Salvador Dali: A 20th Century Artistic Genius by Krishna Mukkamala

Salvador Felipe Jacinto Dalí i Domenech, popularly known as Salvador Dalí, was born on May 11, 1904 in Figueres, Spain. This agricultural village near the Pyrenees foothills was a close sixteen miles from the French border. He was born to a prosperous notary and thus led a very comfortable childhood. Having observed Dalíís talents, his parents built him his first art studio in a Cadaques, a coastal fishing village. Later on, he moved to Port Lligat where he lived in a luxurious villa.

Dalíís true talents were recognized in the 1920s. For schooling, he attended the San Fernando Academy of Fine Arts in Madrid. After schooling, he received widespread recognition as a result of a one-man show he held in Barcelona in 1925. His earliest international recognition came because three of his paintings were exhibited in 1928 at the 3rd Annual Carnegie International Exhibition in Pittsburgh. After holding another one-man show in Paris, Dalí joined the Paris Surrealist Group, a group led by Andre Breton.

After joining the Surrealist group, Dalí met his future wife, Gala Eluard. She was married to the French poet Paul Eluard, but she became Dalí's "lover, muse, business manager, and chief inspiration" nonetheless. She was a significant inspiration for many of Dalíís most famous works and they got married in 1934.

When World War II started, Salvador Dalí left to the United States with his wife from 1940 to 1948. This temporary move to the United States was critical to his fame as an international artist. He received much recognition from the Museum of Modern Art in New York and even wrote his autobiography, The Secret Life of Salvador Dalí. The art community acknowledged him as a prolific artist making "paintings, graphic works, and book illustrations; and designs for jewelry, textiles, clothing, costumes, shop interiors, and stage sets."

After World War II ended, Dalí returned to Spain with his wife. Here they remarried in a Catholic chapel in 1958. This reconfirmation of his youth hood faith influenced also began to influence his art. In 1974, Dali opened his own museum, Teatro Museo Dalí in Figueres, which still houses many of his artworks today.

A significant turning point in the life of Dali was the death of his wife, Gala in 1982. After her death, his health began to deteriorate significantly. He lived a life of seclusion first in Galaís castle in Pubol, Spain and later in a room in his museum. In 1984, his health situation was made worse when he was burned in a fire in Galaís castle in Pubol, Spain. Two years later, a pacemaker was implanted in him in an attempt to extend his life. On January 23, 1989, Dalí died from respiratory problems and heart failure in the same city he was born.




Early Period

Daliís first period, the Early Period extended from approximately 1917-1928. This period contains the works from his teenage years until he was about 24 years old. The works in this period were highly reflective of the places he was brought up during his youth hood. Mainly, the paintings were of landscapes in northern Catalonia, Figueres, and Cadaques. There were many "picturesque landscapes" of his childhood home in Figueres and seaside images of Cadaques where his family owned a summer home. This images, having an underlying tone of romanticism, are seen throughout Daliís works even after the Early Period.

The Early Period was a time during which Dali was influenced by many other international artistic movements as well. Impressionism, Cubism, Realism, and Dutch Baroque are only some of the styles that Dali studied. Characteristics of these movements began to find their way into many of Daliís paintings.

Two major artworks during this period are the View of Cadaques with the Shadow of Mount Pani (1917) and Still Life: Sandia (1924).

Landscape - Cadaques
View of Cadaques with the Shadow of Mount Pani (1917)


Dali painted View of Cadaques with the Shadow of Mount Pani when he was just 13 years old. Daliís love for this type of Mediterranean landscape was a recurring motif throughout his artworks. This piece, in the impressionist style, is an oil painting on burlap, a material used often in the small fishing town to keep boat wood moist. Dali uses "small dabs of unmixed paint to create the sensation of seeing the entire landscape in a single glance." Dali is giving a magnificent sunset view of Mount Paniís shadow slowly reaching Cadaques.


Still Life - Sandia
Still Life: Sandia

  Daliís Early Period shows his experimenting with many different artistic styles. This 1924 painting Still Life: Sandia, shows the influence of Braqueís and Picassoís Cubism on Dali. This work in particular also shows "the influence of Spanish Cubist Juan Gris," an artist who was flexible in the style and genre of art he painted, a characteristic also seen in Dali. In this still life, elements such as the watermelon, pear, and grapes are reduced to geometric forms.



