Art of the 20th Century


Art Styles in 20th century Art Map







Salvador Dali

If You Act the Genius, You Will Be One!  1910-1928
The Proof of Love  1929-1935
The Conguest of the Irrational 1936-1939
The Triumph of Avida Dollars  1939-1946
The Mystical Manifesto  1946-1962
Paths to Immortality  1962-1989



Biblia Sacrata, Marquis de Sade, Faust, The Art of Love,
Don Quixote, Divine Comedy, Decameron,
Casanova, Les Caprices de Goya




If You Act the Genius, You Will Be One!

1910 - 1928



The Crystal Stopper

At ten, Dali discovered the Impressionists; and, at fourteen, the pompiers - the academic genre painters of the 19th century. When the family informed him of their wish to employ a drawing teacher for the lad, he retorted: "No! I don't want any drawing teacher, because I'm an 'Impressionist' painter!" Not that he clearly understood what was meant by the word "Impressionist"; but he felt his reply was a logical one, and was nonplussed when it provoked a peal of laughter:

"Well, will you look at that child, coolly announcing that he's an 'Impressionist' painter!"

In the Secret Life, Dali left a meticulous account of the background that underpinned the logic of his own development in art. When the lad breakfasted on toast and honey, he reported, he was surrounded by oils and etchings, while at school he could see Millet's Angelas, which was to have such impact on his adult work. The work adorning the parental walls was mainly by Ramon Pichot (1872-1925), a neighbour and friend from a family of artists, who at that time was living in Paris. Around the turn of the century he was associated with Picasso; in 1905 he exhibited at the autumn Salon in Paris with the Fauves. Pichot's technique recalled that of Toulouse-Lautrec. When a large exhibition was devoted to his work in Paris in 1910, Guillaume Apollinaire wrote in his Chronique d'Art: "Ramon Pichot is one of the stars among Spanish artists now continuing the tradition of a Goya, even of a Velazquez, in Pans. Like Pablo Picasso, he is one of those who, building on the foundations of their high and powerful culture, have applied their genius and their exacting demands to the visual arts, in which sphere they are producing works whose influence is continuously growing throughout the world. [...] Ramon Pichot's wonderful coloured etchings in particular attest him of the Spanish school. They show gypsies, old sailors, fans and pomegranate blossom." All of these subjects, treated by Pichot in his own way, were later to be found in Dali too, who gladly conceded: "I squeezed from these pictures all the literary residue of 1900, the eroticism of which burned deep in my throat like a drop of Armagnac swallowed the wrong way. I remember especially a dancer of the Bal Tabarin dressing. Her face was perversely naive and she had red hairs under her arms."

In all, it seems fair to say that it was Impressionism that made the greatest impact on Dali at the earliest stage of his life in art. For the impressionable youngster, it represented a first contact with an aesthetic he would be questing for his whole life long: anti-academic, revolutionary. "I did not have eyes enough to see all that I wanted to see in those thick and formless daubs of paint, which seemed to splash the canvas as if by chance, in the most capricious and nonchalant fashion. Yet as one looked at them from a certain distance and squinting one's eyes, suddenly there occurred that incomprehensible miracle of vision by virtue of which this musically colored medley became organized, transformed into pure reality. The air, the distances, the instantaneous luminous moment, the entire world of phenomena sprang from the chaos!"

To re-invent Impressionism for himself, to grasp its principles of light and colour, Dali took to carrying around with him a crystal carafe stopper that was in the dining room, apparently unneeded. He would observe the daily scene through this stopper, "impressionistically" transforming it: "[...] the paintings that filled me with the greatest wonder were the most recent ones, in which deliquescent Impressionism ended in certain canvases by frankly adopting in an almost uniform manner the pointilliste formula. The systematic juxtaposition of orange and violet produced in me a kind of illusion and sentimental joy like that which I had always experienced in looking at objects through a prism, which edged them with the colors of the rainbow."

