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Excerpts from the life of a genius

Salvador Dalí is one of the most talented artists of the modern era. He staged his works and himself in the most spectacular ways. He illustrated his own life in his series, “After 50 Years of Surrealism”, on the occasion of the opening of his museum in Figueras. These twelve works are part of “Dalí – The Exhibition on Potsdamer Platz” and form the conclusion of the tour. The biography below provides selected illustrations of the major events in his life, as selected by Dalí himself.


* May 11th 1904 in Figueres, Catalona
† January 23rd 1989



On 11th May, Salvador Felipe Jacinto Dalí y Domènech is born in Figueras in the province of Catalonia, the second son of the solicitor, Salvador Dalí y Cusí and his wife Felipa Domènech. The boy is given the first name Salvador, just like his recently deceased brother, who had died at 23 months. Four years later, his sister Ana Maria is born.


Dalí is a member of the municipal school of painting and drawing in Figueras. His talent is recognised by the artist and art teacher, Juan Núñez Fernández, who encourages him. His talent is acclaimed by critics at a group exhibition in the Figueras town theatre. He publishes several articles about the great masters and also his own poems in local magazines.



In February, Dalí’s mother dies. In October, Dalí is accepted by the San Fernando College of Art in Madrid. He lives in the student residence Residencia de
, where he becomes friends with Federico García Lorca and Luis Buñuel.


During his first trip to Paris, Dalí meets Pablo Picasso in his studio. The latter encourages him in his work. Dalí rejects the examination topics for the final examination at the academy and declares the faculty of teachers to be incapable of evaluating him, the genius artist. On 20th October, he is finally expelled by royal decree from the Madrid College of Art (Illustration Flung Out Like a Fag-End by the Big-Wigs, WVZ 668).

Dalí and the Surrealists


On a subsequent visit to Paris, Dalí is introduced to the Surrealist circle by Joan Miró.


Buñuel and Dalí make the film An Andalusian Dog, which marks their official acceptance into the Parisian group of Surrealists. In the summer of the same year, the married couples Éluard, Magritte, Goemans and Buñuel spend their holidays with Dalí in Cadaqués. Gala Éluard and Dalí fall in love and become a couple (Illustration Gala’s godly back, WVZ 669).


He develops the first approach to his paranoiac-critical method. The painting The Donkey’s Carcass appears in the magazine Le Surréalisme au Service de la Révolution; The Visible Woman appears in Éditions Surréalistes. He illustrates texts by André Breton, Paul Éluard and Tristan Tzara. Dalí buys a fisherman’s hut in Port Lligat near Cadaqués, in which from now on he and Gala live for a large part of the year (Illustration The Laurels of Happiness, WVZ 665).

The liaison with Gala leads to a severing of relations with his father, who opposes the relationship (Illustration The Curse Overthrown, WVZ 666). Extreme rightwing groups destroy the cinema during the screening of the film The Golden Age by Buñuel and Dalí. The screening of the film is forbidden by the Nationalist League.


Gala and Dalí marry in a registry office. First disagreements with the Surrealists and André Breton. The Dalís travel to America for the first time. Pablo Picasso pays for the trip. Dalí’s exhibition in New York meets with triumphant success (Illustration Picasso: A Ticket for Glory, WVZ 670).


Dalí writes about his paranoiac-critical method in La Conquête de L’irrationnel (The Conquest of the Irrational). One year later, he appears on the cover of Time magazine, which brings him great popularity.


Stefan Zweig arranges for Dalí to visit the great psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud in London. He shows him his work The Metamorphosis of Narcissus, which he painted and wrote in parallel the previous year as a comprehensive application of the paranoiac-critical method, and draws several portraits of him. Freud is extremely impressed by the young artist (Illustration Freud with a Snail Head, WVZ 672).


The final split with the Surrealist group and André Breton occurs and Breton nicknames Dalí "Avida Dollars" (greed for dollars) in an anagram of his name (Illustration The Great Inquisitor [Breton] Expels the Savior [Salvador], WVZ 671).
Dalí publishes the text, The Declaration of Independence of the Imagination and the Declaration of the Rights of Man to his Madness in the USA. Dalí designs a shop window for the department store, Bonwit Teller on 5th Avenue in New York, which he then destroys after a non-agreed change has been made to his design (Illustration A Shattering Entrance upon the American Stage, WVZ 673).

In America


Dalí and Gala live in exile in the United States.


