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The Man The Master The Marvel

Salvador Dali is one of the most celebrated artists of all time. His fiercely technical yet highly unusual paintings, sculptures, and visionary explorations in film and life-size interactive art ushered in a new generation of imaginative expression. From his personal life to his professional endeavours, he always took great risks and proved how rich the world can be when you dare to embrace pure, boundless creativity.

Spanish artist and Surrealist icon Salvador Dalí is perhaps best known for his painting of melting clocks, The Persistence of Memory. A visionary within the art world, Salvador Dalí (1904-1989) has long been revered as an iconic Surrealist artist who possessed immense talent and fearless creativity. Although esteemed primarily for his painting ability, Dalí was a man of many talents, excelling in many artistic pursuits including filmmaking, printmaking, and fashion. Known for his breathtakingly innovative works of art, Dalí created artwork that surpassed the boundaries of traditional art and dared to be bold, unique and avant-garde.

Salvador Dalí 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. Their relationship deteriorated when Salvador was still young, exacerbated by competition between him and his father for Felipa’s affection. Ultimately, Dali’s raw creativity and defiant attitude would distance him from his father, but it would also become the cornerstone of his wildly imaginative artistic feats.

Salvador, along with his younger sister Ana Maria and his parents, often spent time at their summer home in the coastal village of Cadaques. At an early age, Salvador was producing highly sophisticated drawings, and both of his parents strongly supported his artistic talent. It was here that his parents built him an art studio before he entered art school.

Dali’s father quickly realised that his son wasn’t fit for public school, so he enrolled 6-year-old Salvador in the Hispano-French School of the Immaculate Conception where he learned French, the primary language he would later use as an artist. Dali spent his childhood and early adolescence in Catalonia—school years in Figueres and breaks in the coastal village of Cadaques where his family had a summer home. There, he drew and painted the seaside landscape and met his early mentor Ramon Pichot.

In school, Dalí could be observed wearing outlandish, uncommon clothing, already divulging signs of what would later be his unconventional, eccentric everyday style.

He believed he was the reincarnation of his dead older brother. Dalí had an older brother, born nine months before him, also named Salvador, who died of gastroenteritis. Later in his life, Dalí often related the story that when he was 5 years old, his parents took him to the grave of his older brother and told him he was his brother’s reincarnation. In the metaphysical prose he frequently used, Dalí recalled, “[we] resembled each other like two drops of water, but we had different reflections.” He “was probably a first version of myself, but conceived too much in the absolute.”

Apparently, little Salvador kinda bought it. He would later express some of these complicated feelings through a portrait of his older brother (or self?) in 1963.

Eventually, his parents placed him in an arts college, where he was disciplined regularly for engaging in outlandish, rebellious antics. Despite being indifferent to political proceedings, Dalí had been reprimanded for protesting, and eventually was expelled due to comments he made questioning the competency of his professors to evaluate him. Already exhibiting an inclination to subvert from the perceived norms, Dalí would bring that defiant attitude to his artwork and personal life, where he would challenge traditional modes of thinking with his art.

Upon recognising his immense talent, Salvador Dalí’s parents sent him to drawing school at the Colegio de Hermanos Maristas and the Instituto in Figueres, Spain, in 1916. He was not a serious student, preferring to daydream in class and stand out as the class eccentric, wearing odd clothing and long hair. After that first year at art school, he discovered modern painting in Cadaques while vacationing with his family. There, he also met Ramon Pichot, a local artist who frequently visited Paris. The following year, his father organised an exhibition of Salvador’s charcoal drawings in the family home. By 1919, the young artist had his first public exhibition, at the Municipal Theatre of Figueres.

In 1921, Dalí’s mother, Felipa, died of breast cancer. Dalí was 16 years old at the time and was devastated by the loss. His father married his deceased wife’s sister, which did not endear the younger Dalí any closer to his father, though he respected his aunt. Father and son would battle over many different issues throughout their lives, until the elder Dalí’s death.

