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Salvador Dalí

(1904—1989) Spanish painter

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Spanish painter, the most widely known of the surrealists.

Dali's childhood, according to his autobiographical My Secret Life (1942), was punctuated by violence and hysterical fits. He was expelled from the Madrid School of Fine Arts in 1926 for extravagant behaviour and continued throughout his life to cultivate eccentricity and exhibitionism and to suffer from paranoia, which he claimed to be a source of inspiration to his work.

In the 1920s Dali experimented with a variety of styles and was particularly influenced by the Italian metaphysical painters Chirico and Carlo Carrà (1881–1966). In 1929, after reading Freud's writings on dream images and their erotic significance, Dali arrived at his mature surrealist style and quickly became a spectacular member of the surrealists in Paris. His pictures were ‘hand-painted dream photographs’ of subconscious images, painted in realistic detail and with technical excellence against backgrounds of arid Catalan landscapes. Characteristic images are the limp flowing watch faces in The Persistence of Memory (1931), half-open drawers protruding from human figures, as in Burning Giraffe (1935), and optical illusions, such as Mae West (1936), giving the effect of two pictures in one. He also worked with the Spanish director Luis Buñuel on two surrealistic films – Un Chien andalou (1928) and L'Age d'or (1931).

In 1940 Dali moved to New York, where he designed theatre sets and up-market shop interiors and also devoted much of his time to publicity. Returning to Spain in 1955, he became a supporter of the Franco regime. Many of his works after 1950 were religious in theme; the Crucifixion of St John of the Cross (1951) is well known for its unusual view of the cross from above. But he continued to explore erotic subjects: Young Virgin Auto-Sodomized by Her Own Chastity is from the same year. In the 1960s Dali began to produce sculpture. He wrote two more volumes of autobiography – Diary of a Genius (1966) and The Unspeakable Confessions of Salvador Dali (1976). In his last years he became a bedridden recluse after being badly burned in a fire at his home.

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