Salvador Dalí, Paris

“Every morning I when I awake the greatest joy of mine: that of being Salvador Dalí”

Salvador Dalí grew up in Figures, Spain, and its  rocky landscape was to become a recurrent theme in his paintings.

In 1920, Dalí began his studies at the  Academy of Fine Arts in Madrid. He found his tutors he encountered there to be a disappointment  as they did not teach him anything about classicism. He was later expelled from the Academy and decided to move to Paris to continue his studies.   “Once in Paris I shall seize Power!” Dalí proclaimed.

It was in Paris that Dalí first met Gala, the love of his life and also his Muse.  She had arrived in Paris 1916 having fled  Russia during the Revolution.  She met Dalí while she was still married to Paul Éluard, the French  surrealist poet.

The first surrealist group was formed by André Breton, Picasso, Max Ernst and Man Ray  in Paris in 1922


                          André Breton’s Art Collection –  Centre Pompidou, Paris

André Breton lived 42 Rue Fontaine near Pigalle in Paris. It was here that the surrealist works survived.  Breton kept boxes of documentation never throwing them away, as well as  famous collections of art which were hung behind his desk and which allowed to be used for various for exhibitions.

Breton was a medical student during the first world war, and he became interested in psychology when working in several neurological units. He began to write “automatically” or writing whatever thoughts came into his head in much the same way as a patient of analyst reveal his or her thoughts.

Soon various artists living in Paris would gather together in either the Cyrano on Place Blanche, or in Breton’s apartment, where they would be directed in their efforts to explode the social order and transform life itself.  It was the war on convention, and the Surrealists of Paris frequently met for fancy dress parties or to discuss, love, orgasms and masturbation.

André Breton

Portrait of André Breton (1906) by Victor Brauner

Breton provided Surrealism with its cohesiveness and, according to Jacqueline Bograd Weld, with his mesmeric personality he could make men love him like a woman.  Whatever he decided constitued Surrealism, the surrealists would adhere to.

The surrealists viewed Cubist art at the time as being sterile and dehumanizing, and they replaced it with an art form which provided a new subject matter – the unconscious.  They borrowed form the Dada movement, which went before it, by placing the value of a work of art in its conception rather than its execution.

Talent, skill and technique, previously valued by Western art, were now dismissed – the Surrealists had a new subject matter – the spontaneous, the irrational, the accidental and all things taboo.  It was Dalí who would bring international recognition to Surrealism.

According to Bogard Weld, Surrealism “was not just a hermetic art movement (in fact it gave little importance to aesthetics), but a social and political movement that strove for nothing less than to change the world”.  Scandal was its weapon and, she continues, “newsprint was its ally”.


Gala was already a well known figure of the Surrealist group and she warned Dalí that those involved in the  movement would “eat him alive”. 

Very soon Gala abandoned her husband and daughter to be with Dalí. In the early years of living in Paris, they were quite poor and Gala would often take the metro with Dalí’s water colours, drawings and paintings going from gallery to gallery  trying to convince the owners to buy them.  Although she was not an artist herself, she was good at spotting talent and she encouraged Dalí to work on canvases like the the old classical masters.


         “Three Musicians” by Pablo Picasso

Dalí once claimed that he was destined to be the saviour of painting which was “in mortal danger from abstract art, academic surrealism, Dadaism in general” For  him techniques such as  Impressionism, Pointillaism, Futurism, Cubism, Neo Cubism and Fauvism were just steps along the way towards images he was pursuing.  Each technique held his attention a few weeks until he eventually abandoned them.

Pablo Picasso

In 1927 Dailí was introduced to Pablo Picasso by Manuel Angeles Ortiz, a Cubist painter from Granada who followed Picasso’s work within a centimetre.

Dalí describes how, when he arrived at Picasso’s home on Rue La Boétie, he was deeply moved and full of respect for the Spainish artist.  It was almost like visiting the Pope. When he told Picasso that he had come to see him on his way to the Louvre, Picasso replied “You’re quite right”.

Years later, during a  interview on French television,  Dailí was asked what he thought of Picasso as an artist to which he replied that indeed Picasso was a genius but quite destructive one while he, “Dailí” (always referring to himself in the third person), was far more positive and he proceeded to liken his work to the works of the great Renaissance master Raphaël.

He continued to say that  he was a genius compared to the modern painters of his day whom he felt were encompassed by decadence.  However,  if he were to  compare himself to  the great painters of the past such as Micaelangelo and Raphael, he admitted to feeling humbled.

Un Chien Andalou (1929)

Dalí noted in “Secret Life” that this film succeeded in having the desired effect of putting an end to ten years of “pseudo-intellectual post-war avant gardism” . The screen play for Un Chien Andalou (An Andalusian Dog) was conceived by both Dalí and Spanish film Directo Luis Bunel.

