Strange and Interesting Facts About Salvador Dali, the Surrealist Superstar

Oh, that Spanish artist with a mustache and slicked-down hair, impeccably dressed like an English dandy, truly was one of a kind. Decades after his passing, Dali is one of the most iconic figures in the entirety of art (and possibly human) history. And if the art world ever had a genuine superstar, Dali was it. The eccentric image the artist projected was nothing compared to his truly eccentric lifestyle, self-destructive romance with Gala, and above all, the magnitude of his artistic genius. The scope of Dali’s work and influence on art and popular culture is evident to this day. Salvador Dali was a huge part of the Surrealist movement, aptly dubbed el Maestro, but he was so much more than that. 

What Inspired Salvador Dali to Paint

Dali’s Childhood

Salvador Domingo Felipe Jacinto Dalí i Domènech, better known as Salvador Dali, was born on the 11 of May 1904 in Figueres, Catalonia, Spain. 

Dali assumed he represented his older brother’s reincarnation, who died nine months before Dali was born. His painting entitled Portrait of My Dead Brother in 1963 was an attempt to deal with the constant presence of his brother named Salvador’s ghost. 

Another devastating loss would follow. Dali’s mother, who was the first to recognize her son’s great potential, passed away while he was 16, and her death was the “worst blow” he had ever suffered.

What Inspired Salvador Dali to Paint?

Dali seems to have always had artistic ambitions from a very young age. His parents nurtured his early interest in art. It seems that the Catalan environs inspired him, and these landscapes would become recurring motifs throughout his long and prolific career.

What Is Salvador Dali Known for?

What Does the Persistence of Memory Mean

No need for proof of Dali’s immortality beyond the fact that his artwork and his eccentricity continue to captivate our imagination to this day. He was likely the most prominent representative and one of the driving forces behind surrealism. The artist best known for his work “The Persistence of Memory” lived to be larger than life, and that is exactly what his legacy proves.

How Did Salvador Dalí Come Up With His Images?

It seems that Dali was inspired by his own mind, that is, its subconscious part. He is believed to have been moved by his earliest childhood memories, and his deepest fears and traumas, as if the stuff of nightmare. This may explain the dreamlike quality of his works.

What Type of Art Did Salvador Dali Do?

Dali is known to have used a variety of techniques and media for his creative processes. This included dabbling in filmmaking alongside Luis Buñuel. The 1929 collaboration with Un Chien AnDaliou and Luis Bunuel is regarded as a classic of Surrealism filmmaking.

Bunuel’s debut movie is a crazy visual feast with no discernible narrative or sequence, with images of monks carrying the corpses of donkeys and a guy holding a blade to a female’s eye. Some were offended by its openly sexually suggestive and unpleasant imagery, but the show lasted 8 months. Dali later returned to thrillers, partnering with Alfred Hitchcock on the suspense picture Spellbound and Bunuel on L’Age d’Or.

The Many Facets of Dali’s Symbolism

He was terrified of crickets. As a kid, he had been so terrified of crickets that his peers would toss them at him in order to taunt him. It is thought he was afflicted by Ekbom’s condition, a mistaken notion that bugs reside beneath the skin. Whenever grasshoppers occur in his work, they represent disease, rot, and demise. Additional recurrent images in his imagery were insects, lobsters, embryos, snails, rhinos, and chests of trunks, all of which had a distinct psychosexual meaning.

Dali’s Fascination With Sex and Subconsciousness

figueras museum birthplace of dali

Psychoanalysis and sexual inhibition concepts of Sigmund Freud inspired his creativity significantly. 

Throughout the early 1920s, as just an aspiring artist in Madrid, Dali discovered Freud’s book entitled The Interpretation of Dreams, which sparked the artist’s fascination with self-interpretation as an artistic technique. Dali encountered Freud for the first time in London in 1938 when Freud got left Nazi-occupied Vienna. The artist Dali presented his 1937 work The Metamorphosis of Narcissus to the conference. Dali got the chance to paint the renowned Austrian psychologist through a meeting organized by patron and artwork owner Edward James and writer Stefan Zweig.

