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The Lifestyle of Salvador Dali Research Paper

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Updated: Nov 23rd, 2019


Salvador Dali has always been referred to as one of the greatest artists of the 20th century. Due to his great paintings and other works of art, some people have regarded Dali as the greatest Surrealist artist to ever live. However, when he was asked personally whether he considered himself the greatest artist in the world, Dali denied any allegations.

Actually, he used to refer himself as a bad artist and painter because of the fact that he was too intelligent (Hesse 41). Dali had a belief that for someone to become a good artist, he/she needs to be a bit insane (Hesse 41). Dali acknowledged the fact that the society loved his works. In one of his interviews, Dali stated that people regarded him as the best artist in the world because the other artists who were creating during the time he lived in were doing a very bad work (Hesse 45).

After having a successful career as an artist, a filmmaker, and a photographer, Dali retired, and went to his home town of Figueres in Spain, in a castle where his wife, Galo, had been buried (Genzmer 65). During this time, there was no clear inventory of his works. At the same time, the speed at which people were selling the replicas of his works in the world was very high.

However, Dali was not highly concerned with the success. At that time, he had lived an isolated and lonely life away from the public and his friends who he was close with during the early years of his life. This was perhaps because his mentor and the love of his life, Gala, was no longer there with him.

As such, this paper will expound on the life of Salvador Dali, namely, it will focus on his early life, the impacts that he had on Surrealism, the success of his works, the way the society regarded Dali as well as his works and, finally, the criticisms that he received regarding his personal life as well as his paintings; the paper will also highlight on his personal life, how he developed his talent in art, the factors that influenced him and led him to join the Surrealist movement, the impact his wife Gala had on his life as an artist, and his life after leaving Surrealism.

The Early Days of Dali

Salvador Dali was born on 11 May, 1904. He shared the same name with his father and elder brother who had died in 1903 because of meningitis. His father was the only solicitor in Catalina. As a result of the influence that he had and the respect that he had earned from the community, he hoped that his son, Dali, would take up his profession, and continue with his work to enhance his legacy.

However, this never came to be true as Dali pursued other interests in life. Consequently, the two had a tense relationship. His mother, Felipa Domenech, was a strong Christian professing the Roman Catholic faith. To ensure that her children had strong foundations in life and developed desirable morals, she raised them in accordance with the practices of the church.

Dali was enrolled in the Christian school in Figueres. It is in this school that he discovered his passion for art. In his book, The Shameful Life of Dali, he highlights one of his earliest memories while at school. He is in class; he closes his eyes to come up with a spontaneous image. The vision that comes to his mind is of two tall cypress trees that were of relatively the same height. From his desk, he sees two more paintings.

One of these paintings was a picture of a fox that was coming out of a cabin. The other picture was a replica of Millet’s Angelus that was originally done by Jean-François in the 19th century. The theme and concepts behind this painting astonished young Dali, especially the motionless images of the man and the woman.

His imagination pictured the context and the main idea of this image that consisted in the fact that the woman is a virgin who is waiting to be married, and the man who is sexually attracted to the woman, is excited which is why he hides his arousal by the hat that he is holding in his hands. Millet’s Angelus played a critical role in the future works of Dali. He used such a concept in some of his works as a central theme to express his imagination (Genzmer 77).

Accompanied by his parents, Dali visited the gravesite of his brother when he was about five years old. Although the two had actually never met, there was an immense connection between Dali and his late brother. The two shared the same name. Due to the connections that both of them had, Dali used images of his brother in most of the works that he painted during his entire life.

For instance, in 1963, Dali painted an image that was dedicated to his brother, Portrait of My Dead Brother (Genzmer 79). In his book, the Secret Life of Dali, he stated that, “…we resembled each other like two drops of water, but we had different reflections. He was probably a first version of myself but conceived too much in the absolute” (Dali 2).

