Salvador Dalí was born in Figueras, Catalonia, in 1904. He was both artistic and eccentric from an early age. He later claimed that the death of his older brother, also called Salvador, nine months before he was born, contributed to his intense desire for attention and bizarre behaviour. Dalí began studying at the San Fernando Academy of Fine Arts in Madrid in 1921 but was expelled 3 years later for rebellious behaviour. This included refusing to take an examination because he felt that the teachers were not qualified to judge his work. However, his talent had already earned him a successful one-man show at the Galeria Dalmau in Barcelona.
Dalí experimented with various styles but settled on Surrealism. He made the first Surrealist film, Un Chien Andalou, in 1929. During the next few years Dalí painted some of his most famous pictures. The Persistence of Memory, from 1931, is on display in the Museum of Modern Art in New York. His works were filled with bizarre double images and he used a detailed, realistic technique to create imaginative scenes that he called his ‘hand-painted dream photographs’. In 1936 he attended the International Surrealist Exhibition in London and gave a lecture dressed in a diver’s suit. This was just one of his publicity stunts.
In 1939 Dalí quarrelled with the founding father of Surrealism, Breton, and was officially expelled from the movement. However he had already begun to produce more naturalistic pieces due to the Renaissance art that he saw on his numerous visits to Italy. He left Europe when war broke out and lived in America until 1948. During this time he produced numerous paintings and the first of his colourful autobiographies, The Secret Life of Salvador Dalí. He also became involved in design work including a dream sequence for Alfred Hitchcock’s 1945 film, Spellbound.
Dalí’s later paintings included strongly sexual pieces featuring his wife and also religious works. Of these, the Christ of St John of the Cross is on display in the St Mungo Museum, Glasgow. It was bought by Glasgow City Art Gallery in 1952 and was highly controversial because of its excessively high price. Other religious works include Crucifixion which is on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and The Sacrament of the Last Supper that hangs in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.
Dalí produced the second of his autobiographical works, entitled Diary of a Genius, in 1964. However, towards the end of his life Dalí became a recluse. He died in 1989. Two museums are dedicated to his work. The Teatre-Museu Dalí was established in Figueras, Spain in 1974, and the Salvador Dalí Museum in St Petersburg, Florida, was established in 1982.
Throughout his life Dalí was a painter, draughtsman, printmaker, designer, sculptor, film-maker, and writer. He was also one of the leading figures in Surrealism. However, it was none of these but it was actually his enormous talent for self-publicity that made him an international celebrity.