Salvador Dalí was born in 1904 in Figueras (Girona) in a well-to-do family; his father was a notary. At the age of 18, he moved to Madrid to study at the San Fernando Academy of Fine Arts. He expressed great admiration for Renaissance art and for the painter Velázquez.
At the “Residencia de Estudiantes” (Student Residence) in Madrid, where he was staying, he became friends with poet Federico García-Lorca and filmmaker Luis Buñuel. This era gave rise to the portrait he made of his father, who had a major influence on him; during this time, he also immortalised his sister in the painting Girl at the Window.
Frustrated with his learning in Madrid, he left the Academy of Fine Arts and moved to Figueras. There, he painted works such as The Basket of Bread and the Portrait of Anna Maria, in which he combined traditional and avant-garde techniques.
In 1926, he undertook his first trip to Paris, where he visited the Louvre and met Picasso. To show his admiration for the latter, he told him: “I have come to see you before visiting the Louvre”, to which Picasso replied: “You’re quite right”. Following this encounter, Dalí painted his work Still Life by Mauve Moonlight using Cubist, Picasso-inspired strokes.
In 1929, he returned to Paris once more, where, under the guidance of Buñuel and the painter Miró, he became involved in the Surrealist movement founded by the writer André Breton.
Together with Buñuel, he created the script for the film An Andalusian Dog, considered the movement’s most representative film.
Dalí became the reference figure for Surrealism, to which he contributed his paranoiac-critical method, enveloped in images born from his dreams. His painting The Persistence of Memory shows a desert with four soft watches melting. He was an expert at what he called “hand-painted dream photographs”.
In Paris, he met Gala, a Russian teacher married to the poet Paul Éluard, who would become his muse, model and companion for the remainder of his life and would help him significantly with the international promotion of his oeuvre; he created numerous portraits of Gala, the most famous of which is titled “Leda Atomica”.
In 1937, he travelled to the United States and got in touch with several of the main figures in Hollywood, such as the Marx brothers, as well as Alfred Hitchcock, with whom he collaborated on the film Spellbound, giving a Surrealist feel to the dreams of the protagonist, played by Gregory Peck. In London, he had the opportunity to meet Sigmund Freud, for whom he felt an admiration that was reflected in his paintings.
The war in Europe led him to flee into exile in the United States. There, sponsored by his friend and patron Caresse Crosby and supported by the Levy Gallery, he found great success. The work Metamorphosis of Narcissus is from this period and The Basket of Bread. As he himself wrote: “I painted this work for two consecutive months, four hours a day. During this period the most surprising and sensational events occurred in contemporary history. This work was finished one day before the end of the war.”
It was during these years that he also edited his autobiography The Secret Life of Salvador Dalí and painted The Temptation of St. Anthony in which, astride elephants with insect legs, he depicts the temptations that haunt men.
In 1948 he returned to Spain. He painted Leda Atómica in reference to the Greek myth of Leda and the swan, where he depicts himself as a swan and Gala as Leda.
Then began his stage of Nuclear Mysticism, in which his works took on religious themes or are associated with scientific advances, but always retaining his very distinctive style. One example of this is Christ of Saint John of the Cross, in which the figure of the crucified Christ is drawn from above, his face not visible to the viewer.
Dali then settled in Port Lligat, a small Mediterranean village near to Cadaqués. There he lived with Gala until practically the end of his days, in a fisherman’s hut at the edge of the sea, to which, over time, he added various plants in spaces designed with a Cubist focus. He also purchased for his wife Gala the Castle of Púbol, a Gothic-Renaissance fortification, which is also where his muse is buried.
From 1960 onwards, Dalí dedicated himself to the international promotion of his work, carrying out conferences and exhibitions in the major cities of the world (New York, Paris, Rotterdam, Madrid and Barcelona), always with a slightly eccentric presence and message, bringing him a reputation as a world-renowned painter.
The relationship between his work and his personal story is evident, and he would say “I’m becoming accustomed to being a great actor in this great comedy that is life.”
In his last years, he personally oversaw the creation and decoration of the Dalí Theatre and Museum in his birthplace of Figueras, which is today home to several of his most representative works along with his remains, since 1989, the year of his death.