Salvador Dalí Life and Art Periods

"Knowing how to look is a way of inventing."

SALVADOR DALÍ SYNOPSIS

Salvador Dali is among the most versatile and prolific artists of the twentieth century. Though chiefly remembered for his painterly output, in the course of his long career he successfully turned to sculpture, printmaking, fashion, advertising, writing, and, perhaps most famously, filmmaking in his collaborations with Luis Bunuel and Alfred Hitchcock. Dali was renowned for his flamboyant personality as much as for his undeniable technical virtuosity. In his early use of organic morphology, his work bears the stamp of fellow Spaniards Pablo Picasso and Joan Miró. His paintings also evince a fascination for Classical and Renaissance art, clearly visible through his hyper-realistic style and religious symbolism of his later work. Dali is most often associated with the Surrealist movement, despite his formal expulsion from the group in 1934 for his reactionary political views.

SALVADOR DALÍ KEY IDEAS

Freudian theory underpins Dali's attempts at forging a formal and visual language capable of rendering his dreams and hallucinations. These account for some of the iconic and now ubiquitous images through which Dali achieved tremendous fame during his lifetime and beyond.
Obsessive themes of eroticism, death, and decay permeate Dali's work, reflecting his familiarity with and synthesis of the psychoanalytical theories of his time. Drawing on blatantly autobiographical material and childhood memories, Dali's work is rife with often ready-interpreted symbolism, ranging from fetishes and animal imagery to religious symbols.
Dali subscribed to Surrealist André Breton's theory of automatism, but ultimately opted for a method of tapping the unconscious that he termed "critical paranoia," a state in which one could cultivate delusion while maintaining one's sanity. Paradoxically defined by Dali himself as a form of "irrational knowledge," the paranoiac-critical method was applied by his contemporaries, mostly Surrealists, to varied media, ranging from cinema to poetry to fashion.
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MOST IMPORTANT ART

TITLE: Honey is Sweeter than Blood (1927)
Honey is Sweeter than Blood(1927)
Artwork Description & Analysis: Dali's first surreal painting, Honey is Sweeter than Blood, shows a marked progression away from Cubism toward the depiction of subconscious obsessions. Dali's preoccupations with decadence, death, and immortality returned repeatedly in future works. This painting was made between Dali's first visits to Paris where he was socializing with artists who would found the Surrealist movement.

Oil on canvas

  • Honey is Sweeter than Blood(1927)
  • Retrospective Bust of a Woman(1933)
  • The Persistence of Memory(1931)
  • Soft Construction with Boiled Beans (Premonition of Civil war)(1936)
  • Un Chien Andalou (film still)(1928)
  • Young Virgin Auto-Sodomized by the Horns of Her Own Chastity(1954)
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SALVADOR DALÍ BIOGRAPHY

Childhood

Dali was born in Figueres, a small town outside Barcelona, to a prosperous family. His larger-than-life persona started early: aged 10, he had his first drawing lessons where he claimed that he manifested hysterical, rage-filled outbursts toward his family and playmates. Throughout his life, Dali retained his love for Catalan culture, and he depicted the landscape surrounding Figueres in several key paintings throughout his career. Dali entered the Madrid School of Fine Arts in 1921.

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Early Training

Salvador Dali Biography

In Madrid, Dali experimented with Impressionist and Pointillist styles, but abandoned these techniques after he won a bet that he could "paint a prize-winning Pointillist picture by splashing paint at a canvas from a distance of three feet," (Soby, p.4). In 1920, Dali visited Paris where he became greatly interested in Futurist attempts to recreate motion and show objects from simultaneous, multiple angles. In exploring this style, Dali began to consider a means of dramatically reinterpreting reality and altering perception. He discovered the psychoanalytic concepts of Freud as well as metaphysical painters like Giorgio de Chirico, and consequently began using psychoanalytic methods of mining the subconscious to generate imagery. By the time he was expelled from the art academy in 1924, Dali was already exhibiting work locally, and had been adopted into a social circle that Luis Bunuel, Federico Garcia Lorca, and Maria Mallo.