Dali’s tumultuous 1920s life perfectly reflected the decade’s “roaring” nickname. Four years after being accepted to the San Fernando Academy of Art in Madrid, he was expelled after refusing to be examined in the theory of art and declaring the examiners incompetent to judge him. He experimented with futurism, impressionism and cubism, and during one of his several trips to Paris, movement leader Andre Breton exposed him to the world of Surrealism.

Dalí ventured to Paris where he met several famous artists like Pablo Picasso, Paul Éluard, and Joan Miró. While there he was introduced to Surrealism, the style of art that would permeate his artistic creations and become his signature style. Surrealism is a 20th–century art style found in art and literature centred around unlocking the creativity of the subconscious mind. Dalí would become a prominent figure in surrealist art but was eventually ejected from the Surrealist movement in 1934 due to political conflicts. Despite his expulsion, Dalí continued crafting his Surrealist art and pushing the boundaries of traditional art.

In 1922, Dalí enrolled at the Academia de San Fernando in Madrid. He stayed at the school’s student residence and soon brought his eccentricity to a new level, growing long hair and sideburns, and dressing in the style of English Aesthetes of the late 19th century. During this time, he was influenced by several different artistic styles, including Metaphysics and Cubism, which earned him attention from his fellow students—though he probably didn’t yet understand the Cubist movement entirely.

In 1923, Dalí was suspended from the academy for criticising 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.

While in school, Dalí began exploring many forms of art including classical painters like Raphael, Bronzino and Diego Velázquez (from whom he adopted his signature curled moustache). He also dabbled in avant-garde art movements such as Dada, a post-World War I anti-establishment movement. While Dalí’s apolitical outlook on life prevented him from becoming a strict follower, the Dada philosophy influenced his work throughout his life.

With Frida Kahlo

In 1925, Dali had his first solo exhibition in Barcelona, and the decade saw his works showcased throughout the world. After leaving the Academy, Dali returned to Catalonia where his art became increasingly bizarre and even grotesque.

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. By this time, Dalí was working with styles of Impressionism, Futurism and Cubism. Dalí’s paintings became associated with three general themes: 1) man’s universe and sensations, 2) sexual symbolism and 3) ideographic imagery.

Photograph of Gala and Salvador Dalí while the artist was creating one of his works. “I name my wife: Gala, Galushka, Gradiva; Oliva, for the oval shape of her face and the colour of her skin; Oliveta, diminutive for Olive; and its delirious derivatives Oliueta, Oriueta, Buribeta, Buriueteta, Suliueta, Solibubuleta, Oliburibuleta, Ciueta, Liueta. I also call her Lionette, because when she gets angry she roars like the  Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer lion”

In 1929 Gala, born Elena Dmitrievna Diakonova met the then largely unknown Salvador Dalí, and their fates were – for better or for worse – ever after intertwined. Dalí, whose only major relationships to date had been with the poet Federico García Lorca and his own hand, was mesmerised by the dominating Russian.

The Spanish artist ultimately fell in love with Elena, the Russian wife of fellow Surrealist artist Paul Éluard. After their first meeting, the encounter between the two has been depicted as true love, with Dalí journaling early on that he knew she was destined to be his wife. Despite the forbidden love affair, Elena left her husband for Dalí and they eventually married in 1958. Referred to by her beloved husband as Gala, Dalí’s wife would be his primary inspiration and muse for his art. In addition, she served as the business savvy balance to Dalí’s eccentricity, negotiating art deals on his behalf and handling his finances.

Salvador Dalí’s wife and muse was a mysterious and highly intuitive woman, which was able to recognise artistic and creative genius when she saw it and had relations with a number of intellectuals and artists. She became the only female model and the major plot of inspiration for the artist, who unceasingly praised and glorified her and presented her as a living myth and living legend to the world. On her side, Gala took her husband’s career into her own hands and managed to make it yield.