In 1918 Dali's enthusiasm extended to include the academic pompiers, especially Mariano Fortuny (1838-1874). The inventor of Spanish colourism had left a vast oeuvre that included The Battle of Tetuan, a painting which had brought him not only fame but also the respect of Theophile Gautier, the friendship of Meissonier, and, in due course, the admiration of Dali. Dali was to retain this liking for Fortuny throughout his life, and it even resulted in his own version of The Battle of Tetuan..This period, the war years of 1914 to 1918, was one of unusual contentment for Dali. Spain, remaining neutral, was enjoving a euphoric boom:

people were dancing the tango and sardana, or singing German songs to the guitar. It seemed one glorious party. The young Salvador had no interest whatsoever in his schoolwork, and damned the teachers as "idiots"; small wonder, then, that his school performance was far from satisfactory. Painting was of far greater interest to him than tuition by Figueras' Marist Brothers. As early as 1918 he was exhibiting with other local artists in the Teatro Municipal. He was also writing a regular art column for Studium, a magazine published by the Instituto de Figueras, in which he sang the praises of artists he revered, such as Michelangelo, El Greco, Velazquez, Durer, Goya and Leonardo da Vinci. They were, of course, a young person's essays on art, and inevitably somewhat clumsy; yet even at fifteen Dali was evidencing highly developed thinking on art. Thus he wrote of Velazquez: "Our painter was also extraordinarily skilful in his technique. His works are put before us with an unarguable seriousness; thus, for instance, his genre pictures, such as the Meninas and the Weavers, which display an enviable and unequalled skill. His application of paint and arrangement of colours sometimes seem veritably Impressionist. Velazquez must be considered as one of the greatest, perhaps indeed the greatest, of Spanish painters, and furthermore as one of the foremost artists the world has seen." Superior as Dali always felt himself to be over his contemporaries, he yet invariably felt small and humble beside his illustrious predecessors. In the Secret Life he wrote: "If I look toward the past, beings like Raphael appear to me as true gods; I am perhaps the only one today to know why it will henceforth be impossible even remotely to approximate the splendors of Raphaelesque forms. And my own work appears to me a great disaster, for I should like to have lived in an epoch during which nothing needed to be saved! But if I turn my eyes toward the present, although I do not underestimate specialized intelligences much superior to my own [...] I would for nothing in the world change places with anyone, with anyone whomsoever among my contemporaries."

Dali was by now intending to go to the Academy of Fine Arts in Madrid, and moreover planning "a struggle to the death" with the professors there. He had already been attending Professor Juan Nunez's drawing course at the Escuela Municipal de Grabado, and delighted in doing the very opposite of whatever Nunez instructed - using heavy black pencils when advised to use soft, scratching and blotching when advised to tone gently. Dali, needless to say, decided that he was in the right: "I came to the conclusion that only the relief of the color itself, deliberately piled on the canvas, could produce luminous effects satisfying to the eye. This was the period my parents and myself baptized 'The Stone Period'. I used stones, in fact, to paint with. When I wanted to obtain a very luminous cloud or an intense brilliance, I would put a small stone on the canvas, which I would thereupon cover with paint. One of the most successful paintings of this kind was a large sunset with scarlet clouds." This picture, studded with stones, hung for a time in his parents' dining room: "I remember that during the peaceful family gatherings after the evening meal we would sometimes be startled by the sound of something dropping on the mosaic. My mother would stop sewing for a moment and listen, but my father would always reassure her with the words, 'It's nothing - it's just another stone that's dropped from our child's sky!'" Dali senior would add with a mildly worried expression: "The ideas are good, but who would ever buy a painting which would eventually disappear while their house got cluttered up with stones?" We might compare Old Man at Twilight, where the cloudy sky also consists of small stones stuck to the canvas and painted over.



Crepuscular Old Man



Dali's principal subjects in his earliest work, from 1910 to 1921, were landscapes and portraits, for which he readily found sitters. The most striking thing about this early phase - and one which places Dali's work in stark contrast to the early work of other painters - is that, far from being dark and desolate, his paintings were bright and luminous. He moved on from Impressionism to Pointillism, from Pointillism to Fauvism, exuberantly and even obsessively painting everything he could see in Cadaques or Portdogue, the olive groves and fishermen and boats. He painted portraits of his own family, the Pichots, his cousin Montserrat, his grandmother - and himself. For this last he used a finely nuanced palette of what he called "voluptuous colours", applied in thick pastose.

There is a photograph taken in 1910that shows the entire family: from the left, his aunt Maria Teresa, his mother, his father, then Salvador himself, his mother's sister Tieta (who was to marry the notary after the death of Dali's mother), the boy's sister Ana Maria, and grandmother Ana.

