Katie Cooke - Salvador Dali and his Portraits

Early Life

Salvador Dali was born May 11, 1904 in the small Spanish town of Figueras. Salvador had an older brother that died none months before he was born, also named Salvador. The second Salvador was seen as the reincarnation as the first, and this is why his parents chose to name him Salvador. Told this by his parents, Dali admitted later in his life that "the ghostly memory of this lost sibling" was to haunt him until he died (Biography). His parents saw Salvador as their second chance, and so he was spoiled growing up.

When he was just ten years old, he began to paint, and around thirteen years of age, he was painting with astounding talent. Early in his life, his parents and also some friends of the family, the Pichot, encouraged him. This family was full of artistic people, but it was Pepito Pichot, the patriarch of the family, that influenced Salvador most. At this point, his parents also encouraged this interest in art by converting a room in the house into a studio for Salvador to paint in. During this period, Salvador was painting in an Impressionistic style. Most of his works were of the landscapes around his province of Catalunya. He started to have exhibitions of his work; the first one was arranged by his father when Salvador was thirteen years old.

After a few more shows, Salvador started studying under the tutelage of Juan Nunez in 1918, at the age of fourteen. He experimented with Impressionism and Pointillism. In 1921, the same year that his mother died, Salvador entered the San Fernando Academy of Fine Arts in Madrid, where he became part of the young Spanish artistic elite. He started experimenting with Cubism while his peers were still studying Impressionism, which he had already mastered. Dali was seen as an odd personality around campus. The San Fernando Academy suspended him in 1923 on charges of inciting a riot against school officials. In 1924, he was imprisoned for five weeks on charges of government subversion. He returned to school in 1925, only to be expelled a year later because he refused to take his final exams. Salvadorís father disowned him because of his pattern of outrageous behavior. After serving nine months in the military, Salvador traveled around Europe. It is this period in his life that was the most influential in his work.



Between 1928-1929, Salvador first read Sigmund Freudís The Interpretation of Dreams. His study of Freudís theory of the unconscious is what led him to become one of Surrealismís best painters. This is the style that he is best known for, although he experimented with Impressionism, Pointillism, Cubism, Futurism and Metaphysical painting. Miro introduced him to the French Surrealists, led by Andre Breton. He was also introduced to Gala Eluard, who was married at the time to the French poet Paul Eluard. The two fell in love instantly; Gala became Salvadorís friend, companion, manager, lover and muse. She was his only female model and shows up in many of his pictures. They were married in a civil ceremony in 1934.

In 1930, Salvador expounded his Paranoic Critical method of thinking. This thinking process is the ability to simulate a paranoid state and paint the images that are seen while in that state. Dali called these "hand painted dream photographs." These Surrealist paintings feature "wild juxtapositions of animals, objects and biomorphic shapes, usually placed in the harshly lit landscapes of his native Catalan" (Salvador Dali Prints).

Between 1934-1937, he had a formal break with the Surrealist group. The reasons given are many; according to Fine Art Painting Gallery, his political views (including the support of General Franco) and his desire to adopt a more traditional style led to his expulsion. Art Cult says that his fascination towards Hitler was responsible for the break. Salvador Dali Prints says that it was Daliís betrayal of his old friend Luis Bunuel; in his autobiography, Dali described Bunuel as an atheist and a communist, which resulted in Bunuel being fired from his job at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Whatever the reasons, Dali began to focus on more traditional and universal themes.


It is during this period that he also began to dabble in all sorts of types of artistic expression, in addition to painting. Between the late 1930s and the early 1980s, Dali wrote novels; he designed sets, costumes and wrote plots for ballets and plays; he designed jewelry; he collaborated on movies and cartoons; he contributed to journals; he illustrated books; and he sculpted. Dali also experimented with new types of visual art, like holograms and stereoscopic installation pieces.

In 1964, Dali was awarded the Grand Cross of Isabella the Catholic, one of Spainís highest awards. After developing palsy in 1980 and suffering the death of his true love, Gala, in 1982, Dali went into a deep depression and severely decreased his artistic output. Spainís king, Juan Carlos, gave him the title of Marques de Dali de Pubol for his contribution to Spanish culture the same year. In 1983, he painted his last picture, The Swallowtail, and in 1985 Dali started designing a plaza for the city of Madrid. The square was built in 1986, and consists of the one ton sculpture Homage to Newton. For the next few years of his life, Dali lived quietly in an apartment next to the Teatro Museo, the museum that he opened in Figueras. After his death in 1989, he was buried in a crypt in the Teatro Museo and his estate was divided between the cities of Madrid and Figueras.


Although he is not known for his portraits, Salvador Dali did produce a number of them. These portraits became more refined as Daliís style evolved. Early portraits were done in the Impressionistic style that he was experimenting with. Many of these were of the landscape, with Dali as the subject; Self-Portrait with the Neck of Raphael (1920-1921), Self-Portrait in the Studio, Cadaques (1919), and Self-Portrait (1921) are included in this group. Portraits of other people from this period include Portrait of Hortensia, Peasant Woman of Cadaques (1918-1919) and Portrait of Lucia (1918). Lucia was Daliís nurse when he was a child, and he left a deep impression on him. This was one of the first portraits he painted.


