Salvador Dali Biography

Salvador Bali was a prominent and flamboyant Spanish painter, with most of his paintings centering on surrealist art. His work was said to have been inspired by Renaissance art and he was arguably one of the most influential painters of the 20th century.

Quick Facts

Nickname: Avida Dollars

Date of Birth: 11th May, 1904

Place of Birth:  Figueres, Spain

Origin: Spanish

Profession: Painter, Artist, Photographer

Known for: Contribution to Surrealist Paintings


Childhood and Growing Years

The unusually long named Salvador Domènec Felipe Jacinto Dalí i Domènech, more popularly known as Salvador Dalí, was born to Salvador Dalí i Cusí who was a lawyer by profession and a strict disciplinarian, and his mother Felipa Domenech Ferrés nurtured his creativity and encouraged his artistic side. He was the namesake of his older brother, who passed away soon after birth. His parents always told him that Dalí was the reincarnation of his deceased older brother, which he soon grew to believe. He had a younger sister three years smaller than him, Ana Maria. She later wrote a book, Dalí as seen by his Sister, about his life from her viewpoint.

He attended art school as a child, and his interest in modern painting began in 1916, when he was vacationing in Cadaqués with his friend’s family. He then tried his hand at charcoal drawing, and his father displayed these in a private exhibition in 1917. His first exhibition of his works for public display was in 1919 in the Municipal Theater.

His mother passed away when he was just sixteen thus delivering to him the biggest blow in his life. She died due to breast cancer, and his father soon remarried, to his wife’s sister. Dali never resented the marriage, as he always had great love for his auntie and respected her as a person.

Claim to Fame

In 1922, he attended the San Fernando School of Fine Arts in Madrid, and earned a reputation for being eccentric, and quite a quirky fellow. As the years progressed, he began to draw more attention because of his paintings depicting Cubism, rather than his nature. There weren’t any other artists who attempted to do this during that time in Madrid, and so even though he did not understand the movement completely himself, he still gained recognition for his work. He illustrated his first book in 1924, “Les bruixes de Llers”, a book that was written by his good friend Carles de Climent.

He was expelled in 1926 from the school on account of antagonistic behavior and trying to cause unrest among the student body. He remained unruffled by his expulsion, as he believed he was anyway more qualified than the people who would have been examining his work. He then did one of his most famous paintings Basket of Bread in the same year, and also visited Paris for the first time. It was here that he met Picasso, who soon became his role model. And most of his later works were influenced by the style of Picasso and his mentor Joan Miro. It was also during this time that he grew out his mustache in what would later be known as his trademark feature .

By 1929, he had created a niche for himself in the surrealist art world. His paintings were vivid, and flamboyant, and as the name suggest, were a depiction of the world that lies in the subconscious mind. His work was both classically traditional, and also totally contemporary, and it was this mix that got his work noticed. 1929 was a tumultuous year for him, as it was during this time that he grew estranged from his father, who had always been disapproving for his provocatively cheeky demeanor. It was this year that he met his long-term muse and wife-to-be, Gala. She was a Russian Immigrant who was ten years older than him, and was a married woman when they met for the first time. They fell in love, and she decided to stay with him, even though she was still married to Paul Eduard (another painter).

Dali painted The Persistence of Memory in 1931, which was the painting that earned him international recognition. This painting was a picture of melting, soft watches in a distant sunset, this was said to depict the volatility and ethereal quality of time, rather than it being deterministic or rigid.

He was introduced to the American art world in 1934 by Julian Levy, who organized an exhibition with Dali’s work in New York. It was his rendition of The Persistence of Memory painting that made him instantly famous in the Unites States as well, and he got rave reviews from critics and general public alike.

By this time, his penchant for pageantry was well known, and he shocked people worldwide with his antics. His words, actions and overall personality made him very different from any other artist. While most artists were known to be withdrawn and loners, his love for flamboyance and for being the center of attention and megalomania were known by everyone.

He met his inspiration Sigmund Freud in 1938. He spent around 8 years in America, and then returned to Catalonia post-1949 where he spent the rest of his time. He experimented with various art forms during his life time, which included drawing, sculptures, films, photography etc among other things.

His last painting was Still Life Moving Fast. His paintings were known to be the picture of surrealism, with some details realistic enough to make the paintings believable despite the absurdity of the situation.

He died of heart failure on 23rd January, 1989

Other Notable Works

Crucifixion (Corpus Hypercubus) (1954), Galatea of the Spheres (1952),

The Temptation of St. Anthony(1946), Face of Mae West Which May Be Used as an Apartment (1935) , Soft Construction with Boiled Beans (Premonition of Civil War)(1936), Swans Reflecting Elephants(1937), Ballerina in a Death’s Head(1939)


He has four museums named after him, with displays of his works of art. The largest collection of his works is in the Dalí Theatre and Museum  in Figueres, Catalonia and the Salvador Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida (which was initially founded in 1971 in Ohio, and later relocated to Florida). He is the only artist till date who has had two museums to his name while he was still alive.

The other two museums to his name are the Dalí Universe in London and the Espace Dalí  in Paris.

Personal Quotes

“Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never reach it.”

“Don’t bother about being modern. Unfortunately it is the one thing that, whatever you do, you cannot avoid.”

“The one thing the world will never have enough of is the outrageous.”

“Intelligence without ambition is a bird without wings.”

“It is good taste, and good taste alone, that possesses the power to sterilize and is always the first handicap to any creative functioning.”

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“In order to acquire a growing and lasting respect in society, it is a good thing, if you possess great talent, to give, early in your youth, a very hard kick to the right shin of the society that you love. After that, be a snob.”

“The first man to compare the cheeks of a young woman to a rose was obviously a poet; the first to repeat it was possibly an idiot.”

“There is only one difference between a madman and me. The madman thinks he is sane. I know I am mad.”
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