Art of the 20th Century


Art Styles in 20th century Art Map







Salvador Dali

If You Act the Genius, You Will Be One!  1910-1928
The Proof of Love  1929-1935
The Conguest of the Irrational 1936-1939
The Triumph of Avida Dollars  1939-1946
The Mystical Manifesto  1946-1962
Paths to Immortality  1962-1989



Biblia Sacrata, Marquis de Sade, Faust, The Art of Love,
Don Quixote, Divine Comedy, Decameron,
Casanova, Les Caprices de Goya




If You Act the Genius, You Will Be One!

1910 - 1928





"Painters, do not fear perfection. You will never achieve it!
If you are mediocrities, you may try as you will to paint terribly
badly, but people will still see that you are mediocre."

Salvador Dali


Salvador Dali at the age of 8.

Every morning when I awake," wrote the artist of the soft watches and burning giraffes, "the greatest of joys is mine: that of being Salvador Dali..." The Catalo-nian artist, so famous and so rich, was prolific not only in his art. He talked nonstop too; and his favourite topic was how to be a genius. "Oh Salvador," he concluded, "now you know the truth: that if you act the genius, you will be one!"

Had he lived during the Renaissance, Dali would have been recognized sooner as a genius; his copious talent might indeed have been considered normal. In our own age, though, which he felt was growing increasingly stupid, Dali represented a constant provocation. Today he is ranked alongside Picasso, Matisse, Duchamp and Malevich as one of the Modernist greats, and the general public quite clearly loves his art as well; so that it is difficult to grasp why he should still be seen as so provocative (not least by intellectuals), and why certain quarters should still incline to damn him as a lunatic. It may be that (as with Leonardo da Vinci) no one cares to gaze too deep into so searing a mirror. Dali himself declared: "The sole difference between myself and a madman is the fact that I am not mad!" Just as the only artist to have remained an Impressionist from the start of his career to the close (while the rest shifted to Cubism, Pointillism or Fauvism) was Monet, so too the one true Surrealist, the most constant of them all, was Salvador Dali. And he remained a true Surrealist even when he avowed: "The mills of his mind grind continuously, and he possesses the universal curiosity of Renaissance man."

In his foreword to Dali's Diary of a Genius, writer Michel Deon observes: "It is tempting to suppose we know Dali because he has had the courage to enter the public realm. Journalists devour every syllabic he utters. But the most surprising thing about him is his earthy common sense, as in the scene where a young man who wants to make it to the top is advised to eat caviar and drink champagne if he does not wish to fret and toil to the end of his days. What makes Dali so appealing is his roots and his antennae. Roots that reach deep into the earth, absorbing all the 'earthiness' (to use one of Dali's favourite notions) that has been produced in four thousand years of painting, architecture and sculpture. Antennae that are picking up things to come, tuned to the future, anticipating it and assimilating it at lightning speed. It cannot be sufficiently emphasized that Dali is a man of tireless scientific curiosity. Every discovery and invention enters into his work, reappearing there in barely changed form." One might say that Dali was typical of his age: he had grasped how to make himself a star.

Man, said Blaise Pascal, is "half angel, half animal". His whole life long, and throughout his work, Dali was as obsessed with sexuality as he was with the quest for the absolute. When he saw the shaven armpit of a woman for the first time, he declared, he was looking for heaven, just as he "was looking for heaven when he poked a rotting hedgehog with a crutch. Sexuality and death are close companions in Dali.




A Cook or Napoleon

The six-year-old Salvador wanted to be a cook, and insisted that he must be a female mistress of the cuisine. We can relate the wish directly to one of the salient characteristics of the true Catalonian, in Dali's pithy definition: " I know what I'm eating. I don't know what I'm doing." At the same time, he produced his first picture: the six-year-old, dressed at that age in sailor costume, painted a landscape. Aged seven, he decided he wanted to be Napoleon instead. In the drawing room on the third floor of his parental home there was a small keg in the image of the French emperor, which contained the mate tea his family were in the habit of taking at six in the evening. "Napoleon's image, reproduced on the mate keg, meant everything to me," Dali wrote in The Secret Life of Salvador Dali; "for years his attitude of Olympian pride, the white and well-fed strip of his smooth belly, the feverish pink flesh of those imperial cheeks, the indecent, melodic, and categorical black of the spectral outline of his hat, corresponded exactly to the ideal model I had chosen for myself, the king. [...] I would in turn sip the tepid liquid, which to me was sweeter than honey, that honey which, as is known, is sweeter than blood itself - for my mother, my blood, was always present. My social fixation was sealed by the triumphal and sure road of the erogenous zone of my own mouth. I wished to sip Napoleon's liquid! [...] Thus I frantically established hierarchies in the course of a year; from wanting to be a cook I had awakened the very person of a Napoleon from my impersonal costume of an obscure king." Dali famously declared that since boyhood his ambition had grown ever greater, till all he could aim for was to be Salvador Dali.