Nevertheless, the truth is that very little is known about her personality: she had two older brothers, Vadim and Nicolai, a younger sister, Lidia; she spent her childhood in Moscow and her father died when she was eleven years old. Her mother remarried later to a lawyer, with whom Gala related very well and thanks to whom she managed to acquire a good education. She was a brilliant student, completing her studies at the M.G. Brukhonenko academy for young ladies with a very high average mark; a degree from the tsar authorised her to become a primary school teacher and to give lessons in people’s homes. In 1912 she suffered a worsening of tuberculosis that had afflicted her for some time, and her family decided to move her into the Clavadel sanatorium in Switzerland, where she met Eugène Grindel (later to be known as Paul Eluard). Their similar ages and love for reading made them become good friends. Both were discharged from the sanatorium in 1914.Gala returned to Russia and Eluard went to the war front, but the couple proposed to each other before that.

They married in 1917, and the following year was born the girl that was to be Gala’s only daughter, Cécile. Eluard, who had already been revealed as a poet and had changed his surname, had close relationships with the leading figures of the surrealist movement and in particular with the creators of the Littérature magazine: André Breton, Philippe Soupault and Louis Aragon. Gala also attended some of their meetings. In 1922 she started a relationship with Max Ernst but they broke up in 1924. Max Ernst painted her in a number of portraits. Also noteworthy was her friendship with the poet René Char, and particularly with René Crevel.

It was in 1929 when she first met Salvador Dalí. In April of that year, Dalí went to Paris to present the film that he had created with Luis Buñuel, Un chien andalou, and it was there where Camille Goemans, a Belgian poet and gallery owner, introduced Dalí to Paul Eluard. Dalí invited them to spend the summer in Cadaqués. Goemans and a friend of his, as well as René Magritte and his wife, and Luis Buñuel, Paul Eluard and Gala, and the couple’s daughter Cécile, all spent some time there. When the painter met Gala it was love at first sight. In his Secret Life, he wrote: “She was destined to be my Gradiva (the name comes from the title of a novel by W. Jensen, the main character of which was Sigmund Freud; Gradiva was the book’s heroine and it was her who brought psychological healing to the main character), the one who moves forward, my victory, my wife”. And Gala was indeed to remain forever at the painter’s side so that from that time on her biography was linked with that of Dalí.

All of this experimentation 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.

He got embroiled in a Lindbergh baby scandal. In 1935, Dali’s friend Caresse Crosby decided to throw him a “surrealist ball.” He was about to return to Europe after a year in New York, and so a bizarre masquerade party seemed like the appropriate send-off. In keeping with the theme, Dali’s wife Gala came as an “exquisite corpse.” The costume included a baby doll, strapped to her head and devoured by ants. Because of the timing, a reporter interpreted this as an offensive reference to the Lindbergh baby. The story had spread all over Paris by the time Dali and Gala arrived, forcing the couple to apologise for a scandal they didn’t even spark.

Influenced deeply by Freud’s psychoanalytical work, Dalí created his prolific art pieces by attempting to access his subconscious. In the 1930s, Dalí would pioneer what he coined ‘paranoiac critical method,’ where he would tap into his subconscious to unlock his inner creativity and imagination. Upon entering his self-imposed delirium, Dalí would paint the hallucinatory images he visualised, often times juxtaposing images not usually related to one another. Continually applying this method to his art as well as to other aspects of his life, Dalí aimed to access his full creativity and translate that creativity into his exemplary art pieces.

The thirties watched Dali transform from a key figure in the Surrealist movement into its enemy. After becoming a prominent figure of the group, he was nearly expelled after a “trial” in 1934. His dismissal was due to his apolitical stance, his personal feud with leader Andre Breton, and his public antics. In July 1936, the Spanish Civil War started and Dali and his wife remained in Paris, where he continued evolving his artistic style. He was heavily influenced by the psychoanalysis of Sigmund Freud, whom Dali met in 1938. In 1939 Andre Breton definitively expelled Dali from Surrealism.

Dali was a guest speaker at the 1936 International Surrealist Exposition in London and, in order to demonstrate his genius, he delivered his talking points in an old deep-sea diving helmet and suit. But Dali obviously didn’t do a test run, because he almost suffocated in the helmet mid-lecture. The crowd was supposedly so enthralled with the artist that they believed his wild gesticulations were part of the act, but luckily, a more level-headed poet by the name of David Gascoyne came to the rescue.