As a young boy, Dali suffered from asthma. His condition became worse with time, perhaps due to the environment of his home area. To make sure their son lived in a good environment, his parents took Dali to live with one of their family friends, Ramon Pichot, who lived in the country.

Pichot was a modern painter; his house was a converted mill with a tower. During the time spent together with the Pichot family, Dali’s imagination and talent were at his zenith. He loved to spend most of his time at the top of the tower. There, he would imagine himself as a dictator or a tyrant. Being the leader in his dreams, Dali regarded all the subjects surrounding him as slaves for the fulfillment of his personal and egocentric thirst for power, control of people and respect.

Dali had been having these imaginations since the time he lived with his parents in Figueres. Other than having these imaginations, it is at the Pichot’s house that Dali’s talent in art was discovered. The dining room of the Pichot home was decorated with art paintings, all of which were originals. The family was also renowned for their eccentric work in music and art. Under the influence and the directions of Ramon Pichot, Dali started painting.

According to Dali, the fact that he attended a drawing school gave him the opportunity to explore his imagination that was earlier not very bright and vivid due to the absence of an academic education. In his earlier days when he was living with his parents, his mother had noticed his passion for art and had encouraged him to draw. However, the excellence that Ramon identified in his works was remarkable.

It is due to this fact that the Pichot family persuaded Dali’s father to enroll him in the Academy of Fine Arts in Madrid for the teenager to fully identify, develop and explore his talent in art. His father was always reluctant to this idea probably because he wanted his son to follow his career steps. However, after a number of Ramon Pichot’s persuasions, he agreed for Dali to join the Academy of Fine Arts in Madrid in 1922 (Creed 14)

Prior to his enrolment in the Academy of Fine Arts, Dali faced another challenge in his life, the death of his mother. Felipa Domenech died in early 1921 from breast cancer. She was Dali’s mentor in life. She believed in him and supported him in almost everything that he did.

Dali had a profound love for his mother, and the fact that she had gone had a huge psychological impact on the teenager. Dali described the death of his mother as, “…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” (Dali 153).

His greatest fear, however, was the fact that his mother would be completely forgotten by people by the people. As a result, Dali vowed that he would go out of his length to ensure that his name would never be forgotten. This was perhaps the main source of motivation that made him become a successful artist in his later life leaving behind a career of solicitor his father had always wanted him to follow.

In 1922, Dali moved to Madrid where he joined the Academy of Fine Arts. It is in this institution that the life of Dali both as an individual and as an artist began to take form. While interacting with other students, he developed strong friendship bonds with people who would later become influential figures in Spain and the world at large.

However, the friendship that he made with Luis Bunuel and Federico Garcia Lorca was the most important since they played a critical role in establishing his future life (Rodriguez 34). Luis Bunuel was a student of the Natural History Department.

He would later on end up becoming one of the most successful filmmakers and directors in Spain. Federico Garcia, on the other hand, was a writer and a poet. By the time Dali met him, Spain had already commenced recognizing his talent in writing. While living in the campus of the Academy of Arts in Madrid, Dali reported that there was present segregation based on academic excellence and career among students.

Given the fact that he was from a small village in Spain and the fact that his works were not renowned at the time, most students regarded Dali as a backward individual with a funny taste and style (Creed 87). Despite this fact, the relationship that Dali had with Luis Bunuel and Federico Garcia led to the development and creation of a small group of artists united by their immense talents.

When studying at the Academy, Dali was working on a cubist canvass. He was not familiar with the cubist movement, or its ideologies. He only had a vague idea of the movement from the information that he had gathered from the magazines and books he was given by Ramon Pichot while he was living with his family.

Nonetheless, Dali had fully mastered the artistic concepts of the cubic movement. Thus, while working on one of the cubic canvasses in his room, a student noticed this piece of painting. He was amazed by the painting and Dali’s talent in general.

