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Art and Surrealism of Salvador Dali

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Art and Surrealism of Salvador Dali

“A true painter is one who can paint extraordinary scenes

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 in the middle of an empty desert. A true painter is one who

can patiently paint a pear in the midst of the tumults of history.”

-Salvador Dali (Gala- Salvador Dali Foundation 2008)

Spanish surrealist artist Salvador Dali is considered as one of the most important and controversial painters in the 20th century (Saladyga 2006).  Best known for his bizarre yet striking works, it is said that several factors influenced Dali’s arts- his family, his sexuality, his wife, Sigmund Freud, surrealism and the atomic bomb (2006).

Dali created more than 1500 artworks (Salvador Dali Online Exhibit 2008).  Among his works include

·         View of Cadaques with Shadow of Mount Pani

·         Port of Cadaques

·         Self Portrait

·         Myself at the Age of Ten when I was a Grasshopper

·         Surrealist Poster

·         Paranoia

·         Morphological Echo

·         Sentimental Colloquy

·         Autumn Sonata

·         Christ en Perspective

·         St. Luke

·         Opposition (2008)

 Salvador Felipe Jacinto Dali Domenech Marquis was born on May 11, 1904 in the Catalonian town of Figueras, near the French border in Spain (Astrotheme 2008).

  His parents were Salvador Dali i Cusi, a lawyer, and Felipa Domenech Ferres, Dali’s house girl (2008). Nine months and ten days before Dali was born, his brother died at twenty-one months (Saladyga 2006).  His parents, who could not accept this tragedy, made Dali believe that he was his brother’s reincarnation, confusing Salvador even more (2008).  As a child, Dali was often brought to his brother’s grave (2006).  He used to wear his deceased brother’s clothes and played with his toys (Astrobank 1997).

            Growing up in a home full of women, comprising his younger sister, mother, grandmother, aunt, and nurse, Dali was often the center of everyone’s attention (2006). As a young boy, Dali was already showing interest in the arts. He even had his own studio in the family home (Compton’s Encyclopedia 1995). The family lived in a small apartment, which also caused Dali to throw tantrums often (2006). His mother would placate his eccentric behavior but not his father (2006). The elder Dali was deemed authoritative. He was the one who wanted Dali to succeed in school, often dragging the young Salvador to attend school (2006).  To get away from all the chaos at home, Dali and his sister would go on boat rides with fishermen (2006).  Much later, these boat rides would help Dali create a “double image” method, also known as “paranoiac –critical method” (2006). This method makes the viewers think that what they are seeing is a realistic situation and realize that there is another image embedded in the art work, creating a false sense of reality (2006).

            On a summer vacation to Dadaqués, Dali was exposed to modern painting (Astrotheme 2008). At the Moli de la Torre estate of the Pichot family, Dali was exposed to the collection of Ramon Pichot (Gala-Salvador Dali Foundation 2008).

His father, who saw potential in his drawings, mounted an exhibition in their home (2008). In 1919, Dali had his first public exhibition (2008). His first oil painting was a replica of Manuel Benedito’s Dutch Interior (Kayabal 2008).  He also wrote in L’Amic de les Arts from 1927-1928 (2008). Together with Lluis Montanya and Sebastia Gasch, he wrote Catalan Anti-Artistic Manifesto (2008).  The manifesto attacked conventional art (Gala-Salvador Dali Foundation 2008).

In 1921, Dali went to the San Fernando Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Madrid (Compton’s Encyclopedia 1995). This was also the year when he lost his mother to breast cancer (Astrotheme 2008).  His father then remarried Salvador’s aunt to which Dali did not object (2008).

            Dali immersed himself in school. Here he joined the likes of film maker Luis Buñuel and poet dramatist Federico Garcia Lorca (1995). Rumors abound that Dali had a romantic liaison with Lorca (2008). Dali’s sexuality had always been an issue. It was said that when he reached adolescent, Dali found himself applying his mother’s cosmetics (Saladyga 2006). Dali was also said to be fearful of sex. His father might influenced this for as a child, his father once left a medical book and when the young Dali browsed it, he  suddenly became aware of the affects of sexually transmitted diseases (2006).  He was even said to be have sexual concerns with his wife Gala (2006).

At school, Dali was a stand-out not only with his paintings but his appearance- “long hair and sideburns, stockings, and knee breeches” (Astrotheme 2008).  His early paintings evoked of cubism (2008). Cubism was created by Pablo Picasso (Rewald 2006).  The term was created by art critic Louis Vauxcelles who remarked that the forms in the abstract paintings looked like “cubes” (2006).  Cubist painters focused on the two-dimension of the canvas, thus they trimmed objects until they become geometric in forms then side them with shallow space (2006). Famous Cubist artists include Georges Braque and Joan Miro (Famous Painter 2002).