Sex terrified him, yet it was his fixation and inspiration. Dali’s preoccupation with sexuality actually goes back to his boyhood, when he feared he was sexually incompetent or incapable and likely developed an addiction to masturbation, which has become his major and maybe only form of sexual expressiveness as a grownup. There were also allegations that Federico Garcia Lorca attempted to romance the artist, which fueled suspicions of his sexuality. 

It appears Dali was fearful of intercourse throughout his entire existence; he is said to have been a virgin until he married Gala at age 25 and to have chosen voyeuristic delights over personal involvement. These motifs appeared in a number of his creations of art, with the artist stating that sexual obsessions and unsatisfied cravings served as the basis of his artistic production. 

According to Feud, the accumulated frustration leads to sublimation. So in the case of Dali, erotic desires that failed to materialize translated into timeless works of art.

What Art Movement Is Salvador Dali Associated With?

Around 1929, young Dali headed to Paris and joined the Surrealism movement. Today, his name is not only associated with but often considered synonymous with Surrealism.

Namely, after being dismissed from art college for failing to take his final exam, young Dali traveled to Paris, wherein he encountered his role model Pablo Picasso and became friends with renowned Catalan icon Joan Mir. Mir was also the one who introduced Dali to the surrealism movement’s founder, Andre Breton. Dali was immediately drawn to the Surrealists’ fascination with the unconscious and ambition to make dream-inspired art.

In the 1930s, he established a paranoiac-critical approach that provided him entry to his unconscious.

What Did Salvador Dalí Contribute to Surrealism?

Dali is one of the movers and shakers of the Surrealist movement. It is believed that Surrealism died for good with the death of Dali himself.

Why Is Salvador Dali Important?

The_Hallucinogenic_Toreador dali

Andre Breton famously defined Surrealists as “psychic automatism in its purest form.” Breton supported and experimented with spontaneous writing and sketching. Dali recanted Breton’s involuntary reflex in preference for a more deliberate approach to art creation, which was an early sign of the disorganized attachment. 

In the 1930s, he devised his paranoiac-critical approach, which was basically an artificial condition of paranoia that permitted the disintegration of individuality and pushed the human mind to create connections between seemingly incongruous or improbable things.

For instance, he created a ruby-jeweled heart that truly beats. Dali and the Cummins Catherwood cooperated on a collection of jewelry named Dali-Jones, mixing Dali’s creations with gems given by Catherwood. The series is The Royal Heart, a diamond, ruby, and gem-crusted that beats. The striking work is currently part of the museum display of the Salvadoran Dali Museum, headquartered in his birthplace of Figueras, Spain.

Why Did Salvador Dali Paint the Persistence of Memory?

The artist is best known for his 1931 work “The Persistence of Memory”, also referred to as Soft Watches or Melting Clocks, which has made its way into popular culture and is one of the very few instantly recognizable works of art in the world. But what does it represent? Dalí himself claimed that Camembert cheese melting inspired him to create the famous painting. But the numerous layers of the painting’s meaning have been debated and interpreted over and over again ever since. 

Dalí often described his works as “hand-painted dream photographs.” and this painting is thought to allude to the influence of scientific advances during the artist’s career and lifetime.

Additionally, Dali painted his most well-known work, The Persistence of Memory, while he was destitute. Many scholars have hypothesized that Daliis’ melted timepieces were influenced by Albert Einstein’s general relativity theory. Still, Dali denies this, recalling his memory of Camembert cheese melting in the sunlight. The artwork was secretly given to the Museum of Contemporary Art in New York, in which it remained one of the collection’s highlights.

In 1954, Dali painted part 2 of the famous work: Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory.

