Influences in the Life of Salvador Dali Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Influences in the Life of Salvador Dali

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Salvador Dali was born on 11 May, 1904, in Figueras, northern Spain. He was named after his brother, the first Salvador Dali, who died as a toddler shortly before Dali himself was born. Dali was always resentful of being made to live in the shadow of the brother he never met.

In his childhood he had many ambitions, not least to be Napoleon, but settled on one predominant determination: to be Salvador Dali. His future career as an artist was influenced in no small way by his holidays with the Pichot family of artists who encouraged him and advised him.

When his secondary education finished, he attended the School of Painting, Sculpture and Engraving, at the Academia De San Fernando. In 1923, he was suspended for 'disobedience and disruption' and in 1926, he was expelled for refusing to attend a theory of art exam. However, during his time at the academy Dali made many contacts which would shape his future career, and his life outside the art world.

Individuals who Influenced Dali

Luis Buñuel

A surrealist filmmaker, Dali found in Buñuel a fellow thinker. In 1927, a year after Dali's expulsion, Buñuel approached him with an idea for a film - Un Chien Andalou ('An Andalusian Dog'), which obeyed one rule and one rule only - there must be no explanation for any ideas present within the film. If it can be explained rationally or psychologically then it has no place in the venture.

Dali's portrait of Buñuel, painted while still at the academy, shows a solemn man, in grey, and is typical of the style of work fashionable at the time. It also illustrates that this was a time in Dali's life when he had not yet settled on a style of work. Buñuel's interest in surrealism doubtless inflamed Dali's curiosity and may have been what led him to explore the style for himself.

Garcia Lorca

An avant-garde poet, he and Dali had much in common, and their friendship was based, for Dali at least, in the search for artistic revelation. However, the friendship was severely damaged after Lorca made advances on Dali, who was horrified. At the time he was a virgin who thought of sexual contact as being repulsive and terrifying, and was appalled that Lorca should wish for anything other than friendship.

Paul Eluard

One of the founders of the surrealist movement, along with Breton and Aragon, he visited Dali when his work was drawn to their attention. The sexual representations in his work were not lost on them, and the lack of conventionality in his work led them to invite him to join the movement.

Eluard didn't just affect Dali's artistic career, though. When Eluard visited Dali he brought with him his wife - Gala.


Meeting Gala was, for Dali, a revelation and a terror. Here was the personification of all his fantasies, and yet his fear and loathing of erotic acts made it impossible for him to approach her. It was Gala who put an end to his torture by proposing a walk one day, during which Dali confessed his love. They eloped to Barcelona in 1929.

Gala was to become a major influence in the work of Dali. She was to feature in many of his works, often surrounded by controversy. In The Sacrament of the Last Supper, Dali gave Christ the features of Gala, and in many pictures he portrayed her as the Madonna.

On other occasions, she influenced some of his worse pieces, encouraging him to rush out pictures purely for financial gain. This was a contributing factor to Dali's expulsion from the surrealist movement.

His Rift with the Surrealists

It seems strange that Dali, who for many people is synonymous with surrealism, should have had such a turbulent relationship with the movement. Although at first he was welcomed into the movement, the surrealists objected to some of Dali's work. They were scandalised when Dali painted The Lugubrious Game, which included a man whose underpants were soiled, and they were angry when he painted portraits for money instead of pursuing the artistic dream. The final straw was Dali's consent to design advertisements for a company making tights, and by the 1940s his links with the surrealists were severed.

Nevertheless, Dali considered himself to be a true surrealist. He once said:

The only difference between the surrealists and me is that I am a surrealist.

He considered his work to be true surrealism, and that the surrealist group, by adopting a certain style and set of rules had disqualified its own existence. The surrealist group, in turn, felt that his works had become no more than puzzles where the viewer searched for the double images rather than looked at the paintings.

It was Breton, the leader of the surrealists, who gave Dali the nickname 'Avida Dollars', an anagram of Salvador Dali, and an indication of the light they saw Dali in. Designing adverts and fashionable clothes (for Dali saw a link between art and fashion) were not suitable occupations for a surrealist; he was giving them a bad name, and the bad name they gave back to him indicated their displeasure.

Influences on Dali's Work


Dali was a great believer in the theories of Freud, and especially took to heart his sexual representation - that vessels were feminine and wild animals were masculine - and incorporated them into much of his work.


Dali was obsessed with Hitler, because of 'the shape of his back'. He included Hitler in several of his works, namely The Enigma of Hitler and this obsession caused great controversy and was yet another factor in his expulsion from the surrealists.

The Angelus of Millet

This was a painting that hung outside a classroom in one of Dali's schools, that he was later to remember and include in many of his works, such as The Architectonic Angelus of Millet and The Angelus of Gala. It depicts a man and a woman praying over a harvest, and is seen my many as a symbolic religious piece. However, Dali read many sinister meanings into it. He saw the woman as being aggressive, and described the picture as being about sexual repression rather then humble worship.

He also claimed that if the picture were to be x-rayed it would reveal that the figures were originally praying over the coffin of a child. This was always seen as another manifestation of Dali's bizarre fantasies, but an x-ray did actually reveal a geometric shape, which had been painted over, and resembled a small coffin. Dali's interpretation had been correct.

The Telephone

One of Dali's most famous works is his Lobster Telephone, a telephone with a lobster in place of a receiver. Dali saw parallels between the lobster and the telephone, and included the telephone in many of his works.


As Dali's career progressed he became more and more obsessed with money, sacrificing his artistic integrity and the respect of many artists in pursuit of it. He was known to sign blank sheets of paper in order for other people to paint a picture and the sell it at an exorbitant price as a Dali work. This has led to debate over who was responsible for a number of paintings which do not fit with Dali's usual style, a debate which may never be resolved.

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