In Barcelona there are a couple of artists that have ties with this city. Gaudí is the main player (architecture counts as an art!) Picasso and Miró are another of the heavy pleasers but possibly Spain’s most enamoured artist of all time is Salvador Dali.
He was born Salvador Felipe Jacinto Dalí y Domenech on May 11, 1904, in Figueres, Spain, located 16 miles from the French border in the foothills of the Pyrenees Mountains. His father, Salvador Dalí y Cusi, was a middle class lawyer and notary. Salvador’s father had a strict disciplinary approach to raising children—a style of child-rearing which contrasted sharply with that of his mother, Felipa Domenech Ferres. She often indulged young Salvador in his art and early eccentricities.
It has been said that young Salvador was a precocious and intelligent child, prone to fits of anger against his parents and schoolmates. Consequently, Dalí was subjected to furious acts of cruelty by more dominant students or his father. The elder Salvador wouldn’t tolerate his son’s outbursts or eccentricities, and punished him severely.
Dalí’s precociousness carried on into art college where he was suspended from the Academia de San Fernando in Madrid. He for criticizing his teachers and allegedly starting a riot among students over the academy’s choice of a professorship. That same year, he was arrested and briefly imprisoned in Gerona for allegedly supporting the Separatist movement, though Dalí was actually apolitical at the time (and remained so throughout most of his life). He returned to the academy in 1926, but was permanently expelled shortly before his final exams for declaring that no member of the faculty was competent enough to examine him.
In between 1926 and 1929, Dalí made several trips to Paris, where he met with influential painters and intellectuals such as Pablo Picasso, whom he revered. During this time, Dalí painted a number of works that displayed Picasso’s influence. He also met Joan Miró, the Spanish painter and sculptor who, along with poet Paul Éluard and painter René Magritte, introduced Dalí to Surrealism.
All of this led to Dalí’s first Surrealistic period in 1929. These oil paintings were small collages of his dream images. His work employed a meticulous classical technique, influenced by Renaissance artists, that contradicted the “unreal dream” space that he created with strange hallucinatory characters. Even before this period, Dalí was an avid reader of Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic theories. Dalí’s major contribution to the Surrealist movement was what he called the “paranoiac-critical method,” a mental exercise of accessing the subconscious to enhance artistic creativity. Dalí would use the method to create a reality from his dreams and subconscious thoughts, thus mentally changing reality to what he wanted it to be and not necessarily what it was. For Dalí, it became a way of life.
In August 1929, Dalí met Elena Dmitrievna Diakonova (sometimes written as Elena Ivanorna Diakonova), a Russian immigrant 10 years his senior. At the time, she was the wife of Surrealist writer Paul Éluard. A strong mental and physical attraction developed between Dalí and Diakonova, and she soon left Éluard for her new lover. Also known as “Gala,” Diakonova was Dalí’s muse and inspiration, and would eventually become his wife. The two were married in a civil ceremony in 1934.
By 1930, Salvador Dalí had become a notorious figure of the Surrealist movement. Marie-Laure de Noailles and Viscount and Viscountess Charles were his first patrons. French aristocrats, both husband and wife invested heavily in avant-garde art in the early 20th century. One of Dalí’s most famous paintings produced at this time—and perhaps the best-known Surrealist work—was The Persistence of Memory (1931). The painting, sometimes called Soft Watches, shows melting pocket watches in a landscape setting. It is said that the painting conveys several ideas within the image, chiefly that time is not rigid and everything is destructible.
As war approached in Europe, specifically in Spain, Dalí clashed with members of the Surrealist movement. In a “trial” held in 1934, he was expelled from the group. He had refused to take a stance against Spanish militant Francisco Franco (while Surrealist artists like Luis Buñuel, Picasso and Miró had), but it’s unclear whether this directly led to his expulsion. Officially, Dalí was notified that his expulsion was due to repeated “counter-revolutionary activity involving the celebration of fascism under Hitler.” It is also likely that members of the movement were aghast at some of Dalí’s public antics. However, some art historians believe that his expulsion had been driven more by his feud with Surrealist leader André Breton.
During World War II, Dalí and his wife moved to the United States. They remained there until 1948, when they moved back to his beloved Catalonia. These were important years for Dalí. The Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art in New York gave him his own retrospective exhibit in 1941. This was followed by the publication of his autobiography, The Secret Life of Salvador Dalí (1942). Also during this time, Dalí’s focus moved away from Surrealism and into his classical period. His feud with members of the Surrealist movement continued, but Dalí seemed undaunted. His ever-expanding mind had ventured into new subjects.
From 1960 to 1974, Dalí dedicated much of his time to creating the Teatro-Museo Dalí (Dalí Theatre-Museum) in Figueres. The museum’s building had formerly housed the Municipal Theatre of Figueres, where Dalí saw his public exhibition at the age of 14 (the original 19th century structure had been destroyed near the end of the Spanish Civil War). Located across the street from the Teatro-Museo Dalí is the Church of Sant Pere, where Dalí was baptized and received his first communion (his funeral would later be held there as well), and just three blocks away is the house where he was born.
In 1980, Dalí was forced to retire from painting due to a motor disorder that caused permanent trembling and weakness in his hands. No longer able to hold a paint brush, he’d lost the ability to express himself the way he knew best. More tragedy struck in 1982, when Dalí’s beloved wife and friend, Gala, died. The two events sent him into a deep depression. In November 1988, Salvador Dalí entered a hospital in Figueres with a failing heart. After a brief convalescence, he returned to the Teatro-Museo. On January 23, 1989, in the city of his birth, Dalí died of heart failure at the age of 84. His funeral was held at the Teatro-Museo, where he was buried in a crypt.
Despite Dali’s expulsion from the Surrealists he remains one of the most important and interesting artists of all time, forever revered for his unique and dreamlike work.