Nuclear Mysticism

In the post-war period, Dali created a brand-new approach he termed Nuclear Mysticism, that purported to interpret spirituality in a scientific viewpoint.

In masterpieces like the Ascension of Christ and The Sacrament of the Last Supper (1955) he created a new technique that fused contemporary scientific concepts. Such visuals, despite their dreamlike delivery, could have been conceptually appropriate during the conservative administration of Franco. 

Dali, who used to be an agnostic, had a secret meeting with Pope Pius XII, when he delivered the Madonna of Port Lligat, which represents Gala as that of the Madonna to be sanctified by the pope. These paintings are stylistically and aesthetically reminiscent of Renaissance artists such as Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci.

The Mustache

His unique mustache, probably the most instantly recognizable facial hair in the world, was influenced by literature. The appearance has sparked a great deal of discussion, and it was often seen as a reference to the Spanish Glory Days artist Diego Velazquez. As an aspiring artist, Dali also dressed like an English gentleman, and he kept his distinctive signature style throughout his life.

Gala the Muse

dali and gala

If Who influenced Salvador Dali? is the question, Gala would likely be the correct answer. Legend even has it that the eccentric Spanish artist said he would eat his wife when she died.

Art history remembers the Russian-born woman as Dali’s muse. But it appears that she may also have had something to do with his demise, having likely contributed to his Parkinson-like symptoms. This, in turn, would lead to the premature ending to his prolific career, and the dismal quality of life he endured in his final days.

Dali met his future bride Gala, originally Elena Ivanovna Diakonova, born in Russia, while she was the wife of French poet Paul Éluard, another prominent surrealist. She had met the poet when they were both just 17. The pair had a child, daughter Cécile. But Gala detested motherhood. She abandoned her family when she fell for Dali.

Dali’s father was an affluent lawyer who was originally supportive of his son’s work. But when the 25-year-old artist got involved in the scandalous affair with Gala, his father threw him out of the house in Figueres.

The painter, ostracized by the entire community, relocated to a shanty in the neighboring fishing town of Port Lligat. Although Dali was only 27 years old at the time, it was there and then that he created his most famous series of paintings, which was inspired by the landscape of the Cap de Creus island as well as the adjacent Mount Pani. 

Nevertheless, Dali and Gala, who met in 1929, would remain together for 53 years and married for 48 years, from 1934 to 1982. They were, by all accounts, an extremely unorthodox couple.

The peculiar Russian divorcee was a decade older than Salvador, who was only 25 years old when they first met. Gala was not only married to Éluard at the time but she simultaneously enjoyed a whirlwind romance with Max Ernst, left them both and became Dali’s wife, artistic inspiration, and sales director almost instantly. 

However strong and passionate the quirky pair’s relationship, Gala would not settle down. She engaged in a number of parallel relationships openly.

Regardless, not only did Dali admire her, but he was also completely reliant on her.

According to him, he should polish Gala to let her sparkle, keep her as comfortable as possible, and care for her more than for himself since, without her, everything would come to an end.

In their twilight days, Dali and Gala became distant, but then when she passed in 1982, he was plunged into a condition of hysterical anxiety and hopeless depression.

The couple always had shared an unconventional relationship. Dali was constantly worried about his wife’s adventures, fretting over the prospect of her divorcing him and resented the extravagant presents she gifted her companions. Once destitute and by then a full-fledged millionaire and Surrealist Superstar, Dali bought a palace in Spain for Gala to use for getaways in 1968. But she was soon spending extended periods of time there, and Dali was only allowed to see her upon request. 

Rumor has it that shortly before her passing, Gala took yet another lover: a 25-year-old Jesus Christ Superstar protagonist, Jeff Fenholt, American musician and actor, at the time of her passing at the age of 87. She died shortly before turning 88.

Dali sank deep into psychotic despair after Gala’s passing. To add to the misery, due to palsy, he was forced to step aside from drawing, and his physical and psychological health proceeded to deteriorate for the remainder of his days. 

