Olga's Gallery

Salvador Dali

Salvador Dali. Self-Portrait with Raphaelesque Neck.


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Salvador Dali was a celebrated surrealist artist of the 20th Century. Dali possessed excellent painting skills – his works were technically brilliant – and an extraordinary imagination. The artist was also an excellent showman, and had a love for outrageous and provocative acts.

Dali was born May 11, 1904, in Figueras, Catalonia, Spain. His talent for drawing was revealed at an early age. The artist’s father, a public notary, was a strict disciplinarian and viewed his son’s vocation less-than-enthusiastically, and it was Dali’s mother who encouraged him to pursue art.

In 1918, at the age of 14, the painter had his first exhibition at the theatre-hall in Figueras. This was the same hall that Dali would later purchase and convert into his Theatre-Museum. In 1919, Dali published articles on the old masters in a local magazine, showing his understanding of the theory and history of art. At this time, he also published some of his poetry.

Dali's mother died in February of 1921, affecting the young man strongly. Dali had just graduated high school, passing his exams with difficulty, and begged his father to allow him to go study at the Academy of Art in Madrid. Although initially reluctant, his father relented.

However, his professors at the Academy were a disappointment to Dali. They were focused primarily on the latest trends in art: Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, Fauvism, Pointillism, Cubism, etc. Dali, however, found these techniques easy to master, and wanted to be taught classical academic painting. His works of the period reflect his experiments with contemporary techniques: Self-Portrait (1921), Portrait of My Father (1920-1921) and Self-Portrait with the Neck of Raphael (1920-1921) are Impressionist works. Nude in a Landscape (1922-1923) was painted in a Pointillist manner. Portrait of the Cellist Ricardo Pichot (1920) and Portrait of Luis Bunuel (1924) lean closer towards Post-Impressionism. Meanwhile, Venus and Amorini (1925), Figure on the Rocks/Sleeping Woman (1926) and similar works are executed in the Cubist style.

At the Academy, Dali would meet many of his future friends and surrealist colleagues, including Federico Garcia Lorca and Luis Bunuel.

In 1923, Dali was expelled from the academy for one year for criticizing his lecturers and "disturbing the peace." Later that year, in Gerona, the artist was arrested and detained by the police, for voicing radical political ideas. The artist would frequently espouse extreme political views during the early years of his career, ranging from communism and socialism, to anarchism, to monarchism. However, it is doubtful that Dali actually believed in any of these ideologies; rather, he took pleasure in shocking the public and his peers.

In 1925, the artist had his first solo exhibition at the Dalmau Gallery in Barcelona.

In the spring of 1926, Dali visited Pairs for the first time seeking to expand his artistic education beyond what the Madrid Academy offered him. There, he met Picasso, visited the Louvre and the Musee Grevin. Later that year, he was permanently expelled from the Academy, and was consequently conscripted into the Spanish military. He served for some 8 months, from February 1927 until October. That year, he also published "Saint Sebastian" and began developing an objective theory of aesthetics.

In 1928, he co-authored the Catalan Anti-Art Manifesto (called "Yellow Manifesto") with literary critic Lluis Montanya and art critic Sebastia Gasch. This document was to become the most influential statement of the Futurist, Cubist and Dadaist movements in Spain. Notable works of this period include Honey is Sweeter than Blood(1926), The Stinking Ass (1928) and The Lugubrious Game (1929).

In 1929, Dali participated in the making of the avant-garde short film Un Chien Andalou ("An Andalusian Dog"), directed by his friend Luis Bunuel. The film's success within the surrealist movement got the two artists accepted by the Paris Surrealists and brought them renown within contemporary artistic circles. The businessman and art patron Camille Goemans paid Dali 3,000 francs for three of the artist's paintings.

In the spring of 1929, Dali traveled to the French capital and was shown around by Joan Miro, who introduced him to Andre Breton and his Surrealist group, the Romanian Dadaist Tristan Tzara and Paul Eluard. It was here that Dali first met Gala, nee Helena Ivanovna Diakonova, at the time the wife of Eluard. That summer, while on holiday in Cadaques, they would fall in love and have an affair that was destined to become a life-long marriage. His painting The Great Masturbator (1929) is based on the first impressions Gala produced on him. Dali's father was vehemently opposed to his son's new love, and this would lead to a major argument between the two.

