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The Eccentric Life of Salvador Dali

Updated on December 10, 2009

    Salvador Dalí was a gifted painter and artist whose quirky personality has been known to overshadow his immense talent.   He was born in 1904 in Figueres, Cataluña, Spain.  Nine months before Dalí was born, his brother (also Salvador), died.  His parents believed that Dalí was the reincarnation of his deceased brother; therefore he was given the same name.  Dalí learned of this at the age of five.  When Dalí was 16, his mother died from breast cancer.  This affected Dalí tremendously; however, later he was happy when his father married his mother’s sister, because he also loved her very much.  Even as a young man, Dalí led a quirky life, and the art of his life reflects it.

     In 1922, Dalí enrolled in the Academy of Bellas Artes in Madrid, where he began to develop his artistic style.  Dalí learned from many talented people during his time at the Academy, but shortly before his final exams, he was expelled.  Dalí had announced that no one in the faculty was intelligent enough to assess him.  He rarely praised other's works, but he highly admired the work of Velasquez, once saying, "Compared to Velazquez I am nothing, but compared to contemporary painters, I am the biggest genius of modern times . . . but modesty is not my specialty.”

la Academia de bellas artes

             Once out of school, Dalí became known as a surrealist.  Surrealism is the use of visual imagery that originates from the subconscious mind and does not intend to be logical or comprehensible.  Soon after Dalí’s art started to flourish, his family ties began to weaken.  Dalí became involved with a married woman named Gala, whom his father did not approve of.  Also, at an art exhibit, Dalí inscribed one of his works with the quote, “Sometimes, I spit for fun on my mother’s portrait”.  His father demanded a public apology, but Dalí declined.  Most believe he declined because the quote was surrealist.  Dalí had chosen the surrealists over his family, and subsequently was disinherited.

Gala and Dali

             Soon after, in 1931, Dalí would paint the work that would later become his most celebrated, “la Persistencia de la memoria” (“Persistence of Memory”).  The theme of the painting is his rejection of the belief that time is rigid.  This work is so well known that in 2009, Volkswagen ran an ad entitled “Obsurdly Low Consumption” throughout Belgium and Germany that is highly influenced by this work. 

    Three years later, Dalí made his first visit to the United States.  His work was very well received, but the Americans also quickly learned about Dalí’s eccentric personality.  After an exhibition held in New York received much attention and praise, a ball was hosted in Dalí’s honor.  He came to the ball with a crystal box around his neck, containing a brassiere.  Later that year, Dalí and Gala (now divorced from her first husband), attended a costume party, dressed as the Lindbergh baby and his kidnapper.  This became a huge scandal in the press, so huge that Dalí gave a public apology.  When he returned from the United States, he had to explain to his fellow surrealists the reason for apologizing for a surrealist act. 

            Dalí’s explanation was not sufficient, and at the end of that same year, a surrealist trial was held and Dalí was expelled from the movement.  His reply was, “I am surrealism”.  From this point on, the surrealists spoke about Dalí in extremely negative ways, and some spoke of him in the past tense, signifying that he was dead to them.

"Galatea de las esferas" and "Autorretrato cubista"

In 1941, Dalí and Gala went to live in the United States for eight years because of the beginning of the Second World War. During this time, Dalí wrote his autobiography, titled “The Secret Life of Salvador Dalí”. Their return to Spain was during the reign of Francisco Franco, the Spanish dictator, and Dalí was highly criticized for this choice. Despite the criticism, Dalí corresponded with Franco himself, and also painted a portrait of Franco’s granddaughter. No one actually knows if his actions were sincere.

Beginning in 1960, Dalí’s next big project was his personal construction of the Dalí Museum in his birthplace, Figueres, Spain. For 14 years, Dalí constructed and filled the museum with paintings, sculptures, photographs and other works of art. Dalí health began to worsen in 1980 when he and Gala drank a mixture of prescription medication. At this point, Gala had started to show signs of senility. The probable suicide attempt did not work, although it did damage Dalí’s nervous system, making it almost impossible for him to continue to create art. The trembling of his hands suggested the first signs of Parkinson’s disease. Two years later, Gala died and Dalí began to lose his will to live. He dehydrated himself in what many think was another suicide attempt, but Dalí claimed it was a method of entering into a suspended state of animation. In 1984, there was a fire in his bedroom, an occurrence that once again fueled speculation that Dalí was attempting suicide. In 1988, Dalí suffered from a heart attack, and finally after many years of suffering, Dalí died the following year at the age of 84.

"Dali is immortal and will not die."

"Mujer con cabeza de rosas" and "Metamorfosis de narciso"

Although Dalí was most known for his paintings, of which there are 1,500, Dalí himself said that painting was only a fraction of himself. His talent was used in many different areas throughout his life. Federico Garcia Lorca used Dalí’s talent and imagination in his famous play”Mariana Pineda”. For the play, Dalí had designed scenes and costumes. Dalí also worked with Walt Disney on the animation of the movie “Destino”, which was finally released in 2003. Dalí’s immense talent also led him to collaborate with Alfred Hitchcock on the dream sequence from “Spellbound”, with Christian Dior in the fashion world, and also on the Chupa Chup lollipop logo.

"To buy my paintings you have to be criminally rich like the North Americans."

"The only difference between a crazy person and myself, is that the crazy person believes they are sane.  I know that I'm crazy."


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    • mtkomori profile image

      Takako Komori 

      8 years ago from Yokohama, Japan

      Fascinating! I've always admired his paintings,but knew little about his private life. He was eccentric but highly talented at the same time. Thanks for providing insight into one of the leading artists of the 20th century.

    • Carol the Writer profile image

      Carolyn Blacknall 

      9 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Excellent insight into an amazing man. Thanks for writing this. - Carol

    • emil william profile image

      emil william 

      9 years ago from OH. USA

      Good hub. I learn something new about him once again.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Fascinating study. I didn't know half that stuff. I always felt Dali's work was way too cerebral for me to fully appreciate. Thanks for an awesome hub about him. Pressing the UP button.


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