Salvador Dali Biography

Salvador DaliSalvador Dali had an active imagination, and he loved to explore it. Dali often said that his dreams, fantasies and subconscious thoughts were more real to him than his external reality, and the purpose of art was to bring his visions to a wider public. Artwork by Salvador Dali was provocative, strange and eerie, but always beautifully executed.

Birth and Youth

Salvador Dali was born Salvador Felipe Jacinto Dali I Domenech in 1904 in Spain. His father was a successful notary, and the family lived in relative ease and wealth. Dali showed a penchant for painting at an early age, but his father was determined to hold the boy back from this field of study until he could prove that he could make a living as a painter. In 1920 Dali's father agreed to let the boy study art full-time, but only if he attended the University of Madrid, so he could teach art if his painting career was a failure. This was smart thinking on the part of the elder Dali; Salvador would use his advanced education to write books, make films and otherwise widely discuss and explain his theories on art later in his life.

In 1922, Dali expanded his education by attending an engraving school in San Fernando. He was expelled from the institution in the following year for leading a student protest. This is a theme in the Dali biography; Dali was always prepared to speak out against authority and those in charge if he felt a wrong had been committed. He returned to the school in 1924, but was forced to repeat an academic year, and finally left art school for good in 1925.


In 1925, artwork by Dali was shown to the wider public in a one-man show held in Barcelona. Dali paintings would become famous in 1928, when three images were shown in the Carnegie International Exhibit. Dali's The Basket of Bread is representative of the artist's work at that time. This is a straightforward still-life image, showing half-eaten bread in a basket. The background is dark, the bread bathed in light. The influence of Dutch painting is clearly seen here in the use of light and dark.

During 1926 and 1927, Dali paintings would continue to be shown in exhibits all around the world, but the artist would be spending time refining and reflecting on his painting techniques. The straightforward technique of the Dutch masters no longer seemed sufficient to help Dali explain himself to the world. He began to dabble in Surrealism, placing contrasting items in strange backgrounds, often with bright colors.


In 1929, artwork by Dali was shown in a one-man show in Paris. Dali also began to meet with, and be influenced by, other Surrealist painters, including Andre Breton. Dali met Gala Eluard through these connections. Gala would have a profound impact on the Dali biography, as she would work as the artist's muse, wife and business manager.

In 1931 the most famous Salvador Dali painting would be generated. In Dali's The Persistence of Memory, a barren landscape stretches to the distance while the infamous Dali clocks melt and bend in the sun and drape over the landscape. This is considered the most famous Surrealist painting, depicting a dream state during waking hours, and the flexibility of time and memory. No other paintings by Dali would be quite this famous.


Dali would become a leader of sorts of the Surrealist movement, providing interviews and insights to the group's goals and ideals. He would stay with the group until the 1930s. At this time, many of the Surrealist painters felt that political change was more important than artistic change. Dali, conversely, felt that he could use his art to actually change the world, or at least the way that he saw the world. Artwork by Dali was changing, and the Surrealists were no longer a good fit.

Return to Independence

In 1940, Salvador Dali and his wife moved to the United States, to escape the war in Europe. This would be a fruitful time for Dali, as he would receive prominent attention from American museums and artists. Artwork by Dali was shown in a retrospective collection at the Museum of Modern Art in 1941, and Dali would publish an autobiography entitled "The Secret Life of Salvador Dali" in 1942.

In the mid-1940s, Dali began to stretch beyond paintings, and began to work in film. He collaborated with Alfred Hitchcock on the film "Spellbound" in 1945, and worked with Walt Disney on the film "Destino" in 1946. He continued to write manifestos of his art and vision.

This does not mean that Dali had given up painting completely. He was still quite active. Paintings by Dali in this period can still be considered Surrealist in tone, but the subject matter had changed. Dali began to examine religious and historical themes. In The Sacrament of the Last Supper, completed in 1955, the traditional tale is given a completely different twist, with blurred walls and a torso suspended above. This painting by Dali hangs in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, and is reported to be one of the most popular paintings in the museum's collection.


Until the end of his life, Dali would continue to paint and generate art. Dali began to show an interest in holography and adding the fourth dimension to his paintings. In the 1970s and 1980s, many retrospectives of the artist's work were held, and his fame continued to increase. In 1983, a major show of Salvador Dali paintings was held at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Madrid, which made Dali quite famous in his own country. While this was occurring, however, Dali experienced significant financial distress as former business managers cheated Dali out of the profits of his paintings. A foundation was set up in Dali's name in the 1980s, soliciting donations to put the artist on a solid financial footing.

Dali's wife Gala would die in 1982, leaving the artist bereft. He continued to paint, but his health began to decline. After a fire in his home, Dali was severely injured and his health continued to wane. He died in 1989 from heart failure.