Salvador Domingo Felipe Jacinto Dalí i Domènech, was born on May 11, 1904, in the town of Figueres, in the Empordà region, close to the French border in Catalonia, Spain. His father was a middle-class lawyer and notary whose strict disciplinary approach was tempered by his wife, who encouraged her son's artistic endeavors. Dalí's older brother, also named Salvador (born in 1901), had died of gastroenteritis nine months earlier. When he was five, Dalí was taken to his brother's grave and told by his parents that he was his brother's reincarnation, a concept which he came to believe. Dalí also had a sister, Ana María, who was three years younger.
Dalí attended drawing school. In 1916, Dalí also discovered modern painting on a summer vacation to Cadaqués with the family of Ramon Pichot, a local artist who made regular trips to Paris. The next year, Dalí's father organized an exhibition of his charcoal drawings in their family home. He had his first public exhibition at the Municipal Theater in Figueres in 1919. In these works Dalí experimented with Impressionism and Pointillism.
In February 1921, Dalí's mother died of breast cancer. Dalí was sixteen years old; he later said his mother's death "was the greatest blow I had experienced in my life. I worshipped her… I could not resign myself to the loss of a being on whom I counted to make invisible the unavoidable blemishes of my soul." After her death, Dalí's father married his deceased wife's sister.
In 1922, Dalí moved into the Residencia de Estudiantes (Students' Residence) in Madrid and studied at the Academia de San Fernando (School of Fine Arts). At the Residencia, he became close friends with writer Pepín Bello, filmmaker Luis Buñuel, and poet Federico García Lorca. Dalí already drew attention as an eccentric and dandy. He wore long hair and sideburns, coat, stockings, and knee breeches in the style of English aesthetes of the late 19th century.
However, it was his paintings, in which he experimented with Cubism, that earned him the most attention from his fellow students. At the time of these early works, Dalí probably did not completely understand the Cubist movement. His only information on Cubist art came from magazine articles and a catalog given to him by Pichot, since there were no Cubist artists in Madrid at the time. In 1924, the still-unknown Salvador Dalí illustrated a book for the first time. It was a publication of the Catalan poem "The Witches of Llers" by his friend and schoolmate, poet Carles Fages de Climent. Dalí also experimented with Dada, which influenced his work throughout his life.
Dalí was expelled from the Academia in 1926, shortly before his final exams, when he stated that no one on the faculty was competent enough to examine him. His mastery of painting skills was evidenced by his flawlessly realistic "The Basket of Bread", painted in 1926 (not to be confused with his 1945 painting "Basket of Bread"). That same year, he made his first visit to Paris, where he met with Pablo Picasso, whom the young Dalí revered. Picasso had already heard favorable reports about Dalí from Joan Miró. As he developed his own style over the next few years, Dalí made a number of works heavily influenced by Picasso and Miró.
Some trends in Dalí's work that would continue throughout his life were already evident in the 1920s. Dalí devoured influences from many styles of art, ranging from the most academically classic to the most cutting-edge avant garde. His classical influences included Raphael, Bronzino, Zurbarán, Vermeer, and Velázquez (Dalí grew his flamboyant moustache influenced by this seventeenth-century Spanish master). He used both classical and modernist techniques, sometimes in separate works, and sometimes combined. Exhibitions of his works in Barcelona attracted much attention along with mixtures of praise and puzzled debate from critics.
In 1929, Dalí collaborated with surrealist film director Luis Buñuel on the short film Un chien andalou (An Andalusian Dog). His main contribution was to help Buñuel write the script for the film. Dalí later claimed to have also played a significant role in the filming of the project, but this is not substantiated by contemporary accounts. Also, in August 1929, Dalí met his muse, inspiration, and future wife Gala, born Elena Ivanovna Diakonova. She was a Russian immigrant eleven years his senior, who at that time was married to surrealist poet Paul Éluard. In the same year, Dalí had important professional exhibitions and officially joined the Surrealist group in the Montparnasse quarter of Paris. His work had already been heavily influenced by surrealism for two years. The Surrealists hailed what Dalí called the Paranoiac-critical method of accessing the subconscious for greater artistic creativity.
Meanwhile, Dalí's relationship with his father was close to rupture. Don Salvador Dalí y Cusi strongly disapproved of his son's romance with Gala, and saw his connection to the Surrealists as a bad influence on his morals. After several disputes, Dalí was violently thrown out of his paternal home on December 1929. His father told him that he would disinherit him, and that he should never set foot in Cadaquès again. The following summer, Dalí and Gala would rent a small fisherman's cabin in a nearby bay at Port Lligat. He bought the place, and over the years enlarged it, gradually building his much beloved villa by the sea. Dalí and Gala, having lived together since 1929, were married in 1934 in a civil ceremony. They later remarried in a Catholic ceremony in 1958.
In 1931, Dalí painted one of his most famous works, "The Persistence of Memory", which introduced a surrealistic image of soft, melting pocket watches. The general interpretation of the work is that the soft watches are a rejection of the assumption that time is rigid or deterministic. This idea is supported by other images in the work, such as the wide expanding landscape, and the other limp watches, shown being devoured by insects.
In 1933, collectors and friends formed "The Zodiaque" group, whose purpose was to subsidize the Catalan artist.
Dalí was introduced to America by art dealer Julian Levy in 1934. The exhibition in New York of Dalí's works created an immediate sensation. In that year, Dalí and Gala attended a masquerade party in New York, hosted for them by heiress Caresse Crosby. For their costumes, they dressed as the Lindbergh baby and his kidnapper. The resulting uproar in the press was so great that Dalí apologized. When he returned to Paris, the Surrealists confronted him about his apology for a surrealist act.