Immediately after that, he disseminated the information on the potential that Dali possessed. It is at this point that the other students accepted Dali into their realm of intellectual students because he was talented as they were. With his new friends, Dali became aware of the feeling of success. He also had a sense of belonging since he was constantly interacting with students and people of the same intellectual level.

Although Dali was good at school and had started to establish a strong base for his future career, his attitude and traits of character failed him on several occasions. As a result of his conduct, Dali was expelled twice from the Academy of Fine Arts. In the last case occurred, Dali was expelled because of the unrest that he had caused developed. He believed that he was better and more highly qualified than his professors were (Gibson 149).

Dali was supposed to expound on Raphael Sanzio, a Renaissance painter from Italy. Raphael was one of the artists that Dali looked up to. Therefore, he told his professors that he knew much more about Raphael as compared to all three of them put together (Rodriguez 65). These utterances enraged the professors that caused Dali’s expulsion from the Academy of Fine Arts. As a result, Dali never sat for his final exams.

This incident also played a critical role in destroying the relationship that Dali had with his father who felt bitter because of his son’s actions. Dali’s father had now given up hope that his son would ever have an official career. On his arrival back home, Dali made a pencil drawing of his father and sister. From the drawing, the bitterness that his father was feeling at that moment clearly imprinted on his face. This drawing became one of his most successful works during those times.

Entry into Surrealism and Rise to Success

After being expelled from the Academy of Fine Arts in Madrid, Dali returned to his home in Figueres, where Dali continued to pursue his passion for painting despite his father’s disapproved. The Basket of Bread, a painting that Dali made in the year 1926 is one of his early works that were successful and gained him a lot of recognition as an artist. Dali, however, changed some styles and design of his paintings during the late 1920s. The concepts of his new paintings followed quite a different style called Surrealism.

Dali initial paintings had a modern concept or a classical concept. In some of his early works, a mixture of the two concepts was present. He always stressed on the fact that his passion for art was influenced by great artists of the Renaissance period, in particular, such artists as Raphael Sanzio and Diego Velazquez, after whom he grew his iconic mustache. Dali regarded these individuals as the greatest painters of all times. In an interview, Dali stated that Velazquez was a genius as well as a great painter (Target 114).

The quality of his works was always magnificent. As a result, he believed that he would never make paintings that would reach the levels of Velazquez. He said as a joke that if he would manage to make a painting that was as good as Velazquez’s, then he would definitely die. Thus, since he wanted to live longer, he would continue to make paintings that are of a lower quality than those of Diego Velazquez.

Dali’s interest in Surrealism grew after reading several editions of La Revolution Surrealiste, a surrealist magazine that covered the works of people who were part of movement and believed in it. In the magazine, Dali saw the works painted by Catalonian artists. The concepts and styles found on the canvasses presented in the magazine touched Dali’s emotions and feelings.

Within time, Dali adopted the concept that enabled him to explore his creativity and imagination to deeper depths. It is due to this influence that Dali developed an iconic style of his own, being the style of painting that he was recognized with for the rest of his life.

When he was a student, some of Dali’s early works were presented in several exhibitions in the Catalan capital that were situated in Barcelona. It is in that place that the works of other great artists of the time, such as Pablo Picasso and Joan Miro were also displayed. The great success that they enjoyed from the works of renowned artists, such as Picasso and Miro, the Catalonian art promoters wanted to develop the talents of upcoming artists to guarantee the sustainability of their art culture as well as their movement in the long run.

Therefore, presenting the works of a young artist, such as Dali was one of their main motives. In the art galleries, Dali’s work caught the attention of the public. According to JA Maragal, a Catalonian art dealer, the work of Dali was extraordinary; it was realistic with a lot of sense (Torok 141).

Maragal exhibited Dali’s work in his art gallery during the fall of 1926. During this time, the public was astonished by the quality of work as well as the talent that the young writer had. The public tried to determine the message that Dali’s work was trying to convey. There were demonstrations as well as protests regarding Dali’s work. Press posted cartoons in newspapers and magazines as a means of trying to fully understand the ideas presented by Dali. As a result, all his works were sold out.