Dali and Gala spent the better part of the 1940s in America after fleeing WWII. During the couple’s eight years stateside, New York’s MOMA gallery presented the artist’s first retrospective and he explored new creative expressions on film. He teamed up with Alfred Hitchcock to create dream-like sequences for Spellbound and was later hired by Walt Disney to complete the art and storyboards for what would ultimately become the film Destino. At the very end of the decade and from the comfort of this homeland Catalonia, Dali entered his noteworthy classical period.

In 1948, Dalí and Gala returned from the United States after eight years of exile there. Dalí had achieved recognition in his own country, and his father had come to accept his son’s relationship with a divorced Russian woman. From that time onwards, the Dalís would spend the spring and summer in Portlligat and the autumn and winter between New York and Paris.

Salvador Dali was in the heart of his classical period throughout the 1950s. He created nineteen large canvases characterised by meticulously detailed images of religious, historical and scientific themes, or what Dali called “nuclear mysticism.” He became obsessed with geometry, DNA, divinity and experimented heavily with visual illusions. From a personal perspective, his growing affinity for religious themes prompted he and Gala, his muse and the love of his life, to remarry—this time, in a Catholic church.

After living together since 1929, Dalí and Gala married in a civil ceremony in 1934 and remarried in a Catholic ceremony in 1958 in Montrejic. They needed to receive a special dispensation by the Pope because Gala had been previously married to Paul Éluard. Because of his phobia of female genitalia, Dalí was said to be a virgin when they met at Costa Brava in 1929. Around that time she was found to have uterine fibroids, for which she underwent a hysterectomy in 1936. She was a muse for Dalí and said that she was the one who saved him from madness and an early death.

In the early 1930s, Dalí started to sign his paintings with his and her name as “(i)t is mostly with your blood, Gala, that I paint my pictures” He stated that Gala acted as his agent, and aided in redirecting his focus. According to most accounts, Gala had a strong sex drive and throughout her life had numerous extramarital affairs (among them with her former husband Paul Éluard), which Dalí encouraged, since he was a practitioner of candaulism. She had a fondness for young artists, and in her old age, she often gave expensive gifts to those who associated with her.

Gala is a frequent model in Dalí’s work, often in religious roles such as the Blessed Virgin Mary in the painting The Madonna of Port Lligat. Dalí’s numerous paintings of her show his great love for her and some are perhaps the most affectionate and sensual depictions of a middle-aged woman in Western art.

In Portrait of Galerina (1940–45) Gala’s face is shown severe and confrontational, her bared breast meant to depict bread, and the snake on the arm a gift of Dalí’s sponsor Edward James.

In her late seventies, Gala had a relationship with rock singer Jeff Fenholt She lavished him with gifts, including Dalí’s paintings and a million dollar home on Long Island. Fenholt later became a televangelist.

In 1968 the painter bought Gala a castle in Púbol, Girona, and it was agreed that the painter could not go there without her prior permission. Between 1971 and 1980, Gala would spend some time at her castle, always during summer. It was there that Gala was buried after she died in 1982. Dalí immortalised Gala in some of his most important works, while Gala encouraged Dalí’s weakness for degrading publicity stunts.

Dalí’s behaviour, personality, and style was just as flamboyant and unconventional as the visually stunning paintings he crafted. The Spaniard artist drew public attention due to his eccentricity and quickly became recognised for his outlandish behaviour, unusual style, and long, cartoonish moustache just as much as for his artwork. Dalí was scrutinised by many for his public antics and bizarre style, even by those amidst the art world. A character in himself, Dalí was known to wear outrageous clothing pieces that mimicked his art in its creativity and fearless inclination to self-expression. It appears his life and his art mimicked one another, with a thin line separating one from the other and sometimes not at all.

In the later years, however, Gala pressured Dalí to maximise income at the expense of artistic integrity and unleashed the flood of works whose sole input from the artist was his signature. Gala,  needed cash to keep her younger lovers, her enormous sex drive undiminished by age.

He had a pet ocelot named Babou. For an oddball like Dali, a simple cat just wouldn’t suffice. Instead, he kept a Colombian ocelot named Babou as a pet. Dali frequently took Babou with him on trips, just to make sure everyone knew he had freaking ocelot. And it worked: even the writers of Archer took notice.