Dali insisted in the Secret Life that he had "intra-uterine memories". These were visual memories of the life before birth, and he claimed: "It was divine, it was paradise." Dali held it was the source of "that perturbation and that emotion" which he had felt throughout his life when confronted with the "ever-hallucinatory image" of two fried eggs: "The fried eggs on the plate without the plate, which I saw before my birth were grandiose, phosphorescent and very detailed in all the folds of their faintly bluish whites." His intra-uterine memories provided Dali with the essential foundations of his lifelong pursuits: "It seems increasingly true that the whole imaginative life of man tends to reconstitute symbolically by the most similar situations and representations that initial paradisaical state, and especially to surmount the horrible 'traumatism of birth' by which we are expulsed from the paradise, passing abruptly from that ideally protective and enclosed environment to all the hard dangers of the frightfully real new world, with the concomitant phenomena of asphyxiation, of compression, of blinding by the sudden outer light and of the brutal harshness of the reality of the world [...]"


Landscape Near Figueras


Landscape Near Ampurdan


Dutch Interior (copy after Manuel Benedito)


Head of Athene


c. 1917


River Landscape


Untitled - Landscape with Animals
c. 1916


View of Cadaques with Shadow of Mount Pani







Let All the Bells Ring!

Expelled from his intra-uterine paradise, Salvador Felipe Jacinto was born on 11 May 1904 in Figueras in the province of Gerona. His father, Don Salvador Dali y Cusi, then aged forty-one, was from Cadaques in the same province of Gerona; he had a notary's practice in Figueras, and lived at 20 Calle Monturiol. His Barcelona-born wife Dona Felipa Dome Domenech was then thirty. The place of her son's birth was to enter art history: time and again, the artist Salvador painted the beloved flatland of Ampurdan, in his eyes the loveliest landscape in the world, and a leitmotiv in his early pictures. The Cataloman coastal strip from Cape Creus to Estartit (with Cadaques midway) afforded Dali both the natural scenery and the unique Mediterranean light of many of his most famous works; and in the crags and cliffs, torn by the elements, he found the originals of the morphological curiosities - the vast realm of fossils, bones, and anthropomorphic projections -that were to keep his creative imagination in thrall. From the very outset, he scarcely painted a landscape, portrait or abstract composition that was not unmistakably Catalonian in character, through its distinctive rocky landscape, in which anthropomorphic shapes counterpointed the human figures Dali painted. Dali's oft nightmarish visions were not the product of innate psychological disturbance; rather, they drew directly upon happenings and facts he had observed and remembered.

In the Secret Life, Dali waxed ecstatic on the subject of his own birth: "Let all the bells ring! Let the toiling peasant straighten for a moment the ankylosed curve of his anonymous back, bowed to the soil like the trunk of an olive tree, twisted by the tramontana, and let his cheek, furrowed by deep and earth-filled wrinkles, rest in the hollow of his calloused hand in a noble attitude of momentary and meditative repose. Look! Salvador Dali has just been born! [...] It is on mornings such as this that the Greeks and the Phoenicians must have disembarked in the bays of Rosas and of Ampurias, in order to come and prepare the bed of civilization and the clean, white and theatrical sheets of my birth, settling the whole in the very centre of this plain of Ampurdan, which is the most concrete and the most objective piece of landscape that exists in the world."

Why did Dali's parents name him Salvador? The artist himself, needless to say, roundly declared that he was destined to save art from the threat of the isms -from Dadaism, from academic Surrealism, from abstract art. Salvador, the saviour of art.


Portrait of Lucia




Still Life


Couple Near the Fortress

Portrait of Hortensia, Peasant Woman of Cadaques


Playa Port Alguer De La Riba, D'en Pitxot


Cadaques - Garden of Llane


Punta es Baluard de la Riba d'en Pitxot, Cadaques


Port of Cadaques (Night)


Vilabertrin Church Tower


The Anti-Faust

Dali was a tireless observer of all that surrounded him. His particular attention was given to Lucia, his old nurse, who filled his head with stories, and his grandmother. "Lucia and my grandmother were two of the neatest old women," he recalled, "with the whitest hair and the most delicate and wrinkled skin I have ever seen. The first was immense in stature and looked like a pope. The second was tiny and resembled a small spool of white thread. I adored old age!"

Once he came to write his Secret Life, Dali was elaborating that childhood adoration in characteristic fashion: "I became, I was and I continue to be the living incarnation of the Anti-Faust. As a child I adored that noble prestige of old people, and I would have given all my body to become like them, to grow old immediately! I was the Anti-Faust. Wretched was he who, having acquired the supreme science of old age, sold his soul to unwrinkle his brow and recapture the unconscious youth of his flesh! Let the labyrinth of wrinkles be furrowed in my brow with the red-hot iron of my own life, let my hair whiten and my step become vacillating, on condition that I can save the intelligence of my soul - let my unformed childhood soul, as it ages, assume the rational and esthetic forms of an architecture, let me just learn everything that others cannot teach me, what only life would be capable of marking deeply in my skin! [...] In each of Lucia's or my grandmother's wrinkles I read this force of intuitive knowledge brought to the surface by the painful sum of experienced pleasures [...]"

Port Dogue, Cadaques


The Three Pines


Sea View


Es Poal - Pianque




Still Life: Pomegranates



Evening Ball at the Patio of Mariona



Discuss Art

Please note: site admin does not answer any questions. This is our readers discussion only.

| privacy