Mature Period

In the latter 1920s, Dali was practicing Cubist styles and was deeply influenced by Picasso, whom he personally met in Paris in 1929. That same year, at the Galerie Goemans in Paris, Dali exhibited canvases that explored symbolism and his interest in the subconscious. Through this exhibition, he met Robert Desnos, Paul Eluard, and André Breton, who wrote the essay for Dali's catalog. Soon after, Dali moved to Paris, and was invited by Breton to join the Surrealists. For the next several years, Dali's paintings were notably illustrative of his theories about the psychological state of paranoia and its importance as subject matter. He painted bodies, bones, and symbolic objects that reflected sexualized fears of father figures and impotence, as well as symbols that referred to the anxiousness over the passing of time. During this period, he also worked on Un Chien Andalou (An Andalusian Dog), a filmic meditation on abject obsessions. His subject matter was so sexually and politically shocking that Dali became infamous, his notoriety exacerbated by his outlandish personal style.

Salvador Dali Portrait Dali ascribed to Breton's theory of automatism, and claimed he didn't know the meaning behind the symbols in his paintings. He credited his childhood as inspiration, urging artists to be skeptical of modern technology and to embrace intuitive, craft-based art-making techniques instead. As politics of war were at the forefront of Surrealist debates, Breton expelled Dali from the Surrealists in 1934 due to differing views on General Franco and fascism. In 1937, Dali moved to Italy, and practiced more traditional painting styles that drew on his love of canonized painters, like Gustave Courbet and Jan Vermeer, though his emotionally-charged themes and subjects remained as strange as ever.

Late Period and Death

In the 1940s and 1950s, Dali's paintings focused on religious themes reflecting his abiding interest in the supernatural. He aimed to portray space as a subjective reality, which may be why many of his paintings from this period show objects and figures at extremely foreshortened angles. He continued employing his "paranoiac-critical" method, which entailed working long, arduous hours in the studio and expressing his dreams directly on canvas in manic bouts of energy. In 1955, he returned to Spain and became quite reclusive, but continued to paint until his death in the 1980s. His paintings came to be increasingly likened to Renaissance masterworks. And, like a Renaissance artist, Dali had many other creative outlets: he designed jewelry, sets for theater, worked in fashion design, collaborated with Chanel, and much more. These endeavors led to further commercialization of his work, whose impact has been recently academically reassessed in several large-scale exhibitions.

SALVADOR DALÍ LEGACY

Salvador Dali Photo

Dali's manner of revealing the gap between reality and illusion influenced all manner of modern artists. Beyond developing his own symbolic language, Dali elaborated a way to represent the inner mind. He is considered one of the major Surrealists who used shock and unease to illustrate moments of pleasure, and in this his work remains highly contemporary. Though some second generation Surrealists, like Joseph Cornell, continued working in representational modes, other artists, like many Abstract Expressionists, drew on Dali's belief in mining the subconscious. Painters such as Robert Motherwell, who first showed as Surrealists at Guggenheim's Art of This Century gallery, also deeply admired Dali's way of personalizing the political and vice versa.

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SALVADOR DALÍ QUOTES

"There is only one difference between a madman and me. The madman thinks he is sane. I know I am mad."

"I would awake at sunrise, and without washing or dressing sit down before the easel which stood right beside my bed. Thus the first image I saw on awakening was the painting I had begun, as it was the last I saw in the evening when I retired . . . I spent the whole day seated before my easel, my eyes staring fixedly, trying to 'see', like a medium (very much so indeed), the images that would spring up in my imagination. Often I saw these images exactly situated in the painting. Then, at the point commanded by them, I would paint, paint with the hot taste in my mouth that panting hunting dogs must have at the moment when they fasten their teeth into the game killed that very instant by a well-aimed shot. At times I would wait whole hours without any such images occurring. Then, not painting, I would remain in suspense, holding up one paw, from which the brush hung motionless, ready to pounce again upon the oneiric landscape of my canvas the moment the next explosion of my brain brought a new victim of my imagination bleeding to the ground."
>From Dalí's book, My Secret Life:

Salvador Dalí

Salvador Dalí Influences

Interactive chart with Salvador Dalí's main influencers, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.

