Salvador Dali (May 11, 1904, Figueres, Spain, to January 23, 1989, Figueres, Spain) was the preeminent surrealist artist of the 20th century, as well as a sculptor, filmmaker, and writer. His films include Destino, An Andalusian Dog, Age of Gold, and Babaouo, and the sculptures he is most famous for include Lobster Telephone and Mae West Lips Sofa.
Attributes of His Works: Dalí painted hallucinations, dreams and nightmares, optical illusions, and alternate realities where elephants and horses walked on long, spindly legs and clocks melted in a style that was both realistic and fantastic. His main technique was what he called the paranoiac-critical method, whereby he would drive himself into a paranoid state, or a "spontaneous method of irrational knowledge based on the critical and systematic objectivity of the associations and interpretations of delirious phenomena." Having started painting as a child, he was first influenced by impressionist painters and then Pablo Picasso’s Cubism, before moving onto the surrealism for which he was known best. His paintings were highly symbolic and influenced by science and technology (particularly nuclear physics), psychology, religion, death and decay.
As a student at the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, Dalí did his best to stand out. He dressed eccentrically and grew what was to become his signature mustache, but what really stood out about him was his art, and, by the time he met Pablo Picasso in Paris in 1926, the latter had already heard good things about his up and coming countryman. Dalí had been kicked out of the university for subordination earlier that year and had finished his famous work The Basket of Bread (1926, Salvador Dalí Museum, St. Petersburg, Florida).
All this time he was experimenting with Cubism and classical and modern styles and exhibitions of his work were being held in Barcelona, leading to his name becoming more and more widely known. Mature Work Dalí was a Dadaist performance artist as well as an enigmatic public figure. Defying any one definition, he was a living contradiction: a monarchist and an anarchist; an agnostic and a Catholic; someone who adored his late mother, yet claimed "Sometimes, I spit for fun on my mother's portrait," and these contrasts could be seen in his works, which could be both beautifully sublime and horrifically distorted.
The Persistence of Memory (1931, Museum of Modern Art, New York City) is likely his most famous painting, as well as the painting that made him famous. The iconic melting clocks were painted in the midst of a hallucination during one of his self-induced paranoid states and, like the odd sleeping humanoid face in the middle, would become a recurring theme in his work, both as statues and, most notably, in The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory (1952–1954, Salvador Dalí Museum, St. Petersburg, Florida). In this work, the landscape of the original, which was the artist’s native Catalonia, is now underwater, the tree is breaking apart, a fish has appeared, the ground is shown quantum mechanically at the atomic level and rhinoceros horns (another reoccurring image for Dalí) represent atomic bombs.
At first glance, Portrait of Pablo Picasso in the Twenty-First Century (1947, Gala-Salvador Dali Foundation, Figueras) isn’t a very flattering painting of Dalí’s contemporary genius. Picasso and Dalí had a complex relationship of mutual respect and political differences, and this complexity can be found in Dalí’s portrait, with its multitude of symbols representing Picasso’s traits, good and bad.
The Temptation of Saint Anthony (1946, Musée Royaux des Beaux-Arts) was painted for a contest in which the winner would be featured in the film The Private Affairs of Bel Ami. Max Ernst’s painting of the same name was chosen as the winner.
The Elephants (1948, Private Collection) differs from many of Dalí’s other surrealist paintings in that his long-legged graceful pachyderms with their floating obelisks frame a mostly barren red sky and minimalist landscape featuring low mountains, a simple building and two small figures apparently greeting each other. It lacks the overwhelming detail of many of his other works.
Galatea of the Spheres (1952, Dalí Theatre and Museum, Figueres) is a portrait of Dalí’s wife and muse Gala (Elena Ivanovna Diakonova). Dalí at this point was fascinated by atoms, how they made up matter but didn’t touch each other, and that idea is expressed in the floating spheres that make up the serene image of Gala in this important work. Death After Gala died in 1982, Dalí sank into a deep depression and moved from Figueres to the Castle of Púbol, the site of her death and grave. After a fire in 1984, possibly a suicide attempt, he moved back to Figueres, where he died of heart failure on January 23, 1989, at the age of 84. He left behind a legacy of eccentricity, genius and multitudes of artworks in galleries across the world.