The success of Dali’s work in Catalina played a significant role in developing his reputation and credibility. Joan Miro became familiar with the works of Dali because of the success during the exhibition. He had a lot of admiration for the talent of the young artist. As a result, he introduced Dali to Pablo Picasso who was living in Paris at that time.

In the same year, Dali went to Paris for the first time in his life. There, he had the chance to finally meet Picasso. With the guidance and directions of these two artists, Dali managed to develop his talent to a greater extent. It is in Paris that Dali finally understood Surrealism and the idea behind the movement.

During the 1920s, Paris was regarded as the cultural city of the world. It is also during this time that Surrealism was at its heights, and it is in Paris where its impacts were felt the most. Andre Breton headed the movement (Creed 91). Surrealism was a movement that explored the functioning of thought.

The followers of the movement achieved this goal through the different forms of writing as well as their works of art. All these works explored their imagination and creativity. As the leader, Breton was responsible for coming up with the ideologies and guidelines that the followers of the movement were to follow. In 1924, for instance, Breton developed the surrealist manifesto that was used to define Surrealism, its goals and objectives, and the overall purpose of the group (Bokay 45).

By means of surrealism and the directions of Picasso and Miro, Dali developed a new style of art. Prior to his introduction into Surrealism, Dali’s work had been mainly based on impressionism, futurism and cubism (Bokay 45). However, after he had become a follower of the Surrealist movement, his painting concepts changed totally. The main themes that were present in his new works included an extensive of use of collage, sexual symbolism, and imagery.

The idea behind his paintings originated from his dreams. In an interview, Dali once told that he loved to sleep because it is through his dreams that he managed to get the ideas to work on and, consequently, develop them (Torok 140). To enhance on his ideas, Dali utilized classical techniques that were present in the works of artists such as Raphael and Velazquez to enhance his own hallucinatory thoughts.

Therefore, with the help of Surrealism, Dali came up with a completely new style of art. This style not only led to his success but also differentiated him from other surrealist painters. With the help of his works, Dali made a huge contribution to Surrealism; he developed the paranoiac-critical method, a technique that artists can use to capture images from their subconscious mind (Target 119).

This concept was effective as it enhanced the development of creativity and originality in the works of artists under the surrealism movement. With this concept, Dali and other Surrealist artists managed to transform their dreams and subconscious thoughts into reality. Through this technique, Dali believed that he had the power to determine what reality could and could not exist.

As a result of his work and contributions to the art, in general, Dali ended up being one of the most influential figures of the Surrealism movement between 1929 and 1934. In addition to the paranoiac-critical method, the works of Dali employed other features and techniques. For instance, in one of his works titled, The Weaving of Furniture Nutrition that Dali painted in 1934, several techniques are presented.

At a glance, the picture looks normal. However, after a close investigation, one realizes that the picture has surreal components. The first thing that one notes is the crutch that has been used to support the back of the woman in the picture. This concept represents reversed laws of nature, one of the main features of Surrealism. Consequently, juxtaposition is presented by the fact that there are two chests in the picture.

The Ghost of Vermer of Delft is another marvelous work of art by Salvador Dali painted in 1934. In this work, several features of Surrealism are also vividly expressed. First, the leg of the man is elongated, at the same time, representing the leg of the table. This concept is referred to as metamorphosis (Freud 26). The painting also has a strange form of lighting that has been used as a transformation technique to scare and surprise the viewer at the same time.

However, the most successful work that Dali created during this time was the Persistence of Memory. Before completing this painting, Dali and Gala (who later became his wife and mentor) were to watch a motion film together in the theater. However, Dali changed his mind and decided to stay in, while Gala and her friends went to the theater. While at the dining table, Dali was thinking about the super-soft nature of the cheese that they had just eaten.