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Pablo Picasso
Pablo Picasso
Picasso dominated European painting in the first half of the last century, and remains perhaps the century's most important, prolifically inventive, and versatile artist. Alongside Georges Braque, he pioneered Cubism. He also made significant contributions to Surrealist painting and media such as collage, welded sculpture, and ceramics.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Pablo Picasso
Joan Miró
Joan Miró
Active in Paris from the 1920s onward, and influenced by Surrealism, Miró developed a style of biomorphic abstraction which blended abstract figurative motifs, large fields of color, and primitivist symbols. This style would be an important inspiration for many Abstract Expressionists.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Joan Miró
Max Ernst
Max Ernst
Max Ernst was a German Dadaist and Surrealist whose paintings and collages combine dream-like realism, automatic techniques, and eerie subject matter.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Max Ernst
Yves Tanguy
Yves Tanguy
Yves Tanguy was a French painter and one of the key figures of French Surrealism in the early twentieth century. Having never received any formal training, Tanguy was a self-taught painter who became best known for his highly imaginitive landscapes and detailed precision.

Modern Art Information Yves Tanguy
Giorgio De Chirico
Giorgio De Chirico
Giorgio de Chirico was a Greek-Italian painter and sculptor commonly associated with Surrealism. Initially discovered by Picasso and Apollinaire in France, de Chirico's best known Surrealist paintings incorporated metaphysical subject matter and sculptural still-life. Instead of land- or cityscapes, de Chirico's art is more emblematic of a dreamscape.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Giorgio De Chirico
Tristan Tzara
Tristan Tzara
Tristan Tzara was a Romanian and French poet, playwright, and avant-garde performer who played a key role in early Zurich Dada. A proponent of pure automatic techniques, he had an at-times contentious relationship with the Dada's Surrealist direction in Paris.

Modern Art Information Tristan Tzara
André Breton
André Breton
André Breton, author of the 1924 Surrealist Manifesto, was an influential theorizer of both Dada and Surrealism. Born in France, he emigrated to New York during World War II, where he greatly influenced the Abstract Expressionists.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information André Breton
Luis Bunuel
Luis Bunuel
Luis Bunuel Portoles was a Spanish-born Mexican filmmaker and avant-garde auteur. Heavily influenced by Surrealism, Dada and religious lore, Bunuel's films were famous for their disturbing imagery and dreamlike sensibility. In addition to his adopted Mexico, he filmed in France and the United States.

Modern Art Information Luis Bunuel
Impressionism
Impressionism
A movement in painting that first surfaced in France in the 1860s, it sought new ways to describe effects of light and movement, often using rich colors. The Impressionists were drawn to modern life and often painted the city, but they also captured landscapes and scenes of middle-class leisure-taking in the suburbs.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Impressionism
Pointillism
Pointillism
Pointillism is a mode of art-making, first developed in 1880s France, in which all of the paint is applied to the surface as tiny points or daubs of color. Based on the laws of color theory, pointillism relies on the viewer's eye to mix the disparate dots into the lines, shapes, shadings, and color ranges of the full scene.

