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Who is Salvador Dali?

Niki Foster
Updated May 17, 2024
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Salvador Dali was a Spanish artist of the 20th century, best known for his Surrealist paintings. He also worked in film, sculpture, photography, fashion, and theatre, and penned a novel, Hidden Faces. He was known for his outlandish personality and style, such as his flamboyant trademark moustache, as well as for his groundbreaking art.

Dali was born Salvador Domingo Felipe Jacinto Dalí i Domènech on 11 May 1904 in Catalonia, Spain. When he was five years old, his parents told him that he was the reincarnation of his brother, who had died nine months before his birth. Dali would come to share this belief. He also had a younger sister, Ana María. When he was 16, his mother died of breast cancer and his father remarried to his sister-in-law.

Salvador Dali began art school as a child, and his father arranged an exhibition of the boy's charcoal sketches in their family home in 1917. He had his first public exhibition two years later. In 1922, Dali moved to Madrid to study at the Academia de San Fernando School of Fine Arts.

At the Academia, Dali became friends with filmmaker Luis Buñuel and the poet Federico García Lorca, with whom he would later collaborate. He showed considerable talent in his early paintings, experimenting with Cubist and Dadaist styles. The artist was expelled in 1926 after claiming that none of the faculty at his school were fit to examine him. The same year, he traveled to Paris for the first time and met his idol, Pablo Picasso.

In 1929, Dali and Buñuel collaborated on the Surrealist film Un Chien Andalou (An Andalusion Dog), and Dali began developing a unique Surrealist style in his paintings. Perhaps his most famous painting, The Persistence of Memory, was completed in 1931. He also met his muse, Gala, in 1929, shortly thereafter moving in with her. The two would marry in 1934 and later, in a Catholic ceremony, in 1958.

The artists's fame spread beyond Europe in the following years, with an exhibit in New York in 1934 and a London exhibit in 1936. Dali's politics, such as his support of Francisco Franco following the Spanish Civil War, led to his expulsion from the group of Surrealists headed by André Breton. British poet and champion of the Surrealist movement Edward James became his main patron in the late 1930s.

Dali and Gala lived in the United States during World War II, from 1940 to 1949, after which they moved to the artist's birthplace, Catalonia. He began experimenting with new and varied art forms and methods, and his work began increasingly to incorporate optical illusions. In 1945, he collaborated with Alfred Hitchcock on a dream sequence in Spellbound and with Walt Disney on a short animated film released posthumously in 2003 as Destino.

The artist suffered a devastating deterioration of the nervous system in 1980 as a result of Gala, 11 years his senior, regularly giving him a mixture of drugs that were not prescribed to him. After she died in 1982, Dali apparently lost his will to live and possibly attempted suicide a few times. He deliberately dehydrated himself, and in 1984, his bedroom caught on fire from an unknown cause. He spent his last years in relative comfort at the Dalí Theatre and Museum in his hometown, and died on 23 January 1989 of heart failure. He is buried in the crypt of the museum, just three blocks from his childhood home.

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Niki Foster
By Niki Foster , Writer

In addition to her role as a WiseGEEK editor, Niki enjoys educating herself about interesting and unusual topics in order to get ideas for her own articles. She is a graduate of UCLA, where she majored in Linguistics and Anthropology.

Discussion Comments

By anon216433 — On Sep 21, 2011

this is very inspiring.

Niki Foster

Niki Foster


In addition to her role as a WiseGEEK editor, Niki enjoys educating herself about interesting and unusual topics in...

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