Did Salvador Dali Do Drugs?

While he lived in Paris, he is said to have enjoyed opium and absinthe, a popular practice for artists at the time. 

Gala was rumored to have contributed to Dali’s worsening health, and it had something to do with drugs. Namely, on one occasion when their relationship had already deteriorated to an alarming degree of animosity, Dali physically attacked Gala, fracturing two of her bones.

She provided massive dosages of Valium as well as other medications to Dali in an effort to calm him. The dose was so high it nearly killed him. Some suspect that it might have contributed to the neurological disorders he would go on to develop, which would end his career and diminish the quality of his life until the very end.

Glorifying Fascism and Obsession with Hitler

gali madonna

Surrealists typically adhered to Marxist philosophy and then were appalled by Dali’s continued flirtation with dictatorship and, in especially, his obsession with the German fuhrer Adolf Hitler. Dali reportedly stated that he frequently dreamt of Hitler as just a woman. His skin, which he assumed to be paler than white, captivated him. This interest resulted in numerous pieces of art, notably his 1939 painting, The Enigma of Hitler. 

Eventually, Dali’s bizarre fixation on Hitler caused the Surrealists to expel him. By 1939, he was ousted from the movement. This did not deter Dali from expressing his unpopular opinions, as he would go on to praise Francisco Franco’s rule over Spain throughout the 1940s.

Where Did Salvador Dalí Live?

Dali spent most of his life in Spain, but his time in Paris may have influenced his work the most. But after he earned recognition and reached stardom in America, despite a decline in critical praise during this time, Dali and Gala started to make frequent trips to the USA in the late 1930s. They made New York City their home throughout WW2.

Dali became an American cultural icon after issuing a spectacular memoir and starring in several Hollywood productions. Nevertheless, the art community usually recognized him as just a professional artist, and his works were met with lukewarm excitement and, at times, outright distrust. This somewhat overshadowed Dali the Surrealist and brought out Dali the Entertainer.

Lust for Money

Money thrilled him, and he went to extraordinary lengths to obtain more. Andr Breton was the one who derisively dubbed Dali Avida Dollars, an inversion of his nickname that roughly translates to “hungry for dollar bills.” It is common knowledge that Dali refused to pay for food and doodled just on back sides of his cheques to prevent them from being raked. As a method of supporting his and Galas’ lavish lifestyle, he also took active part in commercial ventures, such as advertising Lanvin sweets.

How Old Was Salvador Dali When He Died?

The artist was perhaps even more difficult to work with during his final years than he was throughout his life, making his caregivers’ life hell. In 1984, a strange emergency button short-circuit mishap caused a fire that burned his leg. 

Ill, deeply depressed, and heart-broken after Gala’s passing, a bedridden Dali spent his final months in seclusion in his castle in Púbol, Spain. Dali died on January 23, 1989 at the age of 85 following a sudden cardiac arrest and was interred in a vault he had created at the Dali Theatre-Museum in his birthplace of Figueras. 

Did Dali Have Children?

In 2018, his remains were excavated for DNA fingerprinting, following a protracted legal fight during which a Spanish seer purported to be Dali’s child.

In the 2000s, a fortune-teller named Pilar Abel born in 1955 launched a lawsuit alleging that she was the love child of the painter and her mother. When DNA extracted from both hair and skin traces on his death mask did not lead to a definitive conclusion, his corpse was excavated and examined. It turned out that Abel was not in fact Dali’s child. 

Narcís Bardalet, the embalmer who was tasked with preserving Dali’s body following his passing in 1989 and with the subsequent process of exhumation remarked with delight that his mustache was still in great condition.

The Original Ocelot King

Salvador Dali may have been the one to popularize the idea of owning exotic animals as house pets. He kept an ocelot nicknamed Babou as a pet. In the 1960s, he adopted Babou and took him wherever he went, even restaurants. He and Gala also had a pet opossum.