After that he went to the studio to have one last look at the painting, a routine check that he always had. The painting represented the landscape of Port Llegat with an olive tree that had neither branches, nor leaves. He felt at that very moment that something was missing in the painting that would surely give it an element of surprise. Suddenly, he came up with an idea, and added three soft watches, one of them hanging on the olive tree.

When Galo came back from the theatre, Dali showed her the painting and asked her if she would forget this image after three years time. Gala said that no one would ever forget it once they had laid eyes on it. Surprisingly, she told the truth, and the painting was a success.

Reaction to his Work and Personality

Despite the success that Dali was enjoying as a surrealist painter, he also experienced a lot of criticism for his work and paintings, especially from his fellow Surrealists. In 1934, Dali painted a controversial picture, The Enigma of William Tell. The main theme of this painting was sexuality and death that were presented by the enlarged buttocks of Lennon leading to his disfiguration.

The alteration of this character questioned Dali’s motives amongst other Surrealist, and he was summoned to the Surrealism headquarters for a trial (Freud 26). Other than his paintings, Dali’s political ideologies were also questionable. It was believed at this time that he embraced fascism under the Nazi movement. At the same time, Dali supported Francisco Franco who was the leader of the rebel army during the Spanish Civil war of 1936-1939.

Under the leadership of Breton, Surrealists were leftist supporters. Therefore, the fact that Dali supported Franco proved that his ideologies did not match the ones professed by the movement. Because of these encounters, Dali was formally expelled from the Surrealist movement. However, it is believed that there were other personal differences between Breton and Dali that might have led to his expulsion from the movement.

Despite all these, Dali still maintained Surrealist ideologies in his later paintings. However, when he moved to the United States of America, Dali changed his style to classicism. With its techniques, Dali explored new ideas that enabled him to maintain his success. In the early 1940s, the Museum of Modern Art in New York displayed the work of Dali.

This exhibition had a positive appraisal from American painters as well as the public. In 1942, Dali released his book, The Secret Life of Dali. In USA, Dali became a celebrity; he was even featured in The Time Magazine as the greatest artist of the first half of the 20th century. However, another aspect of his personality started to develop slowly, his notoriety.

While people in Spain were familiar with this, the Americans were surprised when Dali smashed the window of a shop in New York that had altered the design that he had come up with. However, despite this, he continued to gather public support, for instance, some of his fans, Mr. and Mrs. Reynolds Morse played a crucial role in founding the Salvador Dali Museum. During the 1960s and 1970s, Dali spent much of his time developing the Dali Theatre and Museum in Figueres where he was later buried.


Dali has been one of controversial artists of all times. From the very beginning, he became the most renowned artist of the 20th century. With his talent and imaginations, he used different techniques and developed several methods that not only made him a leading figure of the surreal movement, but also played a critical role in the financial success and fame that he managed to gain. As a result, Dali has been regarded as one of the most successful artists of all times.

Works Cited

Bokay, Antal. “Psychoanalysis and Surrealism: Dali’s visit at Freud.” International Journal of Art and Design 3.1 (1997): 44-48. Print

Creed, Barbara. The Monstrous-Feminine, Routledge: London, 1993. Print

Dali, Salvador. The Secret Life of Salvador Dalí, New York: Dover, 1942. Print

Freud, Sigmund. The Interpretation of Dreams, Budapest: Helikon Kiadó, 1993. Print

Genzmer, Herbert. Dali, Budapest: Vincze Kiadó, 2000. Print

Gibson, Ian. The Shameful Life of Salvador Dali, New York: Norton, 1999. Print.

Hesse, Hermann. A Little Theology, Madrid: Cartaphilius, 2001. Print

Rodriguez, Perera. Geniuses of Art: Dali. London: Sage, 2001. Print.

Target, Mary. “Phantoms of the Unconsciousness.” Thalassa, 3.9 (2000): 112-123. Print

Torok, Maria. “Hidden Mourning and Secret Love.” Thalassa 1.9 (1998): 123-157. Print

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