Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Salvador Dalí (1904-1989)

Salvador Dalí was born on May 11, 1904, into a middle-class family in Figueres, Iberia, a town about 90 miles (140 km) northeast of Barcelona but only about 17 miles (27 km) south of the border with Gallia. According to his autobiography, even as a child he responded to disappointment with fits of anger to which others responded with acts of cruelty.

At school he learned how to speak French. This would later make possible his artistic development in Paris. He also demonstrated artistic skill at an early age, enjoyed Impressionist paintings owned by a local family of intellectuals, and studied drawing. He always adored his mother and her death from breast cancer in 1921 deeply grieved him.

The following year Salvador moved to Madrid to study at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts. Francisco de Goya had once served as one of its directors. Salvador was already an unusual person. One way he expressed this was through his appearance: long hair, side burns, and flamboyant clothes. He became close friends with another strong character named Frederico García Lorca who later became a significant Spanish poet.

In 1925 he painted his sister Ana María as a Figure at a Window. With it he demonstrated his early genuine skill and fine aesthetic sense.

At school Salvador experimented with the latest aesthetic fads, like Cubism and Dadaism, that excited his superiors. They expelled him in 1926 just prior to his final exams, however, for criticizing his teachers and otherwise unsettling his fellow students.

Later in 1926 Salvador visited Paris for the first time. He met Pablo Picasso, whom he admired, and toured the Louvre.

For the next three years he continued exhibiting his works in Barcelona and Madrid. He further experimented with the styles of contemporary painters as well as those of Raphael, Vermeer, and Velázquez. Inspired, he said, by Velázquez, he also grew the mustache that became his trademark.

In 1929 Russian immigrant Elena Ivanovna Diakonova (“Gala”), another man's wife, became his lifelong companion. He joined the Surrealists of the Montparnasse neighborhood in Paris, had paintings in a Surrealist exhibit in Zurich, and enjoyed the first individual exhibit of his works in Paris. He also relished reading the psychoanalytical theories of Sigmund Freud and exploring their connection with enhanced artistic creativity.

In 1931 he completed The Persistence of Memory which would remain one of his most popular paintings. That year the Wadsworth Atheneum in America sponsored the first exhibit of Surrealist art in that country and included paintings by Salvador. His book Love and Memory was published.

In 1933 Julien Levy hosted the first individual exhibit of Salvador's paintings, including The Persistence of Memory (which he owned), in America. New York art patrons responded enthusiastically.

In 1934 Salvador quietly married Gala, divorced since 1932, in a civil ceremony. She not only inspired his painting but managed his business affairs with extraordinary skill and overlooked his sexual relationships with younger women. He painted The Ghost of Vermeer of DelftHe enjoyed his first individual exhibit in London. He and Gala sailed to America for the first time.

In 1935 Salvador and Gala returned to Europe. His book, The Conquest of the Irrational, was published.

By 1936 Salvador had gained sufficient significance in America to make the December 14 cover of Time magazine.

In 1938 Salvador happily seized the chance to meet Sigmund Freud in London. He also spent the latter part of the year painting as a guest at the home of Coco Chanel on the French Riviera. He would later design clothing and jewelry for her.

From 1938 to 1940 Salvador was supported financially by the wealthy Englishman Edward James. Edward had early and enthusiastically embraced the Surrealist movement. Edward also hosted painter René Magritte and by doing so enabled him to continue his painting.

In 1939 the Surrealist group in Paris expelled Salvador as a member for his failure to embrace their progressive politics. Salvador retorted that he couldn't possibly be thrown out of the movement since he himself embodied it. By that time he was certainly the person most closely identified with Surrealism by the public.

Back in America that same year, Salvador designed the Dream of Venus pavilion for the New York World's Fair. He also wrote the libretto, designed the costumes, and created the sets for the ballet, Bacchanale, staged at the Metropolitan Opera House.

In August 1940 Salvador and Gala abandoned France to the German army and sailed again for the United States. They lived there for the next eight years. With the move to America came Salvador's return to the Catholic Church. That year he also painted Slave Market with the Disappearing Bust of Voltaire.

In 1942 leaders of New York City's Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art sponsored an exhibit dedicated solely to Salvador's paintings. His autobiography, The Secret Life of Salvador Dalí, was published by Dial Press. His sister Ana María published her own version of his story in Dalí as Seen by His Sister in 1949. Her view of him was far less flattering. Once he read it, he was done with her.

In 1942 Salvador also returned to his work with ballet. With Labyrinth (1942) he again created the libretto, costumes, and sets. He based El Café de Chinitas (1943) on a story written by his old friend Frederico García Lorca. He designed the sets for Sentimental Colloquy (1944) and based his Mad Tristan (1944) on Wagner's Tristan and Isolda. In 1945 he worked with director Alfred Hitchcock to create scenes for the film Spellbound. Afterward, both were relieved to be done with the other.

In 1944 Dial Press published Salvador's first novel Hidden Faces.

In 1946 he painted The Temptation of Saint Anthony. He also created the illustrations for the books The Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini, Macbeth (Shakespeare), and Don Quixote (Cervantes). He also worked on a film with Walt Disney named Destino.

In 1947 he selected essays by Michel de Montaigne, drew illustrations for them, and had both published together.

In 1948 Salvador and Gala returned to a Spain still controlled by a dictator. Thereafter, for his or any art to remain relevant, Salvador believed it had to include allusions to the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Still, he created significant religious paintings: Christ of Saint John of the Cross (1951), Crucifixion (1954), and The Sacrament of the Last Supper (1955).

In 1954 he created illustrations for Dante's Divine Comedy.

In 1956 he gave a public lecture celebrating Antonio Gaudí at Güell Park (designed by Antonio).

In 1960 Salvador began the creation of a museum in his hometown of Figueres dedicated to himself and featuring drawings and paintings from all periods of his life. He appropriately gave the museum itself a surrealistic design.

In 1964 a large retrospective exhibit of Salvador's work was held in Tokyo and then traveled to many other Japanese cities.

In 1974 Salvador opened his museum in Figueres. He also wrote the prologue and created illustrations for the publication of an edition of Sigmund Freud's book Moses and Monotheism.

That year Salvador also fired his business manager Peter Moore. Subsequent managers proved even worse by selling Salvador's copyrights to others without his permission. He lost much wealth. Reynolds and Eleanor Morse, two wealthy American friends and long-time fans of Salvador, set up a foundation and a Dalí museum in St. Petersburg, Florida, to provide him with adequate income.

In 1980 Salvador gave up painting. His hands trembled too much. In 1982 his beloved Gala died. Deeply depressed, Salvador hid in his castle in Pubol near Figueres. In 1984 a fire broke out, burned him severely, and permanently crippled him. His friends brought him back to Figueres where he lived in the tower of his museum.

He died of heart failure on January 23, 1989, and is buried in his museum.

Copyright © 2013 by Steven Farsaci. All rights reserved.