Salvador Dalí was born in Figueres, Spain in 1904. His parents told him that he was the reincarnation of his brother, also named Salvador, who died just nine months before Dalí was born. His parents encouraged his artistic talent and in his teens he enrolled in the Madrid School of Fine Arts. His mother’s death due to cancer when Dalí was 16 deeply impacted him.
The Catalan surroundings of his youth made their way into his works – both his early landscapes and Surrealist pieces. In 1922, he enrolled at the Real Academía de Bellas Artes de San Fernando. He was expelled from this school twice, the latter time in 1926 after he insulted a professor. He made friends with many avant-garde Spanish artists, such as Luis Buñuel. In 1928, the two made the Surrealist film Un Chien Andalou which made them instantly infamous.
Dalí had already begun creating paintings which explored Freud’s psychoanalytic concepts and inspirations by the likes of Picasso and Miró. His works contained the dreamlike landscapes and symbolic images that defined his oeuvre early on. In the 1930s, Dalí moved to Paris and was invited to join the Surrealists.
His most famous works, such as The Persistence of Memory, were created using his version of Breton’s automatism, called the Paranoiac Critical Method. This involved a self-induced state of hallucination, achieved by staring at objects, then exploration of the subconscious and painting the dreamlike imagery he saw. Many of his works illustrated anxiety about the passage of time.
In 1934, Dalí was removed from the Surrealists – a group of largely communist members who frequently had debates with Dalí regarding his sympathies for fascist dictators such as Franco. For the rest of his life he would keep a tumultuous relationship with the other Surrealists, who honored his works but not his politics.
In 1938 Dalí met his idol, Sigmund Freud, and sketched his portrait. During the Second World War, Dalí and his wife Gala moved to the United States. They already had a presence there, due to Dalí’s notoriety, and he was given a retrospective at MoMA in 1941. His eccentric personality and public antics defined much of his life, but particularly his time in the USA.
Salvador Dalí returned to Spain in 1948, where he made a home in Port Lligat. From this year, he began to create one massive painting a year, known as his “Dalí Masterworks”. In the 1940s and 1950s, his works focused on religious themes as he also explored photography. Through the 1960s, he visited New York City and stayed at the St. Regis, hosting parties in his room with the likes of Andy Warhol.
Dalí suffered psychologically in his last two decades. After his wife began to leave him to stay in the castle he had bought for her, he felt depressed and abandoned. Despite his difficulties, he created the Dalí Theatre-Museum in Figueres, featurings a permanent collection of his works. In 1989, he died of heart failure listening to Tristan and Isolde. Salvador Dalí is the prime example of the idea that art and life are inseparable. He opened his inner world to viewers, inspiring artists to push beyond reality and create a commodifiable personality.