One now appears at the Tate Gallery; the second can be found at the German Telephone Museum in Frankfurt; the third belongs to the Edward James Foundation; and the fourth is at the National Gallery of Australia.
The wood and satin Mae West Lips Sofa was shaped after the lips of actress Mae West, whom Dalí apparently found fascinating. West was previously the subject of Dalí’s 1935 painting The Face of Mae West. Mae West Lips Sofa currently resides at the Brighton and Hove Museum in England.
Between 1941 and 1970, Dalí created an ensemble of 39 jewels. The jewels are intricate, and some contain moving parts. The most famous jewel, “The Royal Heart”, is made of gold and is encrusted with 46 rubies, 42 diamonds, and four emeralds and is created in such a way that the center “beats” much [like a real heart. Dalí himself commented that “Without an audience, without the presence of spectators, these jewels would not fulfill the function for which they came into being. The viewer, then, is the ultimate artist.” (Dalí, 1959.) The “Dalí — Joies” (“The Jewels of Dalí”) collection can be seen at the Dalí Theater Museum in Figueres, Catalonia, Spain, where it is on permanent exhibition.
In theatre, Dalí constructed the scenery for Federico García Lorca’s 1927 romantic play Mariana Pineda. For Bacchanale (1939), a ballet based on and set to the music of Richard Wagner’s 1845 opera Tannhäuser, Dalí provided both the set design and the libretto. Bacchanale was followed by set designs for Labyrinth in 1941 and The Three-Cornered Hat in 1949.
Dalí became intensely interested in film when he was young, going to the theatre most Sundays. He was part of the era where silent films were being viewed and drawing on the medium of film became popular. He believed there were two dimensions to the theories of film and cinema: “things themselves”, the facts that are presented in the world of the camera; and “photographic imagination”, the way the camera shows the picture and how creative or imaginative it looks. Dalí was active in front of and behind the scenes in the film world. He created pieces of artwork such as Destino, on which he collaborated with Walt Disney. He is also credited as co-creator of Luis Buñuel’s surrealist film Un Chien Andalou, a 17-minute French art film co-written with Luis Buñuel that is widely remembered for its graphic opening scene simulating the slashing of a human eyeball with a razor. This film is what Dalí is known for in the independent film world. Un Chien Andalou was Dalí’s way of creating his dreamlike qualities in the real world. Images would change and scenes would switch, leading the viewer in a completely different direction from the one they were previously viewing. The second film he produced with Buñuel was entitled L’Age d’Or, and it was performed at Studio 28 in Paris in 1930. L’Age d’Or was “banned for years after fascist and anti-Semitic groups staged a stink bomb and ink-throwing riot in the Paris theater where it was shown.” Although negative aspects of society were being thrown into the life of Dalí and obviously affecting the success of his artwork, it did not hold him back from expressing his own ideas and beliefs in his art. Both of these films, Un Chien Andalou and L’Age d’Or, have had a tremendous impact on the independent surrealist film movement. “If Un Chien Andalou stands as the supreme record of Surrealism’s adventures into the realm of the unconscious, then L’Âge d’Or is perhaps the most trenchant and implacable expression of its revolutionary intent.”
Dalí also worked with other famous filmmakers, such as Alfred Hitchcock. The most well-known of his film projects is probably the dream sequence in Hitchcock’s Spellbound, which heavily delves into themes of psychoanalysis. Hitchcock needed a dreamlike quality to his film, which dealt with the idea that a repressed experience can directly trigger a neurosis, and he knew that Dalí’s work would help create the atmosphere he wanted in his film. He also worked on a documentary called Chaos and Creation, which has a lot of artistic references thrown into it to help one see what Dalí’s vision of art really is. He also worked on the Disney short film production Destino. Completed in 2003 by Baker Bloodworth and Roy E. Disney, it contains dreamlike images of strange figures flying and walking about. It is based on Mexican songwriter Armando Dominguez’ song “Destino”. When Disney hired Dalí to help produce the film in 1946, they were not prepared for the work that lay ahead. For eight months, they continuously animated until their efforts had to come to a stop when they realized they were in financial trouble. They had no more money to finish the production of the animated film; however, it was eventually finished and shown in various film festivals. The film consists of Dalí’s artwork interacting with Disney’s character animation. Dalí completed only one other film in his lifetime, Impressions of Upper Mongolia (1975), in which he narrated a story about an expedition in search of giant hallucinogenic mushrooms. The imagery was based on microscopic uric acid stains on the brass band of a ballpoint pen on which Dalí had been urinating for several weeks.
Dalí built a repertoire in the fashion and photography industries as well. In fashion, his cooperation with Italian fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli is well-known, where Dalí was hired by Schiaparelli to produce a white dress with a lobster print. Other designs Dalí made for her include a shoe-shaped hat and a pink belt with lips for a buckle. He was also involved in creating textile designs and perfume bottles. In 1950, Dalí created a special “costume for the year 2045” with Christian Dior. Photographers with whom he collaborated include Man Ray, Brassaï, Cecil Beaton, and Philippe Halsman.