In 1930, Dali purchased a fisherman’s hut at Cadaques. He and Gala would come here often over the coming years. This year, he first began developing his paranoiac-critical method of creating surrealist art. The method is based on the human mind’s ability to link ideas and objects that are not rationally connected. The artist would begin by painting a picture of a real object and then, as his mind wandered, he would add phantasmagorical shapes and objects until he achieved the desired result.

That same year, he published “L’ane pourri” (“The Rotten Ass”) in the journal Le Surrealisme au service de la revolution, outlining the foundation of his new method, and the poem “La femme visible” (“The Visible Woman”) in “Editions surrealistes.”

Meanwhile, back in Spain, Bunuel and Dali’s latest film, “L’age d’or” (“The Golden Age”), came out. The explicit anti-Catholic message of the film provoked outrage from Spanish society, and the cinema where the movie was showing was wrecked by nationalists, who destroyed numerous works by Dali and other surrealists. Meanwhile, the painter’s fame was growing at a rapid rate.

In 1931, Dali published the poem “Love and Memory” in “Editions surrealistes.”

In 1932, Dali’s works were shown in the first Surrealist exhibition in the USA. Soon afterwards, he wrote a screenplay for a new film, “The Babaouo,” however, this film, like all his subsequent cinematographic work, would never be produced. Later that year, a group of Dali’s fans came together to establish the “Zodiaque”, a club that would regularly buy his works.

In 1933, Dali published an article on edible beauty and Art Nouveau architecture in the magazine "Minotaure", sparking a revival of interest for turn-of-the-century art. At around this time, he first began drifting away from the other Surrealists in his approach to creating art, and also to eclipse the others in popularity. This would eventually lead him to break from the group.

In 1934, Dali exhibited The Enigma of William Tell (1933), provoking arguments between himself and the Surrealists. Much of his work of the period is full of sexual symbolism, including Anthropomorphic Bread (1932), The Invisible Harp Fine and Medium (1932) and Atmospheric Skull Sodomizing a Grand Piano (1934).

That year, the painter also held an exhibition in New York City, where he was hailed by the public and critics.

1936 saw the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. Although Dali had espoused radical political views throughout his life, he expressed no urge to join in the fighting. He and his wife stayed abroad, where he continued painting, writing and exhibiting. At the International Surrealist Exhibition in London that year, he delivered a lecture outfitted in a bulky deep-sea diving suit, nearly causing himself to suffocate. In December of that year, he was featured on the cover of Time magazine.

1937 saw further conflict between Dali and the Surrealists, this time over politics. The group had largely Marxist views, while Dali leaned more towards nationalism and fascism, praising Francisco Franco and Adolf Hitler. That year, Dali visited Hollywood, where he met with Harpo Marx, one of the famous Marx Brothers. Dali wrote a screenplay for them.

In July, he produced one of his most famous works in the paranoiac-critical method, "The Metamorphosis of Narcissus," both a literary and painted piece. Well-known works from this period include the Lobster Telephone (1936), A Couple with their Heads Full of Clouds (1936), The Burning Giraffe (1936-37) and The Enigma of Hitler (1939).

During the same period, he produced designs for the leading Parisian fashion designer of the interwar years, Elsa Schiaparelli.

In January 1938, Dali once again participated in the Surrealist exhibition in Paris. That summer, he traveled to London, meeting with Sigmund Freud and painting a number of portraits of the famous psychologist.

In 1939, Salvador Dali finally broke with the Surrealists, famously declaring "Surrealism is me." The artist often regarded himself -- and arguably was -- the foremost painter of the movement, both before and after his expulsion from the Surrealist group. Andre Breton, the leader of the Surrealists, rearranged the letters of Salvador Dali's name to form the anagram "Avida Dollars." The Surrealists would use this moniker to refer to the artist after his departure, always speaking of him in the past tense, as if he were dead.