Since Dali had limited knowledge on Cubism, having learned it from magazines and catalogues, his artworks became the subject of much attention (Astrotheme 2008).   He used the colors ocher, green and grey in his initial paintings as influenced by Cubists artists like Picasso and Derain (Kayabal 2008).

His early paintings included portraits of his family members such as Figure at a Window in 1925 (USA Today 2005). He also did artworks which reflected the European avant-garde (2005). Likewise, Dali created painting which reflected his friendship with Lorca and Buñuel (2005).

Even though Dali was a good student, he was expelled in school mainly because of his behavior (Compton’s Encyclopedia 1995). But his expulsion did not stop him from shaping his art. In fact, before he got expelled in school, he illustrated a book called The Witches of Llers (Gibson 1997).

In 1925, Dali had his first exhibit at Galeries Dalmau in Barcelona.

In 1926, Dali went to Paris for the first time and met Pablo Picasso who by then had already made a name for himself (Astrotheme 2008). Dali was a fan of Picasso and through the years, did artworks inspired by Picasso before finding his own style (2008).  He was also influenced by Spanish artists like Francisco de Zurbaran, Diego Velasquez and Francisco de Goya (USA Today 2005).

Figure 1. Timeline of Dali’s life (Duke University 1997)

In 1929, Dali and Buñuel collaborated on a short film entitled Un chien andalou which translates to An Andalusia Dog (Astrotheme 2008). It was also in 1929 when Dali met Gala, a Russian immigrant who soon became his wife (2008).  Dali met Gala when the latter was visiting Cadaques with her then husband Paul Eluard (Saladyga 2006). Gala divorced Eluard to follow Dali (2006).  Together, they joined the surrealist movement (2008). One interesting thing about their relationship was how Dali called Gala different names- Galuchka, Olivete, Tapir, Noisette, Poilue and Lionete (Saladyga 2006). He did this to prove how his image of Gala changes constantly (2006). Dali did portraits of Gala, most prominent of which as Gala and the Angelus of Millet Preceding the Imminent Arrival of the Conical Anamorphoses in 1933 (USA Today 2005).  Dali married Gala in 1934 (Gala- Salvador Dali Foundation 2008).

Figure 2. Gala and Salvador Dali ( Gala-Salvador Dali  Foundation 2008)

One of the major forces that influenced Dali was the philosopher Sigmund Freud (Compton’s Encyclopedia 1995). Freud, like Dali, was interested in psychoanalysis (Saladyga 2006). It was Freud’s theory of unconscious that led Dali to join the Surrealist movement. The movement was fascinated with exploring the unconscious mind and that through it, one can became a better person.

What is surrealism?

Surrealism was developed following World War I (Stewart 2000). It was an art movement influence by the Dada movement. The Dada movement was created to participate in making revolutionary changes in the world following the war (Shipe 2002).  Dadaists were not limited to painting or writing.   They create to trigger reaction from the public (2002).

            Prominent personalities in the Dada movement, such as Andre Breton and Max Ernst were also important figures in the Surrealist movement (Stewart 2000).  Surrealism was the combination of dada’s philosophy of automatism or free and automatic painting, and Sigmund Freud’s philosophy (2000). Freud, as stated earlier, was adamant in finding the “hidden truth” of man (Saladyga 2006).  Surrealism is not limited to painting alone. It encompasses a wide range of artistic forms such as poetry, film, photography, collage and dance (2006).  Surrealists aimed to delve into the one’s dreams, to describe the world of unconscious through art (2000).

            A Surrealist painting is like an unconscious artwork, delving into the dreams of an individual (Kayabal 2008). It is similar to a child’s drawing. The word ‘surrealist’ was coined in 1917 by Guillaume Apollinaire (2008). Apollinaire used the word to describe his Les Mamelles de Tiresias play (2008).

Aside from studying the works of Sigmund Freud, Surrealists also researched on Carl Jung (Sanchez 2008).Some members worked on expressing through abstract rendition while some used symbolic tradition, creating two trends in surrealism (2008). The diversity in interpretation led to two types of surrealists- automatists and veristics (2008).

            Automatists interpreted by dealing more with feelings (Sanchez 2008). For them, images should not be analyzed (2008). They used abstract as a form in expressing the unconscious (2008). They detested the academic treatment of art and believed that form was to blame for the prejudice (2008).