While the majority of the Surrealist artists had become increasingly associated with leftist politics, Dalí maintained an ambiguous position on the subject of the proper relationship between politics and art. Leading surrealist André Breton accused Dalí of defending the 'new' and 'irrational' in 'the Hitler phenomenon', but Dalí quickly rejected this claim, saying, "I am Hitlerian neither in fact nor intention." Dalí insisted that surrealism could exist in an apolitical context and refused to explicitly denounce fascism. Among other factors, this had landed him in trouble with his colleagues. Later in 1934, Dalí was subjected to a 'trial', in which he was formally expelled from the Surrealist group. To this, Dalí retorted, "I myself am surrealism."
In 1936, Dalí took part in the London International Surrealist Exhibition. His lecture, entitled Fantomes paranoiaques authentiques, was delivered while wearing a deep-sea diving suit and helmet. He had arrived carrying a billiard cue and leading a pair of Russian wolfhounds, and had to have the helmet unscrewed as he gasped for breath. He commented that "I just wanted to show that I was 'plunging deeply' into the human mind."
At this stage, Dalí's main patron in London was the very weTITLEhy Edward James. He had helped Dalí emerge into the art world by purchasing many works and by supporting him financially for two years. They became good friends, and James is featured in Dalí's painting "Swans Reflecting Elephants".
In 1939, Breton coined the derogatory nickname 'Avida Dollars', an anagram for Salvador Dalí, and a phonetic rendering of the French avide à dollars, which may be translated as 'eager for dollars'. This was a derisive reference to the increasing commercialization of Dalí's work, and the perception that Dalí sought self-aggrandizement through fame and fortune. Some surrealists henceforth spoke of Dalí in the past tense, as if he were dead. The Surrealist movement and various members thereof would continue to issue extremely harsh polemics against Dalí until the time of his death and beyond.
In 1940, as World War II started in Europe, Dalí and Gala moved to the United States, where they lived for eight years. After the move, Dalí returned to the practice of Catholicism. During this period, Dalí never stopped writing. In 1942, he published his autobiography, "The Secret Life of Salvador Dalí". He also wrote catalogs for his exhibitions, such as that at the Knoedler Gallery in New York in 1943, and a novel, published in 1944, about a fashion salon for automobiles.
Starting in 1949, Dalí spent his remaining years back in his beloved Catalonia. The fact that he chose to live in Spain while it was ruled by Franco drew criticism from progressives and from many other artists. As such, it is probable that the common dismissal of Dalí's later works by some Surrealists and art critics was related partially to politics rather than to the artistic merit of the works themselves. In 1959, André Breton organized an exhibit called Homage to Surrealism, celebrating the fortieth anniversary of Surrealism, which contained works by Dalí, Joan Miró, Enrique Tábara, and Eugenio Granell. Breton vehemently fought against the inclusion of Dalí's "Sistine Madonna" in the International Surrealism Exhibition in New York the following year.
Late in his career, Dalí did not confine himself to painting, but experimented with many unusual or novel media and processes: he was among the first artists to employ holography in an artistic manner and several of his works incorporate optical illusions. In his later years, young artists such as Andy Warhol proclaimed Dalí an important influence on pop art. Dalí also had a keen interest in natural science and mathematics. This is manifested in several of his paintings, notably in the 1950s, in which he painted his subjects as composed of rhinoceros horns. According to Dalí, the rhinoceros horn signifies divine geometry because it grows in a logarithmic spiral. He also linked the rhinoceros to themes of chastity and to the Virgin Mary. Dalí was also fascinated by DNA and the hypercube (a 4-dimensional cube); an unfolding of a hypercube is featured in the painting Crucifixion ("Corpus Hypercubus").
In 1960, Dalí began work on the Dalí Theatre and Museum in his home town of Figueres; it was his largest single project and the main focus of his energy through 1974. He continued to make additions through the mid-1980s.
In 1980, Dalí's heTITLEh took a catastrophic turn. His near-senile wife, Gala, allegedly had been dosing him with a dangerous cocktail of unprescribed medicine that damaged his nervous system, thus causing an untimely end to his artistic capacity. At 76 years old, Dalí was a wreck, and his right hand trembled terribly, with Parkinson-like symptoms.
In 1982, King Juan Carlos of Spain bestowed on Dalí the title Marquis of Púbol, for which Dalí later repaid him by giving him a drawing ("Head of Europa", which would turn out to be Dalí's final drawing) after the king visited him on his deathbed.
Gala died on June 10, 1982. After Gala's death, Dalí lost much of his will to live. He deliberately dehydrated himself, possibly as a suicide attempt, or possibly in an attempt to put himself into a state of suspended animation as he had read that some microorganisms could do. He moved from Figueres to the castle in Púbol, which he had bought for Gala and was the site of her death. In 1984, a fire broke out in his bedroom under unclear circumstances. Dalí was rescued and returned to Figueres, where a group of his friends, patrons, and fellow artists saw to it that he was comfortable living in his Theater-Museum in his final years.
On January 23, 1989, while his favorite record of "Tristan and Isolde" played, he died of heart failure at Figueres at the age of 84, and, coming full circle, is buried in the crypt of his Teatro Museo in Figueres. The location is across the street from the church of Sant Pere, where he had his baptism, first communion, and funeral, and is three blocks from the house where he was born.