Visiting the United States once more, Dali published his pamphlet "Declaration of the Independence of the Imagination and the Rights of Man to His Own Madness." In November, the ballet Bacchanale premiered at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. Dali had been responsible for the libretto and set design, while the choreography was done by Leonide Massine, a Russian expatriate who had served as the chief choreographer for the ballet company Ballets Russes de Diaghilev.

In 1940, Dali and Gala briefly visited Paris, but quickly returned to New York. Because of the effects of the Second World War, the pair would remain in the United States until 1949. In 1941, Dali exhibited jointly with Miro in the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In 1942, the artist published his autobiography, "The Secret Life of Salvador Dali."

During the war years, Dali produced such works as The Face of War (1940-1941), La Galarina (1944-45), a tribute to Raphael's la Fornarina and often considered to be one of the most sensual depictions of a middle-aged female in contemporary art, and the Temptation of Saint Anthony (1946). He was beginning to show an interest for the mystical and spiritual.

In 1946, Dali drew cartoons for Walt Disney, and did work for the Alfred Hitchcock film "Spellbound." In 1947, the painter produced his famous Portrait of Picasso, paying tribute to his contemporary's mastery, but criticizing him for his almost obsessive intellectualism. Criticizing Picasso's left-leaning views, he famously wrote: "Picasso is a communist… neither am I."

In 1948, he published "50 Secrets of Magic Craftsmanship."

In 1949, Dali and Gala finally returned to Europe after their 9-year exile. The artist had decided to return to his native Catalonia, where he would spend most of the remainder of his life. That year, he painted "The Madonna of Port Lligat."

Dali collaborated with the producer Peter Brook to design a set for the film "Salome", and with Luchino Visconti on the film "As You Like It."

In 1951, Dali published his "Mystical Manifesto," combining the idea of Catholicism with modern science. His experimentation with different media and different techniques lead to what is known as the Particle Period. In 1952, the painter exhibited his works in Rome and Venice. This year was the beginning of his Nuclear Mysticism period.

During these years, Dali produced the famous painting The Madonna of Port Lligat (1950), as well as the Galatea of the Spheres (1951) and Nuclear Cross (1952).

In December 1953, Dali read a lecture on the paranoiac-critical method at the Sorbonne.

During this time, Dali was becoming fascinated with the "hypercube", a cube in 4-dimensions that exhibited itself in three dimensions as a kind of four-way cross. A prominent example of this in his art is the Corpus Hypercubus/Crucifixion (1954), which shows Christ crucified on a hypercube.

In 1954, Dali worked with the photographer Robert Descharnes to produce the film "L'histoire prodigieuse de la dentelliere et du rhinoceros" ("The Extraordinary Story of the Lacemaker and the Rhinoceros"). At a press conference in Rome, Dali enters by bursting from a large hypercube that had been prepared for this occasion. This act was meant to symbolize his artistic "rebirth." In 1956, the painter exhibited at the National Gallery in Washington, D.C.

In 1958, Dali exhibits a 15-meter long loaf of bread at an event at the Theatre de l'Etoile in Paris.

In 1959, he presents the "Ovocipede" to the Parisian public, a vehicle that was basically a large transparent plastic ball. "Ovo-" means egg, and refers to the theme of birth and rebirth that was an important trait of Dali's Nuclear Mysticism.

In 1960, Dali began painting large-format mystical works such as the Ecumenical Council (1960), Tuna-Fishing (1966-67) and The Hallucinogenic Toreador (1968-70).

In 1961, another of Dali's ballets, the Ballet of Gala, premiered in Venice. Again, the artist was responsible for the libretto and set design, while the choreography was done by Maurice Bejart. That year, Dali also read a lecture on the myth of Castor and Pollux at the Ecole Politechnique in Paris.

In 1962, Robert Descharnes published an album entitled "Dali de Gala: le monde de Salvador Dali" ("Dali of Gala: the World of Salvador Dali").

In 1963, Dali published "The Tragic Myth of Millet's Angelus." He came out with the notion that the railway station in Perpignan, a town in the south of France, was the center of the universe, because "it is always at Perpignan… that I have my most unique ideas." He painted The Railway Station at Perpignan (1965) to celebrate this fact.