Dalí designs the dream sequence for Alfred Hitchcock’s film Spellbound. He publishes the first edition of his newspaper, Dalí-News. Monarch of the Dailies.


Dalí draws several designs for a cartoon film project called Destino with Walt Disney. However, the film isn’t to be released until 2003 with the help of the Disney family. It was not made available on DVD until 2010.

Dalí's nuclear Mysticism


After a private audience with Pope Pius XII, Dalí concentrates on religious and mystical subjects (Illustration God, Time, Space, and the Pope, WVZ 667).


Dalí’s father dies. It is the time of his so-called Nuclear Mysticism.


On the insistence of the Parisian publisher, Joseph Forêt, Dalí’s first lithographic work, Don Quixote de la Mancha appears, in which he revolutionises the lithographic technique. In the course of various happenings, he treats the litho stones with rhinoceros horns and arquebuses. Dalí’s book Les Cocus du Vieil art Moderne (Dalí on Modern Art: The Cuckolds of Antiquated Modern Art) is published in Paris.


Dalí and Gala marry in church, after the death of Gala’s first husband, the Surrealist poet Paul Éluard (Illustration The Divine Love of Gala, WVZ 674).

A genius


For the exclusive bookclub Nouveau Cercle Parisien du Livre Dalí makes 20 colour wood engravings to illustrate Pedro Antonio de Alarcón’s Le Tricorne. He is granted an audience with Pope John XXIII and collaborates with other artists on the most expensive book project at that time, the Apocalypse of Saint John. For his three motifs for this book, Dalí for example explodes a bomb filled with nails on copper plates and uses a steam roller to run over a sewing machine laid between copper plates.


Dalí’s most comprehensive work of illustration by far, 100 xylographs illustrating Dante’s The Divine Comedy originally commissioned by the Italian government for the 700th anniversary of Dante’s birth in 1965, is published by Joseph Forêt.


Dalí publishes Le Mythe tragique de l’Angélus de Millet. Dalí begins to attribute a decisive role in the constitution of the universe to the railway station at Perpignan. In addition, scientific topics are integrated into Dalí’s works, such as the double helix structure of the DNA.


Dalí publishes Diary of a Genius. Queen Isabella of Spain awards him the Grand Cross, the highest Spanish honour.


Dalí buys the Castle of Púbol for Gala, close to Figueras. However, he has to announce his arrival and ask for permission
before he may visit her there (Illustration Gala’s Castle, WVZ 675).


Dalí’s illustrations for Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland appear, combining woodcut, etching and lithographic techniques.With the Walpurgisnight etchings, Dalí creates his illustration to Goethe’s Faust. His popularity leads him for example to design television advertising for the firm, Chocolat Lanvin. French railways S.N.C.F. commission him to design a series of posters for the regions of France, published as lithographs.


As a great admirer of Richard Wagner and a master of the dry point process, Dalí produces a comprehensive series of 21 drypoint etchings for Tristan and Iseult.


Opening of the Salvador Dalí Museum in Cleveland, Ohio, with the collection of E. and A. Reynolds Morse, relocated in 1982 to Saint Petersburg, Florida. Dalí designs the limited first edition of the fashion magazine Scarab for the Scabal fashion house and designs for it the mannequinbased sculpture Mannequin Zootropique. Appearance of the drypoint etching series New Mythological Suite as a Hommage to Dürer. Dalí designs the Christmas edition of the French magazine Vogue.


Dalí produces Ten Recipes for Immortality, a case design with etchings and three-dimensional objects. Additionally appearance of Dalí’s lithographs for Rabelais’ The Comical Dreams of Pantagruel.


Dalí opens his Teatro Museo Gala Dalí in Figueras. For it, he produces the drypoint series After 50 Years of Surrealism. Appearance of his illustrations for Les Amours Jaunes by Tristan Corbière (Illustration The Museum of Genius and Fantasy, WVZ 676).

His last years


Gala dies on 10th June. In July, Dalí is awarded the title Marqués de Púbol i Figueras by King Juan Carlos. From now on, he lives at Púbol Castle.


In May, Dalí paints his last picture, The Swallow’s Tail.


Dalí suffers severe burns in a fire at Púbol Castle.


On 23rd January, Dalí dies of heart failure in Torre Galatea, the tower of his museum in Figueras, which he has inhabited since the fire at Púbol Castle. In accordance with his wishes, he is entombed in the crypt of the museum. Dalí’s will leaves his entire estate and his works to the Spanish state.