The full name of this eccentric genius was Salvador Felipe Jacinto Dalí i Domènech. He was first and foremost a surrealist painter, but was also a sculptor, engraver, film illustrator, stage designer and writer. His developed a personal style that is instantly recognizable, the most famous example being his painting “The Persistence of Memory”: showing a sparse landscape with soft clocks draped like cloths in the foreground.
Salvador Dalí was born in Figueras, in the north east of Spain near the French border. He had an elder brother who died nine months before he was born, also called Salvador. At the age of five Dalí’s parents took him to their son’s grave and told him he was a reincarnation of his brother. This event affected Dali for the rest of his life causing major identity problems.
Dalí discovered painting at the age of 11 and started exhibiting his work as a teenager, as well as writing about art in literary publications. At the age of 16 he was devastated by the death of his mother and when his father re-married his dead wife’s sister, Dali was unable to reconcile himself to the relationship and later became completely estranged from his father. At the age of 21 he moved to Madrid to study art and started to develop his eccentric dandy image wearing Victorian clothes and growing his hair long. He formed part of the cultural movements of the time and in 1926 he was expelled from the art school for publicly claiming that there was no one in art school good enough to examine him. Dali’s style drew inspiration from the great masters and became fundamental to the surrealist movement. He created a “paranoid-critical” method enabling the artist to reach into the subconscious mind.
Dalí’s narcissistic, publicity-seeking behaviour often irritated both his fans and his detractors. In 1934 Dali was invited to the United States where he and his partner Gala offered a masque ball to New York high society. They scandalized the assembled company by dressing up as the Lindbergh baby and his kidnapper, a still recent traumatic event in the States. After considerable pressure he issued an uncharacteristic public apology.
Despite being a public figure throughout the period of Spanish Civil War, the Second World War and the dictatorship of General Franco, Dalí always insisted on his apolitical stance. He fled to the United States during periods of danger and was later suspected of fascist sympathies because of his apparent goodwill towards Franco.
In later life he returned to Spain and amongst many other activities designed publicity campaigns and even the 1968 Eurovision Song Contest stage. By the 1980s his health had seriously deteriorated and on the death of his Gala, his “muse” he lost the will to live. In 1982 he was awarded the title Marquis of Púbol by King Juan Carlos. Dalí passed away at the age of 85.