In 1964, the artist published the "Diary of Genius." The artist's works are exhibited in the Seibu Museum in Tokyo for the first time.

In 1971, the Salvador Dali Museum was built around the collection of A and E Reynolds Morse, which contained some 96 of Dali's paintings. Originally opened in Cleveland, Ohio, the museum would be moved to St. Petersburg, Florida in 1982.

In 1974, Dali opened the Dali Theater-Museum ("Teatro-Museo Dali" in Spanish) in his hometown of Figueras, in Spain. This would become the single largest and most expansive collection of the painter's artwork in the world. The painter was becoming fascinated with optical illusions and stereoscopy.

In 1978, Dali first encountered mathematical catastrophe theory, developed by Rene Thom in the 1960s and popularized by Christopher Zeeman in the 1970s.

In April of that year, the painter exhibited his hyperstereoscopic paintings (paired paintings meant to be observed through a stereoscope) at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. Some of these include Dali from the Back, Painting Gala from the Back, Eternalized by Six Virtual Corneas Provisionally Reflected in Six Real Mirrors (1972-1973) and Dali's Hand Drawing Back the Golden Fleece in the Form of a Cloud to Show Gala the Dawn, Completely Nude, Very, Very Far Away Behind the Sun (1977). Another work of this period is Gala Contemplating the Mediterranean Sea which at Twenty Meters Becomes the Portrait of Abraham Lincoln (1976).

In May, Dali became a member of the Academie des Beaux-Arts in Paris.

In 1979, the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris held a large exhibition of Salvador Dali, covering many periods of his life. The exhibition later moves to the Tate Gallery in London.

Dali's wife Gala, who had been his muse and guardian -- in many sense -- throughout most of his career, passed away on June 10, 1982. The painter was affected deeply by this loss and moved into Pubol Castle, which had been his wife's primary residence. In July, the King of Spain Juan Carlos I made him Marquis of Pubol.

In 1983, Dali painted his last work: The Swallow's Tail. There was a large exhibition of his work in Madrid and Barcelona. The perfume Dali was produced.

In 1984, Dali was severely burned in a fire in his bedroom at Pubol. The cause of the fire is unknown; it may have been a suicide attempt by the painter, a murder attempt by a member of his staff or a simple accident. The painter was broken both physically and mentally; he was no longer the arrogant, flamboyant Dali of earlier times. The painter moved to his Theater-Museum, where he would remain until the end of his days.

That year, another large exhibition is held, this time in the Palazzo dei Diamanti ("Diamond Palace") in Ferrara, Italy. Robert Descharnes published the book "Salvador Dali: the Work, the Man."

On January 23, 1989, the painter died of heart failure. He was buried in the crypt which he had had specially built in his Theater-Museum. In his will, the painter left all of his fortune and works to the Spanish government.

Despite the painter’s later international fame, Dali always saw himself as Catalan, and maintained some of the uncomplicated, down-to-earth views of that people throughout his life. This is typified in the recurring theme of food in his work, both as a subject and as inspiration. The landscapes of his beloved Catalonia, in particular the Ampurdan plain of Figueras and the Catalonian Mediterranean coast around Cadaques, would also feature frequently in his work.

The Secret Life of Salvador Dali by Salvador Dali. Dover Publications, 1993.
Dali: The Salvador Dali Museum Collection by Robert S. Lubar. Bulfinch, 2000.
Dali by Dawn Ades. Rizzoli, 2004.
Salvador Dali by Salvador Dali, Luis Romero. Ediciones Poligrafa S.A, 2004.
Dali: The Paintings by Robert Descharnes, Gilles Neret. Taschen, 2004.
Salvador Dali's Dream of Venus : The Surrealist Funhouse from the 1939 World's Fair by Ingrid Schaffner. Princeton Arch, 2002.
The Shameful Life of Salvador Dali by Ian Gibson. W. W. Norton & Company, 1998.
Dali : The Work the Man by Robert Descharnes. Harry N Abrams, 1997.

Biography and notes by Yuri Mataev

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