Out in the boat is El Beti, a fisherman who looked after the family boats. Life in his youth was unquestionably a carefree thing for Salvador Dali: he was, by his own confession, royally spoilt, his every extravagant notion indulged. And for this reason, no doubt, his father was beginning to worry. What was to become of the boy?


The Dali family home at Cadaques, 1910


The whole Dalí family photographed about 1910 on the beach at Llaner.
Left to right: Aunt Maria, the mother and the father of the artist,
Salvador Dalí, Auntie, Ana Maria (Salvador's sister), and his grandmother, Ana.


The Artist's Father at Llane Beach


Portrait of the Artist's Mother,
Dofia Felipa Dome Domenech De Dali


Portrait of My Father


Study for a Self-Portrait


Portrait of a Gipsy


Portrait Ofjaume Miravidles




Dali, by his own account, was always not merely an immodest person but also deeply contrary, opposed to everything "on principle". As he put it: "The Child-King became an anarchist." It was perhaps inevitable, therefore, that when a group of students burnt the flag of Spain it was Dali who was accused of the offence. A schoolboy still, he was acquitted on grounds of age, but the incident "made a deep impression on public opinion".

He was cultivating an image already. "I had let my hair grow as long as a girl's, and looking at myself in the mirror I would often adopt the pose and the melancholy look which so fascinated me in Raphael's sell- portrait" (Self-Portrait with the Neck of Raphael). Dali was determined "to compose a masterpiece with my head", and was impatient for the day when he would be able to grow sideburns (which in due course he did, earning the iocai nickname of Sefior Pa-tillas). He would make up using his mother's powder and pencil, and was delighted to hear people in the street cry out, "That's the son of Dali the notary. He's the one who burned the flag!"


Self-portrait with the Neck of Raphael



The young Salvador passed his first year exams at the Marist Brothers' school without distinction. He was relieved that he had failed none, since resits would have spoilt his summer in beloved Cadaques: "This is the spot which all my life I have adored with a fanatical fidelity which grows with each passing day. I can say without fear of falling into the slightest exaggeration that I know by heart each contour of the rocks and beaches of Cadaques, each geological anomaly of its unique landscape and light, for in the course of my wandering solitudes these outlines of rocks and these flashes of light clinging to the structure and the aesthetic substance of the landscape were the unique protagonists on whose mineral impassiveness, day after day, I projected all the accumulated and chronically unsatisfied tension of my erotic and sentimental life. I alone knew the exact itinerary of the shadows as they traced their anguishing course around the bosom of the rocks, whose tops would be reached and submerged by the softly lapping tides of the waxing moon when the moment came. [...] Just as on a human head [...] there is only one nose, and not hundreds of noses growing in all directions and on all its surfaces, so on the terrestrial globe that phemonenal thing which a few of the most cultivated and discriminating minds in this world have agreed to call a 'landscape', knowing exactly what they mean by this word, is so rare that innumerable miraculous and imponderable circumstances — a combination of geological mold and of the mold of civilization - must conspire to produce it. [...] But the most curious of all is that where this landscape becomes best, most beautiful, most excellent and most intelligent is precisely in the vicinity of Cadaques, which by my great good fortune (I am the first to recognize it) is the exact spot where Salvador Dali since his earliest childhood was periodically and successively to pass the 'esthetic courses' of all his summers. [...] Each hill, each rocky contour might have been drawn by Leonardo himself!"

The Tartan "El Son"


Es Pianc


Portrait of Mr. Pancraci


Self-Portrait in the Studio


Still Life for the Cover of "Per La, Musica, Poems"


Cover of "Per La Musica, Poems"


Portrait of the Violoncellist Ricardo Pichot


Old Man of Portdogue


Portrait of Joaquim Montaner
(Allegory of the Navigator)


Portrait of Jose M. Torres


Circus Acrobats


View of Portdogue (Port Aluger)


View of Cadaques from Playa Poal


The Lake at Vilabertran


The Vegetable Garden of Llaner

Still Life by a Window


The Garden of Llaner, Cadaques


Landscape Near Cadaques


Girls in a Garden


Landscape Near Cadaques


Back View of Cadaques


Landscape Near Cadaques


Llaner Beach in Cadaques

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