With Man Ray and Brassaï, Dalí photographed nature; with the others, he explored a range of obscure topics, including (with Halsman) the Dalí Atomica series (1948)—inspired by his painting Leda Atomica — which in one photograph depicts “a painter’s easel, three cats, a bucket of water, and Dalí himself floating in the air.”
References to Dalí in the context of science are made in terms of his fascination with the paradigm shift that accompanied the birth of quantum mechanics in the twentieth century. Inspired by Werner Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, in 1958 he wrote in his “Anti-Matter Manifesto”: “In the Surrealist period, I wanted to create the iconography of the interior world and the world of the marvelous, of my father Freud. Today, the exterior world and that of physics has transcended the one of psychology. My father today is Dr. Heisenberg.”
In this respect, The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory, which appeared in 1954, in hearkening back to The Persistence of Memory, and in portraying that painting in fragmentation and disintegration summarizes Dalí’s acknowledgment of the new science.
Architectural achievements include his Port Lligat house near Cadaqués, as well as the Dream of Venus surrealist pavilion at the 1939 World’s Fair, which contained within it a number of unusual sculptures and statues. His literary works include The Secret Life of Salvador Dalí (1942), Diary of a Genius (1952–63), and Oui: The Paranoid-Critical Revolution (1927–33). The artist worked extensively in the graphic arts, producing many etchings and lithographs. While his early work in printmaking is equal in quality to his important paintings as he grew older, he would sell the rights to images but not be involved in the print production itself. In addition, a large number of unauthorized fakes were produced in the eighties and nineties, thus further confusing the Dalí print market. He took a stab at industrial design in the 1970s with a 500-piece run of the upscale Suomi tableware by Timo Sarpaneva that Dalí decorated for the German Rosenthal porcelain maker’s Studio Linie.
One of Dalí’s most unorthodox artistic creations may have been an entire person. At a French nightclub in 1965, Dalí met Amanda Lear, a fashion model then known as Peki D’Oslo. Lear became his protégé and muse, writing about their affair in the authorized biography My Life With Dalí (1986). Transfixed by the mannish, larger-than-life Lear, Dalí masterminded her successful transition from modeling to the music world, advising her on self-presentation and helping spin mysterious stories about her origin as she took the disco-art scene by storm. According to Lear, she and Dalí were united in a “spiritual marriage” on a deserted mountaintop. Referred to as Dalí’s “Frankenstein,” some believe Lear’s name is a pun on the French “L’Amant Dalí,” or Lover of Dalí. Lear took the place of an earlier muse, Ultra Violet (Isabelle Collin Dufresne), who had left Dalí’s side to join The Factory of Andy Warhol.
Politics and personality
Salvador Dalí’s politics played a significant role in his emergence as an artist. In his youth, he embraced both anarchism and communism, though his writings account anecdotes of making radical political statements more to shock listeners than from any deep conviction. This was in keeping with Dalí’s allegiance to the Dada movement.
As he grew older his political allegiances changed, especially as the Surrealist movement went through transformations under the leadership of Trotskyist André Breton, who is said to have called Dalí in for questioning on his politics. In his 1970 book Dalí by Dalí, Dalí was declaring himself an anarchist and monarchist.
With the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, Dalí fled from fighting and refused to align himself with any group. Likewise, after World War II, George Orwell criticized Dalí for “scuttling off like a rat as soon as France is in danger” after Dalí prospered there for years: “When the European War approaches he has one preoccupation only: how to find a place which has good cookery and from which he can make a quick bolt if danger comes too near.” In a notable 1944 review of Dalí’s autobiography, Orwell wrote, “One ought to be able to hold in one’s head simultaneously the two facts that Dalí is a good draughtsman and a disgusting human being.”
After his return to Catalonia after World War II, Dalí became closer to the authoritarian Franco regime. Some of Dalí’s statements supported the Franco regime, congratulating Franco for his actions aimed “at clearing Spain of destructive forces.” Dalí, having returned to the Catholic faith and becoming increasingly religious as time went on, may have been referring to the Republican atrocities during the Spanish Civil War. Dalí sent telegrams to Franco, praising him for signing death warrants for prisoners. He even met Franco personally and painted a portrait of Franco’s granddaughter.
He also once sent a telegram praising the Conducător, Romanian Communist leader Nicolae Ceauşescu, for his adoption of a scepter as part of his regalia. The Romanian daily newspaper Scînteia published it, without suspecting its mocking aspect. One of Dalí’s few possible bits of open disobedience was his continued praise of Federico García Lorca even in the years when Lorca’s works were banned.
Dalí, a colorful and imposing presence in his ever-present long cape, walking stick, haughty expression, and upturned waxed mustache, was famous for having said that “every morning upon awakening, I experience a supreme pleasure: that of being Salvador Dalí.” The entertainer Cher and her husband Sonny Bono, when young, came to a party at Dalí’s expensive residence in New York’s Plaza Hotel and were startled when Cher sat down on an oddly shaped sexual vibrator left in an easy chair. When signing autographs for fans, Dalí would always keep their pens. When interviewed by Mike Wallace on his 60 Minutes television show, Dalí kept referring to himself in the third person, and told the startled Mr. Wallace matter-of-factly that “Dalí is immortal and will not die.” During another television appearance, on The Tonight Show, Dalí carried with him a leather rhinoceros and refused to sit upon anything else.