According to Gilles Néret, Dalí worked with Buñel using a technique similar to that of the Surrealists writers of the time in that they juxtaposed images taken from their fantasies. Néret goes on to say that they agreed on one simple rule which Dalí fostered in his future works:

“they would accept no idea or image that was susceptible to rational, psychological or cultural explanation. Open the gates to the irrational! Accept only those images which make a great impact without attempting to discover why”.

Un Chien Andalou is a short film which tells the story of a violent and difficult relationship between a woman and a man.  The common thread through the film is a type of hermaphrodite who is overcome by desire for a woman  who has to continually defend herself.

When the film was released in France, the public were unsure of what to think of it.  They did not understand the meaning of it.  Buñel, who lived in paris from 1924 to 1935, responded by saying that the meaning was quite simple –  it was a film which invited crime and rape.

Buñel, by his own admission, had no interest in the asthetics of the film, what he was interested in was the relationships that people had with each other.  When asked where he found the money to finance the film he said that he got the money from his mother.

Dalí and Politics

Dalí once stated that, while he had no interest in politics, the history of religion, particularly catholicsm was of interest to him.  He once claimed that he preferred monarchies to democracies as they were far more glamorous and he felt the same way about totalitarian. 

enigma of hitler

                                                                          “The Enigma of Hitler” (1939)

When  Dalí started obsessing about Hitler and doing paintings of a rather feminized German leader, with sadistic tendencies, André Breton was not too pleased.  “I saw Hitler as a masochist, obsessed with the  “idée fixe” of starting a war and losing it Dalí claimed. He even went as far as to say “Hitler turns me on”.

Dalí’s persistence in painting Hitler from a Surrealist point of view led to a number of arguments with Breton and his circle of surrealist friends.  

Finally, when Dalí  was called to defend his actions before the group of Surrealists in Paris, he arrived dressed in layers of clothing and with a thermometer in his mouth saying that he had a bad flu.

During the course of discussions he proceeded to check his temperature at regular intervals followed by a striptease and, to top it all, he gave them a preprepared speech about how it was impossible for him to be a Nazi stating that “if Hitler were ever to conquer Europe, he would do away with hysterics of my kind.”   It wasn’t his fault, he continued to say, that he dreamt of  Hitler with four testicles and six foreskins.     Following this heated exchange Dalí was notified that he was expelled from the Surrealist group.

In 1939 Dalí moved from Paris to New York and, according to Kamila Kocialkowska (New Statesman), this was a key year for him.  His paintings moved from being groundbreaking to canvases which produced repetitive, formulaic, and worst of all commercial art.  He has what Kocialkowska describes as “a chronic need to represent Gala as a demi-Goddess while recycling motifs where this “increasing cartoonish style” is almost a precursor to pop art.

Now estranged from the Surrealist group and living in the United States,  Dalí began to follow scientific discoveries with interest. He began to recognise changes within  himself, he saw now that he was becoming mystical.

This conversion to mysticism was a result of the atomic bomb on 6 August 1945 which Dalí claimed was central to his thinking.  The fear which was created within him as a result of hearing the explosion made him question the hidden powers.

” I have become the most important definition of Cosmic Mythology” (Salvador Dalí)

Dalí felt that the fast fading “isms” of modern art  were mainly filled with  skepticism and a strong lack of faith. He believed that heaven was located in the breasts of the faithful and he wanted to demonstrate the unity of the universe, to show the spirituality of all substance and this continued in his work until his death in  1989.


                                                                  “Leda Atomica” (1949)

According to Greek mythology Zeus, the father of the Gods, fell in love with Leda.  He couples with Leda in a the form of a swan and two eggs resulted from the union. Rosa M. Maurell of The Centre for Dalían studies says that Dalí’s version of Leda  follows divine proportions as set down by Luca Paccioli from the Italian Renaissance period.

Unlike Dalí’s contemporaries, who thought that mathematics interrupted the artist’s imagination, Dalí’s decsion to remain with the classical theme seems to reject everything the surrealist movement stood for.  It soon became clear to Dalí that pictorial expression achieved its greatest expression in Renaissance art.

On 1 April 1970 Dalí  chose the Gustave Moreau museum in Paris to announce the creation of his own museum in his home town of Figueras.  The event showed the influence Moreau, the symbolist painter.

Press Conference at Musée Gustave Moreau

After a lifetime dedicated to reproducing the paintings of Italian Renaissance artists, Gustave Moreau’s paintings gave way to a dream like quality.  Dalí shared with Moreau a tendance to borrow figures from classical mythology (such as Leda and the Swan) and the bible.

When Dalí announced the opening of his museum in Figures, Spain  he knelt in front of a reproduction of “Jupiter et Sémélé” which was considered to be one of the best examples of the richness of colour which Moreau loved to use.

1894-1896 Gustave Moreau Jupiter et Semele, Detail Jupiter and Semele, Detail

                                                                              “Jupiter et Sémélé” (1894-95)

According to André Breton in “L’Art Magique” (1957) Moreau was a precursor of Surrealism.

Salvador Dalí (Part 3): Figueres and the Dalí Theatre Museum (


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