            On the other hand, veristic surrealists believed that that subconscious should be brought to the surface to understand them properly (Sanchez 2008). They believed that dreams serve as link to reality. Furthermore, veristic surrealists deemed the importance of academic discipline and forms (2008). They ventured into studying the unconscious image to decipher its meaning.

            Dali came entered the Surrealists movement when he came to Paris and met Joan Miro who was also associated with Andre Breton (Gala- Salvador Dali Foundation 2008). By 1932, he was included in the Surrealism exhibit in New York entitled Surrealism: Paintings, Drawings, and Photographs (2008).

            Dali was a Veristic Surrealist (Sanchez 2008). While he was not the only Surrealist artist to venture into it, he was the only one who campaigned against the attack on artistry which the modernist movement stood for (2008).  It did not sit well with the Academy of Modernism and the Museum of Modern Art in New York (2008).

            When Dali joined the Surrealist movement, he penned some articles for Le Sureralisme au Service de la Revolution (Kayabal, 2008).  He often used eroticism in his works as his way of recognizing the real nature of man (2008).  Several artworks of Dali that reflect surrealism are The First Days of Spring, The Great Masturbator and the Enigma of Desire (2008). Images he often used reflected those of his childhood such as the grasshopper which would be explained later (2008).

            Moreover, Dali created an infinite horizon to describe the world (Kayabal 2008). This is manifested in paintings such as the Illumined Pleasure (2008).  He also used his painting as a means to express himself.  In his painting entitled The Great Masturbator, Dali mentioned that the painting was an “expression of his heterosexual anxiety” (2008).

            His first Surrealist portrait was that of Paul Eluard in 1929 (Kayabal 2008). According to Dali, his paintings were realistic to that point that they border between reality and illusions (2008).  Brush marks are impossible to detect in a Dali painting. His first Surrealist painting was Honey is Sweeter than Blood in 1929 (2008). Additionally, Dali used art to express his relationship with his father. His paintings on William Tell- William Tell, The Old Age of William Tell, The Youth of William Tell, and The Enigma of William Tell were his representation of his relationship with his father (2008).

            Dell and Picasso were two masters who had opposite ways in approaching art. Dali, as a Veristic Surrealist, deemed painting as a science of studying the human psyche, the unconscious (Sanchez 2008). Picasso, on the other hand, was an automatist. As such, he believed that the unconscious should not be unveiled as remain as is.

            But Dali wanted to explore more. He hoped to understand the human psyche by understanding the subconscious images (Sanchez 2008). Dali was a firm believer in Freud’s principle that a dream not interpreted is similar to an unopened letter (Sanchez 2008).  He felt that to understand that subconscious, images of it must become conscious. This means that these images as symbols and as an artist one must unearth what these symbols are.

 Dali dared his imagination, taking images to pieces to create a symbolic image of the conscious.  One method he developed while doing this was the Paranoiac Critical Method (2008).

 Dali believed that his vision and color could be forced. He believed that he could look at one object yet see another one. Influenced by Freud, Dali went on creating myths with psychological interpretations.  Dali’s Paranoiac Critical Method allows one to see double images. Some of his works which hinted of this method are Outskirts of European History, The Metamorphosis of Narcissus, The Slave Market with the Disappearing Bust of Voltaire, and Hallucinogenic Toreador (Kayabal 2008). Some images are seen below.

Figure 2.The Metamorphosis of Narcissus (Virtual Dali 2008)

Figure3. Disappearing Bust of Voltaire (Virtual Dali 2008)

Figure 4. Hallucinogenic Toreador (Virtual Dali 2008)

As a painter, Dali used symbols. In his famous work, The Persistence of Memory, he created soft watches to illustrate that time is not fixed (see figure below). The soft watches are unique Dali creation. Additionally, the painting teems with images- ants, olive tree, steps, and the beach (Salvador Dali Museum 2008). But it is the watches the gained the attraction and attention of almost any viewer.  Some have argued that the watches and the sand symbolize time (2008).  The soft watches represent the theory of relativity (2008). The amorphous shape in the sand is said to be a “profile of a distorted face looking down at the bottom of the painting” (2008). It is said to be a representation of sleep (2008). It reflects Dali’s interest in the unconscious image (2008). The insects and ants symbolize decomposition (2008).  The olive tree is usually a representation of hope and peace. However, in the case of The Persistence of Memory, the tree is dead which signifies death (2008). According to Kenneth Wach, the tree refers to the Spanish Civil War, along with the bare beach, the ants and the fly, to represent the desolation brought about by the war (2008). The steps, which can be seen in the lower left hand and the blue on the left corner of the painting, are testament to the words of Freud (2008). In his book The Interpretation of Dreams, Freud said that steps represent sexual act (2008). In the case of the painting, the steps may represent the union of natural and manmade objects (2008).

