Spanish Painter and Printmaker
Born: May 11, 1904 - Figueras, Catalonia, Spain
Died: January 23, 1989 - Figueras, Catalonia, Spain
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Most Important Art
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"Knowing how to look is a way of inventing."
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.
Most Important Art
More Art Works
The Persistence of Memory (1931)
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Influences and Connections
Artists, Friends, Movements
Artists, Friends, Movements
Content compiled and written by The Art Story Contributors
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
Useful Resources on Salvador Dalí
| Defining Modern Art |
Take a look at the big picture of modern art, and Dali's role in it.
| Dali window displays at Bonwit Teller |
Dali exhibited his works at a famous Manhattan department store
| The Persistence of Memory: A Biography of Dalí |
By Meredith Etherington-smith
| The Shameful Life of Salvador Dalí |
By Ian Gibson
| Salvador Dalí: An Illustrated life by Gala |
By the Dali Foundation Gala
| Salvador Dalí Museum in Florida || Salvador Dalí Museum in Spain |
| A Study Day at the Tate about Dalí, Surrealism and Film that offers a wonderful on-line bibliography || Dalí Portal |
| The Salvador Dalí Society |