Salvador Dali Biography (1904-1989)

Salvador Dali. Born Salvador Dalí on May 11, 1904, in Figueres, Spain, located 16 miles from the French border in the foothills of the Pyrenees Mountains. His father, Salvador Dalí y Cusi, was a middle class lawyer and notary. Salvador’s father had a strict disciplinary approach to raising children—a style of child-rearing which contrasted sharply with that of his mother, Felipa Domenech Ferres. She often indulged young Salvador in his art and early eccentricities. It has been said that young Salvador was a precocious and intelligent child, prone to fits of anger against his parents and schoolmates. Consequently, Dalí was subjected to furious acts of cruelty by more dominant students or his father. The elder Salvador wouldn’t tolerate his son’s outbursts or eccentricities, and punished him severely. Their relationship deteriorated when Salvador was still young, exacerbated by competition between he and his father for Felipa’s affection.

Dalí had an older brother, born nine months before him, also named Salvador, who died of gastroenteritis. Later in his life, Dalí often related the story that when he was five years old, his parents took him to the grave of his older brother and told him he was his brother’s reincarnation. In the metaphysical prose he frequently used, Dalí recalled, “[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.”

Salvador, along with his younger sister Ana Maria and his parents, often spent time at their summer home in the coastal village of Cadaques. At an early age, young Salvador was producing highly sophisticated drawings, and both his parents strongly supported his artistic talent. It was here that his parents built him an art studio before he entered art school.

Upon recognizing his immense talent, Dalí’s parents sent him to drawing school at the Colegio de Hermanos Maristas and the Instituto in Figueres, Spain in 1916. He was not a serious student, preferring to daydream in class and stand out as the class eccentric, wearing odd clothing and long hair. After that first year at art school, he discovered modern painting in Cadaques while vacationing with his family. There he also met Ramon Pichot, a local artist who frequently visited Paris. The next year, his father organized an exhibition of Salvador’s charcoal drawings in the family home. By 1919, Dalí had his first public exhibition at the Municipal Theater in Figueres.

In 1921, Salvador Dalí’s mother, Felipa, died of breast cancer. Dalí was 16, and her death devastated him. His father married his deceased wife’s sister, which did not endear the younger Dalí any closer to his father, though he respected his aunt. The father and son would battle over many different issues throughout their lives, until the elder Dalí’s death.

In 1922, Dalí enrolled in the Academia de San Fernando in Madrid, Spain, and stayed at the student residence. There he brought his eccentricity to a new level, wearing long hair and sideburns, and dressing in the style of English Aesthetes of the late 19th century. During his studies, he was influenced by several different artistic styles, including Metaphysics and Cubism, which earned him attention from his fellow students—even though he probably didn’t understand the Cubist movement entirely. In 1923, Dalí was suspended from the Academy for criticizing his teachers and allegedly starting a riot among students over the Academy’s choice of a professorship. That same year, he was arrested and briefly imprisoned in Gerona for allegedly supporting the Separatist movement, although Dalí was apolitical then and remained so throughout most of his life. He returned to the Academy in 1926, but was permanently expelled shortly before his final exams for declaring that no one on the faculty was competent enough to examine him

While in school, Dalí began exploring many forms of art including classical painters like Raphael, Bronzino, and Valzquez (from whom he adopted his signature curled moustache). He also dabbled in the most avant-garde art movements such as Dada, a post World War I anti-establishment cultural movement. While Dalí’s apolitical outlook on life prevented him from becoming a strict follower, the Dada philosophy influenced his work throughout his life.

In between 1926 and 1929, Dalí made several trips to Paris, and met with influential painters and intellectuals including Pablo Picasso, whom he revered. During this time, Dalí painted a number of works that displayed Picasso’s influence. He also met Joan Miro, the Spanish and sculptor who, along with poet Paul Eluard and Rene Magritte, introduced Dalí to Surrealism. By this time, Dalí was working with Impressionism, Futurism, and Cubism. Dalí’s paintings became associated with three general themes: depicting a measure of man’s universe and his sensations; the use of collage; and objects charged with sexual symbolism, and ideographic imagery.

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