Modern Art Information Pointillism
Cubism
Cubism
Cubism was developed by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque between 1907-1911, and it continued to be highly influential long after its decline. This classic phase has two stages: 'Analytic', in which forms seem to be 'analyzed' and fragmented; and 'Synthetic', in which pre-existing materials such as newspaper and wood veneer are collaged to the surface of the canvas.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Cubism
Futurism
Futurism
Futurism was the most influential Italian avant-garde movement of the twentieth century. Dedicated to the modern age, it celebrated speed, movement, machinery and violence. At first influenced by Neo-Impressionism, and later by Cubism, some of its members were also drawn to mass culture and nontraditional forms of art.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Futurism
Dada
Dada
Dada was an artistic and literary movement that emerged in 1916. It arose in reaction to World War I, and the nationalism and rationalism that many thought had led to the War. Influenced by several avant-gardes - Cubism, Futurism, Constructivism, and Expressionism - its output was wildly diverse, ranging from performance art to poetry, photography, sculpture, painting and collage. Emerging first in Zurich, it spread to cities including Berlin, Hanover, Paris, New York and Cologne.
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Jackson Pollock
Jackson Pollock
Jackson Pollock was the most well-known Abstract Expressionist and the key example of Action Painting. His work ranges from Jungian scenes of primitive rites to the purely abstract "drip paintings" of his later career.
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Mark Rothko
Mark Rothko
Mark Rothko was an Abstract Expressionist painter whose early interest in mythic landscapes gave way to mature works featuring large, hovering blocks of color on colored grounds.
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Man Ray
Man Ray
Man Ray was an American artist in Paris whose photograms, objects, drawings, and other works played an important role in Dada, Surrealism, modern photography, and avant-garde art at large.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Man Ray
Surrealism
Surrealism
Perhaps the most influential avant-garde movement of the century, Surrealism was founded in Paris in 1924 by a small group of writers and artists who sought to channel the unconscious as a means to unlock the power of the imagination. Much influenced by Freud, they believed that the conscious mind repressed the power of the imagination. Influenced also by Marx, they hoped that the psyche had the power to reveal the contradictions in the everyday world and spur on revolution.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Surrealism
Abstract Expressionism
Abstract Expressionism
A tendency among New York painters of the late 1940s and '50s, all of whom were committed to an expressive art of profound emotion and universal themes. The movement embraced the gestural abstraction of Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock, and the color field painting of Mark Rothko and others. It blended elements of Surrealism and abstract art in an effort to create a new style fitted to the postwar mood of anxiety and trauma.
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Pop Art
Pop Art
British artists of the 1950s were the first to make popular culture the dominant subject of their art, and this idea became an international phenomenon in the 1960s. But the Pop art movement is most associated with New York, and artists such as Andy Warhol, who broke with the private concerns of the Abstract Expressionists, and turned to themes which touched on public life and mass society.
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Op Art
Op Art
Op art, short for Optical art, is a style of abstraction that relies on geometric shapes, lines, and color juxtapositions to create optical illusions. Emerging in the mid-1950s, along with Kinetic art, it generated an international following of artists seeking to create new and more interactive relationships with the viewer, and new, disorientating visual experiences.
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Conceptual Art
Conceptual Art
Conceptual art describes an influential movement that first emerged in the mid-1960s and prized ideas over the formal or visual components of traditional works of art. The artists often challenged old concepts such as beauty and quality; they also questioned the conventional means by which the public consumed art; and they rejected the conventional art object in favor of diverse mediums, ranging from maps and diagrams to texts and videos.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Conceptual Art
Paul Eluard
Paul Eluard
Paul Eluard was a French poet, and one of the original participants in the French Surrealism movement, forming strong ties with the likes of Breton, Aragon and Ernst. Eluard was also active in the French Resistance during World War II, but later in life joined the Communist Party, became a Stalin sympathizer and renounced the Surrealism movement.

Modern Art Information Paul Eluard
Joseph Cornell
Joseph Cornell
Joseph Cornell was an American artist, best known for his collage work and "shadow boxes," which were highly complex diorama-like constructions. Cornell incorporated found objects, old photos, newspaper clippings and other objects into these boxes, resulting in uniquely surreal, three-dimensional worlds. Cornell was one of the few American artists associated with Surrealism.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Joseph Cornell
Robert Motherwell
Robert Motherwell
Robert Motherwell was a first-generation Abstract Expressionist whose paintings use hulking shapes, large-scale strokes and calligraphy, and wide expanses of muted color. Eloquent and well-educated, he wrote extensively on theories of art.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Robert Motherwell
Peggy Guggenheim
Peggy Guggenheim
Peggy Guggenheim, the neice of Solomon R. Guggenheim, was a collector, patron, and eclectic personality deeply connected to modern art. She gave important exhibitions to many Surrealist and Abstract Expressionist artists at her Art of This Century gallery in New York in the 1940s.
TheArtStory - Modern Art GuideModern Art Information Peggy Guggenheim
Honey is Sweeter than Blood
Honey is Sweeter than Blood

Title: Honey is Sweeter than Blood (1927)

Artwork Description & Analysis: Dali's first surreal painting, Honey is Sweeter than Blood, shows a marked progression away from Cubism toward the depiction of subconscious obsessions. Dali's preoccupations with decadence, death, and immortality returned repeatedly in future works. This painting was made between Dali's first visits to Paris where he was socializing with artists who would found the Surrealist movement.


