The Spanish artist Salvador Felipe Jacinto Dali y Domenech, later known as Salvador Dali, was born on 11 May 1904 in Figueres, Spain, in the foothills of the Pyrenees and sixteen miles from France. His family was well-to-do and, despite the views of his strict lawyer father, both his parents encouraged him in his art and built him an art studio at their summer home in Cadaques. In 1916, as a twelve year old boy, his parents sent him to a drawing school, at the Colegio de Hermanos Maristas and the Instituto in Figueres. In these early years Dali exhibited his work, lectured and wrote but preferred to daydream and affect eccentric behaviour. In 1919 he had his first public exhibition at the Municipal Theatre of Figueres.
In the 1920s Dali travelled to Paris and associated with artists that included Picasso, Magritte and Miro. This led to him joining the Surrealist movement in1929 where he became its most visible and controversial member and in 1931 painted his best known work, The Persistence of Memory. The year 1929 is also significant as Dali met Gala Eluard who, although married to the poet Paul Eluard, later became Dali’s wife, muse, primary model and life-long obsession.
Dali’s interest in Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic studies led to an obsession with psychoanalysis and paranoia and he sought ways to include these ideas in his art. This evolved as his paranoic-critical method and his introduction of Surrealist objects.
In 1936 Dali left Spain because of the Civil War and moved to Paris. This is the year he wore a diving suit when lecturing in London and was featured on the cover of Time magazine. He was expelled from the Surrealist movement in 1939 and for the rest of his life remained independent, working in his own style and exploring his own introspective and paranoiac ideas. He escaped the German occupation in 1940 and lived in the United States for eight years. This was a time in which he held his first retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, wrote his autobiography The Secret Life of Salvador Dali, and worked in the movie industry with Alfred Hitchcock and Walt Disney. It was at this time that he rejected modernism and became interested in other art traditions. Shortly after the war ended Dali and Gala returned to Spain and divided their time between Europe and the United States.
The atomic bombing of Japan started a fascination with the power of the atom and the advances of modern science, particularly physics, and Dali incorporated these elements into his art. Simultaneously he deliberately borrowed from the classical style of the Italian Renaissance and experienced growing spirituality dedication to the Catholic Church. He described this style as Nuclear Mysticism as it combined mystical and scientific iconography and expressed Dali’s belief that their unity was proof of a divine power.
Dali is known for his technical skill as a painter and his shocking imagination. His pioneering spirit was also accompanied by a reverence of tradition and a will for continuity. Dali consistently depicted the landscape of his homeland, one that became synonymous with the landscape of the imagination and of dreams. He forged in his long career a remarkable body of work, and his life demonstrates the richness of living creatively in every aspect of one’s existence.
In 1974, Dali organized a museum of his own collection of art, the Teatro-Museo Dali in Figueres. His health declined after Gala’s death in 1982, he painted less and, whilst still an international celebrity with major exhibitions all over the world, he spent his final years in seclusion at his museum until he died on 23 January 1989 in Figueres. He was honoured with the title of Marquis of Dali of Pubol as recognition for his exceptional contribution to Spanish culture.