Figure 5. The Persistence of Memory (Virtual Dali 2008).

Aside from the soft watches, Dali also used other objects to express Surrealism. In his painting The Surrealist Work in 1931, he used pubic hair and woman’s shoe among others (Kayabal 2008).

Another symbol which Dali used extensively was the elephant.  The elephant first appeared in his work Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee Around a Pomegranate a Second Before Awakening (Virtual Dali 2008). The elephants are drawn carrying something on their backs (Country Hall Gallery 2003).  The elephants are said to represent the future (2003). Dali’s elephants usually lug obelisks, which symbolize power (2003).

The crutch was also another symbol that Dali used (Country Hall Gallery 2003). The crutch symbolizes tradition and reality (2003).  Dali also used drawers to depict sexuality, especially secret ones. In his paintings, Dali’s drawers are partly open, indicating that some secrets are already exposed (2003).

Another symbol which Dali used was grasshoppers. As a child, Dali was scared of grasshoppers for other children often threw grasshoppers at him (Country Hall Gallery 2003). As such, Dali used grasshoppers to represent fear (2003).

Snails also figured prominently in Dali’s artworks (Country Hall Gallery 2003).  Dali was a firm believer that everything happens for a reason so when he saw a snail outside Sigmund Freud’s house [he was meeting Freud at that time]. He related it that meeting (2003).

The egg is another Dali image. Dali used the egg to suggest to the pre-natal, thus symbolizing hope and love (Country Hall Gallery 2003).

Dali enjoyed success during his early years with the Surrealist movement (Vallen 2005).  However, his conservatism caused him his outer in the group by 1939 (2005).  Dali was slowly gaining fame by that time that he was tagged “Avida Dollars”, describing his financial success (2005). Adding more tension in the group was Dali’s political options (2005). Dali became obsessed with the Hitler phenomenon which irked his fellow Surrealists (2005).  When the Nazis gained power in 1933, Surrealists condemned Hitler (2005).  However, Dali created a painting that irked Surrealists- a semi-nude portrait of Lenin (2005). To show that Dali still supported the Surrealist movement, the he signed a statement asserting his alliance with the proletariat (2005).   When the Spanish Civil War broke out in 1936, General Franco gained power, overthrowing the republic (2005). Franco’s Nazi supported group did not sit well with the Surrealist movement. But Dali supported Franco (Duke University 1997).  While the group cried outrage, Dali painted the Soft Construction with Boiled Beans (2005).

The painting (See figure below), created in 1936, foreshadows the war. It features a disfigured torso, decomposing hands, a stretched-out leg,  and what seems like a figure balancing on top (2005).  They are all interconnected in what looked like a grip, with the blue sky and white clouds serving as background (2005).  The painting is said to be a representation of the grief and carnage brought on by the war (2005).

Figure 6.  Soft Construction with Boiled Beans (Virtual Dali 2008)

Dali moved to the US to avoid the war. By this time, he was expelled from the Surrealist movement (Duke University 1997). To support himself and Gala, he continued to paint and hold exhibits (Vallen 2005).  Soon, he became the favorite of advertisers, making him market any product (2005). He even collaborated with Disney to do a film sequence for an Alfred Hitchcock movie- Spellbound (2005).  Again, with Disney, Dali created a short Mexican cartoon entitled Destino (Silverman 2003). The six-minute film was created to complement a Mexican ballad but was never shown due to financial constraints (2003).

            While in the US, Dali enjoyed tremendous popularity. In 1942, for instance, the New York Dial Press published a book entitled The Secret Life of Salvador Dali (Gala-Salvador Dali Foundation 2008). Additionally, Dali did illustrations such as The Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini and Macbeth by Shakespeare and  The First Part of the Life and Achievements of the Renowned Don Quixote de la Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes (2008).
When the war ended, Dali continued painting, using new techniques such as Abstract Expressionism, Divisionism, and illusionist painting among others (Kayabal 2008).  For the painting Velasquez Painting the Infanta Margarita with the Lights and Shadows, Dali used Abstract Expressionist (2008).

It was also during this time when Dali took interest in the atomic bomb (Salydaga 2006). Dali was once quoted as saying that the explosion of the atomic bomb gave him a “seismic shock” which became part of this thinking (2006). This phase in Dali’s life is often referred to as his “nuclear mystical” period (2006).