Oil on canvas

Retrospective Bust of a Woman
Retrospective Bust of a Woman

Title: Retrospective Bust of a Woman (1933)

Artwork Description & Analysis: Retrospective Bust of a Woman exemplifies Dali's found object sculptures in which the original materials would be recontextualized through a process of assembly and composition. This piece was constructed around an inkstand, atop which was placed a replica of figures from Jean-Francois Millet's painting The Angelus (1857-1859). Dali was fixated on this painting, deeming it a marvelous representation of sexual repression, which he worked compulsively to unleash. The necklace draped around the bust is made from a zoetrope strip, indicating the potential for movement in a still object as well as Dali's interest in film.


Painted porcelain, bread, corn, feathers, paint on paper, beads, ink stand, sand, and two pens - Museum of Modern Art, New York

The Persistence of Memory
The Persistence of Memory

Title: The Persistence of Memory (1931)

Artwork Description & Analysis: This iconic and much-reproduced painting depicts time as a series of melting watches surrounded by swarming ants that hint at decay, an organic process in which Dali held an unshakeable fascination. The important distinction between hard and soft objects, associated by Dali with order and putrefaction respectively, informs his work method in subverting inherent textual properties: the softening of hard objects and corresponding hardening of soft objects. It is likely that Dali was using the clocks to symbolize mortality (specifically his own) rather than literal time, as the melting flesh in the painting's center is loosely based on Dali's profile. The cliffs that provide the backdrop are taken from images of Catalonia, Dali's home.


Oil on canvas - Museum of Modern Art, New York

Soft Construction with Boiled Beans (Premonition of Civil war)
Soft Construction with Boiled Beans (Premonition of Civil war)

Title: Soft Construction with Boiled Beans (Premonition of Civil war) (1936)

Artwork Description & Analysis: This painting is an allegorical response to the Spanish Civil War of 1936-1939, but it is also a garish and gruesome depiction of a body destroying itself. Dali painted this work prior to General Franco's invasion, yet it predicts the violence, anxiety, and doom many Spaniards felt during Franco's later rule. Soft Construction with Boiled Beans is a fine example of a Dali composition that simultaneously expresses his sexual obsessions as well as his political outrage.


Oil on canvas - Philadelphia Museum of Art

Un Chien Andalou (film still)
Un Chien Andalou (film still)

Title: Un Chien Andalou (film still) (1928)

Artwork Description & Analysis: Considered the first Surrealist film for its non-sequential scenes, Un Chien Andalou recreates a dream-like setting in which images are presented in montaged clips as a means of tapping the unconscious. This film still from Un Chien Andalou is indicative of the Surrealist love of shock and bodily violation. Here, a cow's eye was used to stand-in for this woman's eye, which, in the next frame, was shown slashed by a razor blade in extreme close-up. Dali was reportedly sick for a week after he helped Luis Bunuel shoot the scene. Other scenes include a woman cowering in the corner in fear of two donkey corpses draped over grand pianos as her presumed suitor watches ants crawl from stigmata-like puncture wounds in the palm of his hand.


35 mm film - Museum of Modern Art, New York

Young Virgin Auto-Sodomized by the Horns of Her Own Chastity
Young Virgin Auto-Sodomized by the Horns of Her Own Chastity

Title: Young Virgin Auto-Sodomized by the Horns of Her Own Chastity (1954)

Artwork Description & Analysis: This painting documents Dali's interest in exaggerating the representation of the female form and the possibilities of an abstracted background. The main force within the painting is clearly its sexual allusion: the horned shapes hovering around the woman are overtly phallic, and the painting's title offers a direct clue about the aggressively sexual tone of the work. Dali's preoccupation with the phallus was a central theme throughout his career, though the degrees to which his works were representational or abstract differed period to period.


Oil on canvas - Playboy Collection, Los Angeles

Bibliography
The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing this page. These also suggests some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.