The Surreal Life Of Salvador Dali

Salvador Dali is a renowned painter best known for his work The Persistence of Memory, which shows a surrealist landscape filled with ants and melting clocks. Behind the surrealist paintings was an equally surreal existence. Dali led a bizarre lifestyle, perhaps one even wilder than the paintings that made him a legend.

He made be a beloved artist but his psychotic tendencies and strange upbringing might have you second guessing your love of his work.

Wait until you read about the boy he attempted to kill just for fun.

Salvador Dali’s Brother Died Nine Months Before He Was Born


Salvador Dali had an inexplicably bizarre upbringing starting with the moment his mother gave birth to a boy named Salvador Dali. No, this wasn’t the legendary painter, but rather his sibling who died from a stomach infection at 22 months old. Nine months after his sibling’s death, the Salvador Dali we know was born. He most certainly left behind a legacy for both himself and his deceased brother of the same name. His brother’s death would have profound influenceover his life as you’re about to learn.

Salvador’s Parents Thought He Was Their Dead Child Reincarnated

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Salvador was born in 1904 on the French border in Catalonia, Spain. His birth came just a short nine months after the tragic passing of his older brother who died of gastroenteritis on August 1, 1903. Salvador was the spitting image of his same-named brother. Dali’s parents were convinced that he was the reincarnation of his brother, and when he was five years old they took him to his brother’s grave to reveal their belief. Their belief took a deep psychological toll on the artist.

He once said, “[We] resembled each other like two drops of water, but we had different reflections. [He] was probably a first version of myself but conceived too much in the absolute.” His brother’s death led to an unhealthy obsession…

Dali Was Obsessed With Images Of His Dead Brother

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Dali grew up truly believing he was the reincarnated version of his brother. The brother he never met ended up being a huge inspiration when he started painting. Dali frequently used images of his long-dead brother, most notably in the aptly titled 1963 portrait, Portrait of My Dead Brother. Scholars universally agree that Dali wasn’t sure what his older brother would have looked like, but the perfectly square image appears to bear a likeness to the few black and white photos Dali would have seen. The figure is much too old to actually have been his brother who died as an infant.

This was not nearly as troubling as his sadistic lifestyle which included a disgusting act with a bat as you’re about to learn.

Dali Was A Violent Child And A Sadist


From a very young age, Dali exhibited very concerning behavior. He linked pain and pleasure together and had a strange childhood habit of attacking people for no reason at all. He also had a bizarre relationship with torture and pain. When he was five, he was caring for a wounded bat. The bat was overtaken by ants who were eating its body alive. Most people would be absolutely repulsed and try to remove the ants to save the bat. Instead, Dali picked up the bat that was covered in ants, put it in his mouth, and took a bite. While this act was frightening, wait until you learn about a boy he nearly killed just for fun…

Dali Pushed His Friend Off A Bridge When He Was 5

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The most frightening example of Dali randomly attacking people was the incident that occurred between him and a childhood friend. When he was just five years old, he randomly threw his playmate off a bridge. The young artist was out walking with his friend when he noticed no one was around and the bridge they were crossing had no guard rail. He pushed his friend, who plunged 16 feet into jagged rocks and was seriously injured. Dali felt no remorse and smiled, eating a bowl of cherries, as the boy’s mother tried to clean up all of the blood.

Dali Started Drawing In 1916 After His Parents Recognized His Immense Talent


Dali started seriously working on his craft in 1916 when his parents first sent him to drawing school. Even at an early age, he was creating extremely sophisticated drawings and his parents wanted to nurture his talent. Dali wasn’t a serious student, often daydreaming and refusing to pay attention. His attitude changed when he discovered modern painting.

Dali discovered his modern painting style when he went on vacation to Cadaques with his family. There he met Ramon Pichot, a local artist who frequently visited Paris to practice his craft. His father organized a home exhibition of his charcoal drawings a year later. By 1919, he was featured in an exhibit at the Municipal Theater of Figueres.

Dali’s Mother Died Of Breast Cancer And His Dad Married Her Sister


Despite his disturbing sadist tendencies, Dali absolutely adored his mother and had an unconditional bond that transcended the worst parts of himself. The two were extremely close, but when he was just 16 years old, she tragically passed away from breast cancer. Dali never fully recovered and admitted that the loss of his mom “was the greatest blow [he] had ever experienced in [his] life.”