After the Early Period, Dali had a short-lived, one year Transitional Period that lasted from 1927 to 1928. During this period, Dali experimented heavily to develop an artistic style of his own. This included changing the types of canvases and paints that he used. For example, he created canvases with different textures such as sand and gravel. Adding elements of nature to his canvases were a common theme seen through the "rocks, cork, and other materials" he added onto the canvas. Dali soon became friends with Luis Buñuel, "soon to be one of Spain's most celebrated film makers," which influenced him to explore "taboo subject matter." As a result, "Dalí's imagery became more abstract and often grotesque" during this transitional era. Most of the art during this period was influenced by Surrealists, Joan Miró, Max Ernst, and Yves Tanguy as well as Cubists Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque. Despite this heavy influence of Surrealism artists, he was somewhat reserved about the Surrealism movement that had already started in Paris. Apparatus and Hand is an example of Daliís art during the Transitional Period.

Dalíís 1927 painting Apparatus and Hand, is representative of an impending change in his style of art. He was heavily influenced by Sigmund Freud's interpretation of reality and dreams. As a result, many Freudian concepts relating to dreams showed up in his artwork. In this work, Dali tried to represent a feeling of "dreamlike anxiety." The towering apparatus made of geometric shapes is teetering on two thin supports, which may fail at any time. Dali is hoping to "appall the viewer" make him consider than "our nightmares maybe as tangible as our daily reality." This work led into Dalíís experimentation with Surrealism.

Apparatus & Hand
Apparatus and Hand


Salvador Dali is most well known for the artwork he contributed to the Surrealism movement. As a formal movement, Surrealism was started by Andre Breton in Paris in 1924.

The Persistence of Memory
The Persistence of Memory, 1931


The movement of Surrealism was basically a reaction "against what its members saw as the destruction wrought by the Ďrationalismí that had guided European culture and politics in the past and had culminated in the horrors of World War I." The Surreal artists felt that they were reconnecting the "conscious and unconscious realms of experience."

Daliís interest in Surrealism was highly influenced by the psychologist Freud. He used Freudís theories to make sense of the division between dreams and reality. He explored the "fears and fantasies" that came in his dreams and represented his dreams in a "ultra-realistic, photographic style" on canvas. Very rapidly, Dali became the center of the Surrealist movement. Breton even commented that Dali "incarnated the surrealist spirit."

During his Surreal Period, Dali even produced films. Two of them are An Andalusian Dog in 1928 and The Golden Age in 1930. These two films are said to be classics of the Surrealist movement and are filled with "grotesque images". Of his paintings, however, The Persistence of Memory is the most well known internationally. As World War I started, Dali had some conflict with the Surrealist group and was kicked out in 1934. He then moved into his last period, the Classic Period.

Daliís 1931 Persistence of Memory is his most recognized work. The coastal landscapes and mountainous scenes of his childhood in Catalonia reappear in this painting. In this painting, Cape Creus is focused on in particular in the background. In the foreground, there are three watches that are seemingly melting in a real but actually fantastic way. These watches represent how time is irrelevant. Many of Daliís paintings were done at Cape Creus where he merrily spent his time with his wife, incognizant of the time. This contributed to the painting and the idea of the watches. The distorted face also gives it portrait-like elements. Daliís use of vivid color and imagery is also very notable. Overall, Dali may be trying to infer that though time passes and melts away, memories of our relationships and events in our lives will persist forever.

The Classic Period

Daliís Classic Period began after he was expelled from the Surreal group. This period lasted thirty years from 1940 to 1970. During this time, he focused on religious and scientific themes. About this change in his style of painting, he said "to be a Surrealist forever is like spending your life painting nothing but eyes and noses." The inspiration for this style came from Classical and Renaissance works. This was combined with a focus on modern science, religion, and mysticism. Many of the works during this time were large canvas paintings, being about five feet by five feet. Each painting took Dali about one year to paint. His 1952 to 1954 work, the Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory, can be juxtaposed to his previous Persistence of Memory to observe the changes in his style.

In this painting, Dali significantly changed his 1931 masterpiece Persistence of Memory. This "disintegration" is characteristic of the new scientific influences on his art. The rather peaceful older landscape has been disturbed by an atomic bomb, causing everything to be blown away from each other. The rectangular blocks and rhinoceros horns floating through space "metaphorically suggest that the world is formed of atomic particles that are constantly in motion". The watch, which was previously only melting, is now also ripping apart. This is a very loud statement about his beliefs of the potential of the atom bomb.

Disintigration of the Persistence of Memory
Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory



Daliís artistic genius lies in his flexibility. Throughout his lifetime, he never limited himself to any particular style of art or any media. Dali was continually evolving himself and his art as he moved from the Early to the Surreal to the Classic Periods. Even on an intellectual level, Dali was always on the cutting edge. He was one of the first to integrate Freudian theories about dreams in to his art. With his fascination of modern science, he revealed the effects of an atomic bomb on his beloved childhood landscape. Daliís use of symbolism and intellectual insight make him one of the finest 20th century contemporary artists.

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