            One of Dali’s paintings, Dematerialisation Near the Nose of Nero is a painting he did during his fascination with the atomic bomb. The painting shows a split pomegranate with a statue of Nero in four pieces (Salydaga 2006).  The nose, head and upper body, and pedestal are enclosed in a golden arch with a floating roof. The pomegranate is said to represent an exploding atom, emitting energy in the process (2006).

Figure 7. Dematerialisation Near the Nose of Nero (Gala-Salvador Dali Foundation 2008)

            In 1948, Dali and Gala went back to Spain (Gala-Salvador Dali Foundation 2008). This drew criticisms for a lot of people since Spain, at that time, was ruled by Franco.  In 1951, he introduced an era of mystic painting (Milliner 2007). He released Mystical Manifesto in Paris (2008). Dali, with his new found fascination for atomic bombs, aimed to merge physics with the Old Masters technique and the Spanish mysticisms (2007).  He called this new phase as “Nuclear Mysticism (USA Today 2005).  Some of the paintings he created by this time are The Madonna of Port-Lligat (first version) in 1949 and Crucifixion (Corpus Hypercubicus) (2005).

His effort was greeted with different reactions. His Catholic paintings received both flak and praises.  His religious endeavors made many art historians shift to focusing into religion instead of art (2007).

In 1954, did an exhibit of his drawings illustrating Dante’s The Divine Comedy (2008).  Dali is said to be one of the best artists that produced the best Dante illustrations (2007).  In 1964, he was given the distinguished Gran Cruz de Isabel la Catolica award, the highest Spanish honor (2008).

Dali continued his art through the years. In 1965, the Gallery of Modern Art in New York held an anthological exhibit in honor of Dali, entitled Salvador Dali 1910-1965 (Gala- Salvador Dali Foundation 2008). By 1982, King Juan Carlos I of Spain conferred him Marquis of Pubol and Dali lived at Pubol Castle (2008).

Salvador Dali is indeed an extraordinary painter. He used different methods to express his self, ultimately expressing himself. His paintings mimic the evolution in his life, the changes that occurred in a person.  A Surrealist painter lets his unconsciousness come to the surface and through his paintings, Salvador Dali did so. While his works may be interpreted in different ways, depending on the viewers, Dali used painting as a way to express his thoughts, especially his subconscious.

Works Cited

Astrotheme. Biography of Salvador Dali.2008. 10 March 2008


Astrobank. Salvador Dali. 2007. 10 March 2008.


Bennett, Lennie. Think Again. 18 Jan. 2004.

            10 March 2008. <http://www.sptimes.com>

Country Hall Gallery. Salvador Dali’s Symbolism. 2003.

            10 March 2008.< http://countryhallgallery.com>

Compton’s Encyclopedia Vol. 6. USA: Chicago, 1995.

Duke University. Salvador Dali Biography. 1997.


Famous Painter. Pablo Picasso. Nov.2002. 10 March 2008.


Gala-Salvador Dali Foundation. Home page. 2008.


Gibson. Ian. The Shameful life of Salvador Dali.

USA: W.W. Norton and Company, 1997.

Kayabal, Kadri. Introduction to the art of Salvador Dali.2008,

            10 March 2008. <http://www.kayabal.tv>

Milliner, Matthew. God in the gallery. 12 Dec 2007.

            10 March 2008. <http://www.firstthings.com>

Rewald, Sabine. Cubism.2006. 10 March 2008.


Saladyga, Stephen. The Mindset of Salvador Dali. 2006.

            10 March 2008. <http://www.purple.niagara.edu>

Sanchez, Monica. 2008. History of Surrealism. 10 March 2008.


Salvador Dali Museum. Clocking In with Salvador Dali. 2008. 10 March 2008


Salvador Dali Online Exbihit. Online Exhibit. 2008


Shipe, Timothy. The International Dada Archive.8 January 2002.

 10 March 2008 .<http://www.lib.uiowa.edu/dada/archive.html>

Silverman, Jason. Disney Animates Dali’s Flick. 12 Sept. 2003.

            10 March 2008. <http://www.wired.com>

Stewart, Patrick.  “Surrealism.” The New Book of Knowledge  Vol. 12.

            USA: Connecticut. 2000

USA Today. Salvador Dali: The Grand Master of Surrealism. May 2005.

10 march 2008. <http://www.findarticles.com>

Vallen, Mark. Salvador Dali- Avida Dollars. Feb. 2005. 10 March 2008.


Virtual Dali. Paintings. 2008. 10 March 2008. <http://www.virtualdali.com>


Cite this Art and Surrealism of Salvador Dali

Art and Surrealism of Salvador Dali. (2016, Jul 23). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/art-and-surrealism-of-salvador-dali/

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