He did a book signing from bed… in the middle of a store. As a promotional stunt for his 1962 book, The World of Salvador Dali, the artist set up his own private hospital room right in a Manhattan bookstore. While wired to machines measuring his blood pressure and brain waves, he signed copies for fans — who even got a souvenir printout of the man’s BP readings to take with them.

Even as he aged and his health began to decline, Salvador Dali remained resilient in his artistic quest to examine life from every possible angle. He continued to paint—endlessly challenging visual norms with holographic and stereoscopic imagery—all the while dedicating much of his time to opening the Teatro-Museo Dali, which still sits just a few blocks away from his birthplace. Moreover, Dali remained a prominent public figure and celebrity with retrospectives exhibiting all over the world.

With Alice Cooper

He gave Mia Farrow a dead rat for her birthday. Dali was close friends with teenage Mia Farrow but the present he gave her when she turned 19 was truly out there. He called it “Violence in a Bottle” and it was a large glass jar containing a lizard chowing down on a rat. Guess that’s what friends are for?

Dalí eventually succumbed to a motor disorder that impaired his ability to produce art, causing him to retire from art. No longer able to express his creativity, and his wife as well as a dear friend passing away soon after, launching him into depression…

Gala died in 1982, though not, as she had wished, in the village of Púbol, where a tomb was prepared for her and Dalí. The fact that she had instead died, inconveniently, in Port Lligat, led to a last and appropriately surreal ride: she was propped up in a car as if still alive and driven there. Dalí, devastated, lingered miserably for another 6 and a half years, exploited by hangers-on who made Gala look like Florence Nightingale.

In the last years of his life, and following the death of his dear wife Gala, Dali painted less and less. Dali was still fascinated by the ideas of immortality and the fourth dimension, his last works were mathematical in nature—challenging the plasticity of life as we know it.

Then no longer able to hold a paint brush, he’d lost the ability to express himself the way he knew best. The two events sent him into a deep depression. He moved to Pubol, in a castle that he had purchased and remodelled for Gala, possibly to hide from the public or, as some speculate, to die. In 1984, Dalí was severely burned in a fire. Due to his injuries, he was confined to a wheelchair. Friends, patrons and fellow artists rescued him from the castle and returned him to Figueres, making him comfortable at the Teatro-Museo. Since 1996 the castle has been open to the public as the Gala-Dalí Castle House Museum in Púbol.

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 but his iconic artwork and legacy is commemorated in The Dalí Museum to this day.

Even after death, Salvador Dali’s star didn’t fade. In 1990, his estate was split between Madrid and Catalonia, and many prominent exhibitions of the artist’s work continued to show throughout the world. From Montreal, London and Spain to Tokyo, Venice and the United States, Dali’s indescribable talent and extraordinary creativity has become a universal language of fearlessness, inspiration and relentless self-expression.

On June 26, 2017, a judge in a Madrid court ordered that Dalí’s body be exhumed to settle a paternity case. A 61-year-old Spanish woman named María Pilar Abel Martínez claims that her mother had an affair with the artist while she was working as a maid for his neighbors in Port Lligat, a town in northeastern Spain. Abel said that her mother claimed Dalí was her father. Ms Abel, who describes herself as “Dalí without the moustache” for her supposed physical resemblance to the painter, previously arranged to carry out a test using material from his death mask. However insufficient DNA was found, and the Madrid judge overseeing the case has now ruled there is no other way to obtain samples other than to disinter Dalí’s remains.

The judged ordered the artist’s body to be exhumed because “lack of other biological or personal remains” to compare to Abel’s DNA.

Abel was born in Figueres, Girona, the same town where Dalí was born and died. Her family has been trying to prove his paternity for a decade. According to the Associated Press, Abel could be entitled to up to 25 percent of his estate if paternity is confirmed.

The Gala-Salvador Dalí Foundation, which manages Dalí’s estate, said in a statement that it will appeal the ruling. “The Dalí Foundation is preparing an appeal to oppose the carrying out of this exhumation, an appeal that will be presented in the coming days.”

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