Salvador Domingo Felipe Jacinto Dalí y Domènech, the surrealist icon of modern art, was born on May 11, 1904, in Figueres, Catalonia, 26 km from the French border, at the foot of the Pyrenees. His father was a notary, strict in education, while his mother, Felipa, tended to encourage the young Dali in his artistic curiosity. Salvador Dalí was, in fact, a precocious and intelligent boy, but also impulsive and eccentric. Dalí had an older brother, born nine months before him, also named Salvador, who died of gastroenteritis. Later in his life, Dalí often told that at the age of 5, his parents took him to visit his older brother's grave and told him that he was his brother's reincarnation. Already at an early age, Salvador showed great artistic skills, especially in the production of sophisticated paintings. Once recognizing his talent, his parents enrolled him in a drawing school. The years of study were turbulent.
In 1921, Dali's mother, Felipa, died of breast cancer. Dali was 16 at the time, and he was devastated by his loss. In 1922, Dali enrolled at the San Fernando Academy in Madrid. He stayed at the school's student residence and soon took his eccentricity to a new level, growing long hair and sideburns and dressing in the style of late 19th century English aesthetes. During this period, Dalí started to become interested in various artistic movements, among them metaphysical painting and Cubism. Between 1926 and 1929, Dalí made several trips to Paris, where he met influential painters and intellectuals such as Picasso, whom he worshipped. He also met Joan Miró, the Spanish painter and sculptor who, together with the poet Paul Éluard and the painter Magritte, introduced Dalí to Surrealism.
At that time, he was experimenting in the artistic fields of Impressionism, Futurism, and Cubism. All this experimentation led to Dalí's early Surrealist period in 1929. His oil paintings were doors to his oneiric world. In his work, Dalí used a meticulous classical technique, influenced by Renaissance artists, which contradicted the space of the "unreal dream" he created with strange hallucinatory characters. Dalí was always, in fact, an avid reader of Sigmund Freud's psychoanalytic theories.
Dalí's most significant contribution to the Surrealist movement was what he called the "paranoid-critical method", an exercise through which the unconscious influenced and guided artistic creation. Dalí would use this method to create and bring back the reality of unconscious thoughts. In August 1929, Dalí met Gala, a Russian woman ten years older than him, wife of the surrealist writer Paul Éluard. A strong mental and physical attraction developed between them, and soon Gala left Éluard for her new lover. She became not only his wife but also Dalí's muse and inspiration.
By 1930, Dalí had become a famous figure within the Surrealist movement.
One of Dalí's most famous paintings produced at that time - and perhaps the most-known Surrealist work - was The Persistence of Memory (1931). In 1930, Dalí became a well-known artist in the Surrealism movement.
The painting shows pocket watches blending into a landscape setting. The painting represents time, which is not rigid, not fixed, and certainly not a "reliable" constant. Dalí became a well-known artist, but also much discussed due to his eccentricity. Many of his public appearances, statements, and behaviors were capable of generating controversy and making the public argue. Dalí explored every field of artistic creation, from painting to sculpture, jewelry making, advertising, theater, and cinema.
The '30s and '40s were crucial years for the artist; in 1936, he was given the cover of "Time" and exhibited his works in an art collective at MOMA in New York.
In the following year, as a result of the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, he took refuge in Italy, where he encountered art from the Renaissance and the Baroque and was fascinated and influenced by it. The late '30s and '40s were marked by great encounters, Freud and Coco Chanel to name some, and by the exploration of different forms and channels of expression. At the outbreak of the Second World War, Dalí left Europe and moved to the USA. There he began a productive collaboration with photographer Philippe Halsman and produced librettos, sets, and costumes for the ballet Labyrinth at the Metropolitan Opera House. He worked on the scenography for the ballet "Tristan Fou" on stage in New York, of which L'Oeil Fluri is part.
At that point, Dalí was a perfectly integrated member of the New York society and painted portraits of wealthy Americans for the Knoedler Gallery, but above all, he created the famous face of Mae West.
Moreover, in these years, he approached the world of cinema: he collaborated with Walt Disney in the realization of Destiny and with Alfred Hitchcock on the sequence of the dream of "Spellbound".
The explosion of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima shocked the artist and influenced his production, to the extent that he started a new path that he called "Nuclear Mysticism". The works of this period are characterized by religious, historical, and scientific themes, and combine the technical splendor of meticulous details with fantasy and unlimited component. These works are characterized by optical illusions and holography, tend to depict divine geometry, DNA, and the hypercube, and are imbued with a rediscovered religiousness.
The '60s and '70s were the years of reworking all the themes of his past career.
During these years, thanks to the encounter and close collaboration with Beniamino Levi, the artist developed an interest in three-dimensional art that led to the creation of many of his sculptures.
Over the years that the Erotic Metamorphoses, one of the peaks of his paranoid-critical method, is published, and the announcement of the realization of the Dalí Museum in Figueres, which then became the Dalí Theatre-Museum, opened in 1974.
In 1980, Dalí was forced to withdraw from the world of painting due to a motor disorder that caused permanent tremors and weakness in his hands. He was no longer able to hold a brush; he had lost the ability to express himself in the way he knew best. Another tragedy took place in 1982, when his beloved wife, Gala, died. The two events plunged him into a deep depression. He moved to Púbol, in a castle that he had bought and renovated for Gala, perhaps 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 forced into a wheelchair. In November 1988, Dalí was taken to the hospital in Figueres after a cardiac crisis. After a brief convalescence, he returned to his home, the Theatre-Museum.
On January 23, 1989, Dalí died of heart failure at the age of 84 in his hometown. His funeral was held at the Theatre-Museum, where he was buried in a crypt.