“I worshipped her,” he said. “I could not resign to the loss of a being on whom I counted to make invisible the unavoidable blemishes of my soul.”

Dali’s father remarried Dali’s aunt, his deceased mother’s sister.

Dali Went To Art School In Madrid, Where He Became Even More Eccentric

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In 1922, Dali enrolled in the Academia de San Fernando, an art school in Madrid. He moved into the dorms and became even more eccentric. He didn’t fit in at his last drawing school, but here, he took things a step further and started dressing like a 19th century English Aesthete. He grew his hair out and kept sideburns.

Despite his eccentricities, he actually came into his own at college. This is where he found influence in Metaphysics and Cubism. His fellow students regarded his work highly, but his schooling would be short-lived because of his behavioral issues. His schooling didn’t last long because of his psychotic ways…

Salvador Dali Was Suspended From School After Starting A Riot


Salvador Dali only lasted a year at art school before he was suspended. He allegedly started a riot with his fellow students over the quality of professors at the academy (he was less than thrilled with their staffing choices, which would later get him in more hot water).

After Dali was kicked out of school, he was arrested and jailed later that year in Gerona, Spain (the same place they film Game of Thrones). Officers alleged that he supported the Separatist movement, which was a punishable offense, even though Dali didn’t really have any political views at the time. Eventually, he returned to school in 1926 and was permanently expelled after calling the staff completely incompetent – not a wise move if you’re already on thin ice. He soon dove into Surrealism and took over the landscape.

Dali Finally Dove Into Surrealism In 1929

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After he was expelled from college, Dali started learning on his own. He traveled to Paris and met with highly-revered artists including Pablo Picasso. This is when he started painting works that resembled Picasso’s work. Dali hadn’t yet found his own voice, but by the time 1929 rolled around, he created his first series of surrealist oil paintings. Dali’s work became an amalgamation of Impressionism, Futurism and Cubism and largely focused on three themes: man’s universe and sensations, sexual symbolism and ideographic imagery. He was highly influenced by Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic theories, and the way he drew inspiration was bizarre but reflected his psychoanalytical reading hobby. Wait until you learn of the several bizarre ways in which Salvador Dali drew inspiration for his work.

Dali Had Bizarre Methods To Find Inspiration

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Dali’s paintings may look like a magic-mushroom fever dream, but the artist famously never did drugs. Instead, he had a couple of strange methods that pulled from his subconscious. Dali’s “spoon method” involved sitting in a chair while holding a spoon above a tin plate. When he fell asleep, the spoon would smack on the tin making a loud clank that would wake him up. He would immediately write down what he saw in his brief dream. He also employed a method that involved standing on his head until he almost passed out. He believed this let him access his true unconscious.

Dali’s Paranoiac-Critical Method Was The Most Bizarre Way He Figured Out What To Paint

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Inspiration comes from the strangest places. Yes, Dali regularly drew from his dreams, but the most bizarre – and most famous – method he used was called the “Paranoiac-Critical Method.” This drew the line between his passion for painting and his adoration for Sigmund Freud – and it shouldn’t be surprising that he drew lots of sexual imagery from these paranoia-induced painting sessions.

The technique involved attempting to fabricate a self-induced paranoid state. As he grew increasingly more irrational, he began to make relationships between objects that were not connected at all. He would meticulously paint his deluded, paranoid hallucinations. His bedroom habits were nearly as weird as his artwork as you’re about to learn.

Dali Spent Years In A Menage A Trois With A Fellow Artist

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Dali’s path to marriage was utterly bizarre, but also a symptom of circumstance. When the artist met the love of his life, Elena Ivanovna Diakonova (or Gala, as she’s frequently referred to), in 1929, she was already married to the French surrealist painter Paul Eluard. Dali didn’t care because he was absolutely smitten with the woman who was a decade older than him. “She was destined to be my Gradiva, the one who moves forward, my victory, my wife,” he said.

Luckily for Dali, Gala was in an open marriage, and the couple had played around with other artists in the past. Eluard and Gala had a three-year relationship with artist Max Ernst. Dali kept his eye on the prize and pursued her.

Dali Married Gala And Continued To Have A Bizarre, But Happy Relationship


In 1934, Dali finally married his muse after she divorced Eluard, but their marriage was anything but traditional. The couple reportedly continued to see other people, with Gala even continuing a sexual relationship with Eluard. Eventually, she became his business manager, and he regarded her as so integral to his success that he signed his work with both their names. That didn’t mean Gala didn’t want a break.

