Dalí, Salvador (1904-1989), Spain

1904-1989 | European Art

A multifaceted artist, Dalí worked in painting, sculpture and engraving, as well as set design, film, advertising and design; he also wrote. Especially well-known for his role in Surrealism, Dalí developed a personal art that today is considered synonymous with this movement.



Born in Figueres (Girona) on 11th May 1904, he was the second son of the notary Salvador Dalí Cusí and Felipa Domènech Ferrès. Baptised with the same name as his deceased brother, Salvador, this was to make its mark on the artist.

From childhood he was already demonstrating his predilection for the plastic arts. After a mediocre school career, his father agreed to let him study Fine Arts, leading to his move to Madrid.

At the age of 18 he entered the San Fernando Royal Academy of Fine Arts. His training was marked by his rebellious spirit, and he was even expelled from the school temporarily. During his year away from the school after his expulsion, Dalí returned to Figueres and studied engraving with his former teacher Juan Núñez. At this time he also came across Cubism for the first time, and on his return to the Academy a year later his language had been transformed by his personal explorations. Later he was absent from the Academy of Fine Arts for a whole academic year, leading to his permanent expulsion.

The contacts he made at Madrid’s Residencia de Estudiantes where he lived were also crucial during his training period, in particular his friendship with Federico García Lorca and Luis Buñuel. He formed a significant, albeit brief, friendship with the former, cut short by the poet’s assassination, and the latter would go down in posterity due to the pair’s work on the films Un Chien Andalou (“An Andalusian Dog”), in 1929, and L’Age d’Or (“The Golden Age”), in 1930.

In 1925 he took part in the First Exhibition of the Iberian Artists’ Society, and held his first solo exhibition at Galeries Dalmau (Barcelona). In 1926 he travelled to Paris for the first time, where he was to meet Picasso and visit the Louvre Museum. However, it was not until 1929 that he came into contact with the Surrealist group through Joan Miró, when Surrealist themes were already emerging in Dalí’s work.

That same year, after the premiere of the film Un Chien Andalou, he spent the summer in Cadaqués where he was visited by Luis Buñuel, René Magritte and his wife, the gallery owner Camille Goemans and his companion, Paul Éluard with Gala and their daughter, Cécile. Dalí was to start his relationship with Gala here, marrying her in 1934. Their marriage lasted until she died in 1982, just seven years before Salvador Dalí.


In his early period we can see how he combined the influence of classicism, especially the work of artists like Ingres and Velázquez, as well as avant-garde movements like Cubism and metaphysical painting, already visible in his first solo exhibitions in 1925. Salvador Dalí soon developed his own unique, easily identifiable style.

In 1929 Dalí joined Bretón’s Surrealist movement and took part in the group’s collective exhibitions, as well as holding his own exhibitions, publishing books and releasing films. In 1930 he invented what he considered to be his great contribution to the movement, the “paranoiac-critical method” [1], based on depicting an image formed from other images, as if it were an inner or subconscious image, the perception of which depends on the viewer. Examples of this are his works The Great Paranoiac (1936), Swans Reflecting Elephants (1937) and Slave Market with the Disappearing Bust of Voltaire (1940).

It is his individual performances, however, sometimes contrary to the opinions of other members of the movement, which led to arguments with them until his eventual expulsion from the group in 1939. In this year, Bretón published his article “The most recent trends in Surrealist painting”, omitting Dalí. The artist reacted to this with the famous maxim, “I am Surrealism!”, this being proven by him not making any changes to his work or his language after departing from the movement.

Despite the strong link between Dalí’s work with Surrealism and the themes explored in it, Dalí was undoubtedly interested in other topics as well. He researched subjects in other areas far removed from Surrealism, such as quantum and nuclear physics, mathematics, and optics; he read Stephen Hawking, the mathematician René Thom, and Ramon Llull, a medieval thinker who advocated the fusion between science and religion. All these interests are reflected in works like The Three Sphinxes of Bikini from 1947, The Madonna of Port Ligat from 1950, Raphaelesque Head Exploding from 1951, and Gala Placidia. Galatea of the Spheres from 1952.

However, his interests were not limited to the themes seen in his works. Dalí also worked in cinema, design and advertising, he wrote, did performances and made videos and, frankly speaking, his whole life and character are conceived as a work of art in itself, like a life performance.



[1] Which Dalí himself defines as “spontaneous method of irrational knowledge based on the critical and systematic objectivity of the associations and interpretations of delirious phenomena”.
Taken from: https://www.3minutosdearte.com/generos-y-tecnicas/el-metodo-paranoico-critico-de-dali/ [date consulted: 01/02/2023]

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RUIZ, Carme, 2010. “Salvador Dalí y la ciencia, más allá de una simple curiosidad”. Centro de Estudios Dalinianos. Gala-Salvador Dalí Foundation [online]. In: https://www.salvador-dali.org/es/investigacion-centro-de-estudios-dalinianos/archivo-online/textos-en-descarga/16/salvador-dali-y-la-ciencia-mas-alla-de-una-simple-curiosidad  [date consulted: 01/02/2023]




[Date of access: 01/02/2023]