In 1925, Dali painted a portrait of his father, Portrait of the Artistís Father.
This portrait clearly expresses the intimidating presence that the senior Dali had.
This feeling is made obvious because of "the pose of the sitter, the construction of the picture, the lighting,
and the neo-realistic technique inspired by Andre Derain
" (Descharnes, 1985).

After meeting Paul and Gala Eluard in 1929, Daliís surrealistic influences can be seen in the portraits that he painted of them. In most of his Surrealistic paintings, Dali included a lionís head, a grasshopper and a profile of himself, among other "general symbols derived from psychiatric and psychoanalytical literature" (Verittas, 2002 & Schneede, 1973). These elements are visible in Portrait of Paul Eluard (1929) and in untitled colorplates of Gala done in the early 1930s. His Illuminated Pleasures (1929), one of his most famous paintings, contains a horizontal self-portrait done in profile, which is common in his paintings, especially the Surrealistic ones. The Persistence of Memory (1931), with its melting clocks (a Dali trademark), also has this horizontal self-portrait done in profile. Other Surrealistic self-portraits can be seen in The Grand Masturbateur (1929), and Sleep (1937), seen below:

The Grand Masturbateur



Dali often compared himself to Pablo Picasso because of their common Surrealist background, and in Portrait of Picasso (1947) he made a direct comparison through painting. Soft Self-Portrait with Grilled Bacon (1941) has a very similar composition as the Picasso portrait. Dali portrayed another contemporary figure in Portrait of Mae West (1935), seen here:

Portrait of Mae West
Portrait of Gala
Daliís favorite subject to paint was his muse and his wife, Gala. Portrait of Gala (1935), seen left, is less enigmatic than much of his other work. In it, Dali pays homage to Jean-Francois Milletís The Angelus (1859) by painting his own version of it.


Gala is featured in more abstract paintings, as well. One Second Before Awakening from a Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee Around a Pomegranate (1944), shown below, features a nude Gala, as do others. Galarina (1944-1945) is from Daliís classical period. More abstract paintings, shown below, are My Wife, Nude, Contemplating Her Own Flesh Becoming Stairs, Three Vertebrate of a Column, Sky and Architecture (1945), Galatea of the Spheres (1952). Gala Contemplating the Mediterranean Sea Which at Twenty Meters Becomes the Portrait of Abraham Lincoln (Homage to Rothko) (1977) is a dual portrait of both Gala and Abraham Lincoln.


One Second Before Awakening from a Dream Caused
by the Flight of a Bee Around a Pomegranate

My Wife, Nude, Contemplating Her Own Flesh Becoming Stairs,
Three Vertebrate of a Column, Sky and Architecture


Galatea of the Spheres


Gala Contemplating the Mediterranean Sea Which at Twenty Meters Becomes the Portrait of Abraham Lincoln (Homage to Rothko)


Dali painted some portraits where he included both Gala and himself. The Hallucinogenic Toreador(1968-1970) is done in the more classical style that Dali painted in after Surrealism, contrasted with the abstractness of Patient Lovers (1970), shown below.

Patient Lovers
(Apparition of a Stereoscopic Face in the Ampurdan Landscape)

As can be seen from the above portraits, Dali was an accomplished artist and was able to paint in many styles. He experimented with Impressionism, Cubism, Pointillism, Futurism, Metaphysical painting, Photo Realism, Neo-Realism and Surrealism. Among his many accomplishments and contributions to the art world is his Paranoic Critical method, the stylized method of painting for which he became best known. In his lifetime, he became the most influential Surrealist painter. He also tried his hand at writing, illustrating, sculpture, cinema, theater and jewelry design. Salvador Dali was a Renaissance man for the twentieth century.


Works Referenced

Salvador Dali Prints. Appreciating Salvador Dali Prints: Married Life. Retrieved September 30, 2002 from the World Wide Web: http://www.salvadordali-prints.com/married.html
Fine Art Painting Gallery. Salvador Dali. Retrieved September 30, 2002 from the World Wide Web: http://www.fine-art-painting-gallery.com/dali.html
Dali Gallery. Surrealism. Retrieved September 30, 2002 from the World Wide Web: http://www.daligallery.com/html/surrealism.htm
Salvador Dali. Early Life. Retrieved September 30, 2002 from the World Wide Web: http://www.geocities.com/SoHo/5415/dali.html
Artelino. Salvador Dali. Retrieved September 30, 2002 from the World Wide Web: http://www.artelino.com/salvador_dali.asp
Dali Gallery. Biography. Retrieved September 30, 2002 from the World Wide Web: http://www.daligallery.com/html/bio.htm
Schneede, U. (1973). Surrealism: The Movement and the Masters. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc.
Art Cult. Salvador Dali. Retrieved September 30, 2002 from the World Wide Web: http://www/artcult.com/dali.htm
Verittas. Citing sources. Retrieved September 30, 2002 from the listserv: http://www.eeggs.com/items/2334.html
Descharnes, R. (1985). Salvador Dali. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc.

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