In 1968, Dali bought his beloved wife a Spanish castle. Though she loved him, she required written permission before he would come and visit. Did you know Dali also ventured into filmmaking and works with one of the best-known director’s of all time?

Three Years Before Making His Most Renowned Work, Dali Ventured Into Filmmaking

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Dali was already a budding icon in 1929 when he ventured into filmmaking. He collaborated with Luis Bunuel on Un Chien Andalou (An Andalusian Dog) and L’Age D’or (The Golden Age). The Golden Age played heavily with Dali’s surrealist tastes and featured a controversial opening scene where a human eye appeared to be slashed by a razor. Several years later, he ventured into filmmaking again. His works were featured in a dream sequence in Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbound. They were used to show character John Ballantine’s psychological problems and were integral to the film’s plot.

Dali Creates The Persistence of Memory


The Persistence of Memory is one of the most iconic works of art in human history, but it didn’t come until after Dali was already a prominent figure in the Surrealist movement. By 1930, he was frequently commissioned by wealthy people that were fans of avant-garde art. This included Marie-Laure de Noailles and French aristocrats Viscount and Viscountess Charles, who were his first clients.

In 1931, he finally painted The Persistence of Memory, which is sometimes referred to as Soft Watches. The painting is said to hold the deep message that time isn’t rigid and everything is destructible. Now let’s discuss Dali’s unhealthyobessesion with Adolf Hitler.

Dali Was Obsessed With Hitler


In WWII, as the Nazis were taking over Europe, Dali grew a bizarre, intense fascination with Hitler. He started to paint the fascist ruler in unusual ways – and the influence lasted way longer than the war. In his 1958 painting Metamorphosis of Hitler’s Face into a Moonlit Landscape with Accompaniment, he used a photo of Hitler and made it look like a serene landscape when turned on its side.

The artist admitted that he “dreamed about Hitler as other men dreamed about women.”

“Hitler turned me on in the highest…His [Hitler’s] fat back, especially when I saw him appear in the uniform with the Sam Browne belt and shoulder straps that tightly held in his flesh, aroused in me a delicious gustatory thrill originating in the mouth and affording me a Wagnerian ecstasy.”

In the early 1970s, he painted a series of unsettling pictures where Hitler could be seen pleasuring himself.

Dali Regularly Performed Bizarre Stunts Through Out His Adult Life

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Dali had the bizarre compulsion to randomly attack people as a child, but in adulthood, this manifested as the artist performing bizarre and impulsive stunts. In many ways, he was just as much of a performance artist as he was a surrealist painter.

His stunts were random and varied. Once he gave a lecture wearing a deep-sea diving suit that he refused to take off (he almost suffocated because of it). Once he showed up at a speech in a Rolls-Royce full of cauliflower, and another time he drove around in a limo handing out cauliflower to people on the streets of Paris.

Sometimes, his weird antics were actually ingenious marketing schemes. He once created a bookstore installation in which he laid in a hospital bed surrounded by fake doctors in order to help boost book sales. Everyone who bought the book received a free copy of his heart monitor readings.

His Jewelry Collection Is One Of The Most Renowned


Dali’s jewelry collection truly showed his genius. The Dali Joies was a collection designed with Cummins Catherwood, an American millionaire who was a fan of his work. She supplied the costly supplies (millions of dollars of precious stones), and Dali created 39 surreal, unique, wearable pieces. The design was then crafted alongside renowned silversmith Carlos Alemany.

The collection’s central piece is The Royal Heart, a wearable heart-shaped medallion crafted from pure gold and emblazoned with 46 rubies and 42 diamonds. The catch is it beats like a real human heart. The collection was sold to the Salvador Dali foundation in 1999 for just under $7 million.

A Woman Went Through A Decade-Long Campaign To Prove She Was Savador Dali’s Only Child And Heir


Salvador Dali never had any children, so he didn’t have any heirs when he passed away in 1989 from heart failure. That didn’t stop Pilar Abel, a 61-year-old tarot card reader from Gerona, who insisted she was the famed artist’s only daughter. Abel claimed she was the product of a 1955 affair, and in 2016, a court ordered Dali’s body to be exhumed in order to determine paternity. Unfortunately for Abel, it was found that she was not related to Dali after DNA samples were taken from his hair, nails and bones. Currently, the Dali Foundation is in charge of his massive, valuable estate.