Early Years ~ 1904 to 1926

Header Painting: Christ of St. John of the Cross, 1951 (Detail) ~ Salvador Dali
© Gala-Salvador Dali Foundation

Essential Reading: Dali (Taschen Basic Art Series) ~ Amazon.co.uk (Direct Link). No better introduction to his world and his work.

Salvador Dali: In Depth Early Years (1904 - 26)

Complete Biography >> In Depth Early Years (1904 - 26) >> Prodigy Child Without An Exam >> Dali & Gala >> In The U.S.A. >> Classic Period After World War II >> Death In His Own Museum >> Biog. II >> Biog. German >> Biog. French >> Dali Prints & Fakes >> Latest Updates

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Salvador Dali ~ Early Years (1904 - 1926)

3 MONTHS BEFORE BIRTH

Here we are in a comfortable house in Cadaques. A middle-class family is expecting a blessed event, and the baby for whose arrival they are making preperations has already started to accumulate his memories. He is already recording his pre-natal impressions in order to recall them later on. Because of this fact, we find ourselves in the presence of one of those rare human beings whose biography should begin before his birth with his memories of the gestatio period in an enclosed world: "It was divine, it was paradise!" the infant who was about to be born would exclaim later.

1904

Now, on May 11, 1904, at 8:45 in the morning, at 20 Monturiol Street in Figueras, province of Gerona, Spain, it came to pass that the intra-uterine blessedness was abruptly broken. Torn from the warm maternal security, the baby, with its first cry, offered to the world the initial manifestation of Salvador Domenech Felipe Jacinto Dali....more.

SOURCE | 1909 | 1911 | 1912 | 1913 | 1914 | 1915 | 1916 | 1917 | 1918 | 1919 | 1920 | 1921 | 1922 | 1923 | 1925 - 26 | 1925 | 1926


salvador dali 1954
SALVADOR DALI, EARLY YEARS
Enlarge Image

1909

The child discovered at once that his mother was an admirable woman: one trait alone was sufficient for him to determine this: she loved birds! The Dali children encountered the first wonder of their young lives under a bower where birds were noisily taking wing. These same birds would appear later flying across the canvasses of the painter.

The father of the boy, Don Salvador Dali y Cussi, was a notary, a friend of the arts and of artists, and a devotee of sardanas (a folk dance of Catalonia). This middle-class background accounts for Salvador's desire to achieve an important postion in life, and it also clarifies the sense of order at the core of his worst outrages. The little boy was already searching for his vocation by becoming the undisputed master of the house. They forgave him for everything and he impetuously developed a mythomania which went perfectly with his megalomania.


salvador dali in guell park, barcelona, 1908
DALI IN GUELL PARK, BARCELONA, 1908
© Gala-Salvador Dali Foundation
Source: Dali (Taschen Basic Art Series)

1911

This precocious and perverse taste explains why he was attracted to the famous people of history - at seven he wanted to be Napoleon - and also explains his thirst for physical and moral disguises - the plaything which dominated his youth was the costume of a king!

Salvador began his artistic career by scratching a picture on his own little table with his fork. He drew swans! Swabs like the Divine Bird in the myth of Leda to which Dali has always remained attached.

1912

They they decided to introduce this exceptional child to a teacher. He was called Don Esteban Crayer and was a charming and moody man who hurried to make his pupil forget what he already knew.

About this time something happened which was more important than the contacts with a tutor. This was the discovery of a place made of whitened rocks, and of the depth of the sea, and of the enchanted constancy of the inflexible landscape. There the child became intoxicated by such a perfect communion. The love of his life was born with the discovery of Cadaques.

1913

In Cadaques, Salavdor painted his first canvases, already permeated by the light of Ampurdan, which would never be absent from his work from then on. The purposely feverish raptures of his glance would always be freshened by this light. The young Dali already suffered from nervous tension which made him a restless person. Besides, he was pleased to be the clammy, spoiled child on whom all the attentions of the family were lavished.

1914

He painted himself at the age of ten: The Sick Child.

He spent some time convalescing at the home of the Pitchots. They were friends of the family and were artists. Here the young lover of painting was quick to make a discovery. One morning, when he sat down at the table to drink his cafe au lait, he noticed the canvases of Ramon Pitchot. Thus, with one stroke, Impressionism was revealed to his full heart.

Next came the beginning of classes. This intelligent youngster, already keen and alert, needed a regular school. Salvador went to the school of the Brothers of the Christian Doctrine, the Fosos, as they were called in Catalan. He was nine years old.

Dali painted without stopping during the summer vacations. He never took a rest like the other children because he was already too conscious of his destiny. He painted with a palette knife, using ruch colours and a heavy impasto on the canvas; he painted while humming with tightly closed lips. Garcia Lorca would say: "He sings like a golden hornet."

His desire to paint was not the only difference between Dali and other boys of his age. There was also his manner of dress and of grooming: very long hair; sideburns; a dark-blue, close-fitting jacket which buttoned to the neck and was topped off with a wide tie in a loosely flowing bow; baggy trousers held in by knee-high gaiters. He did not put on his clothes, he clothed himself. He seemed to understand that he would be not only a painter but an unusual character as well.

Dali left the Fosos to enter the Marist school in Figueras and to begin his high school studies. For several years he came to class in a fog. He was a dreamer! Salvador also considered the power of mystification and perceived how it would serve his ends. He feighned sickness, pretended to have a nervous breakdown, and at once became an important person. He adored that: "This sudden revelation led me down the path of mystification and simulation which was my first contact with society." Keep this sentence in mind because it will explain much of Dali's behaviour during the years to come.


dali and garcia lorca, figueras
DALI AND GARCIA LORCA, FIGUERAS
© Gala-Salvador Dali Foundation
Source: Dali (Taschen Basic Art Series)

1915

Furthermore, without waiting, would you like the key to his need for action? I belive that the complete answer is apparent in a story about Salvador at the age of eleven. He bragged to his comrades at the Marist school that he had invented a sensational way of earning money. To do this, he gave back ten cents to those who brought him five cents; the transaction was averredly disastrous for his wallet, but each time he made the exchanges, he did so with great satisfaction saying, "I've won again!" Later, he described for us the joy that he tried to hide in front of his questioners who were so enthralled and interested, and which meant, "You dumbbells! I just took you!"

But be careful! If we can, let's keep from falling into a trap, when we become overjoyed or when we become angry with Dali's eccentricities, and thus, from ending up among those to whom his remark refers: "Dummies! I've just taken you again!" The taste for mystification in Dali's case has taken the elaborate form of him megalomania.

1916

"I'm going to talk to your father to persuade him to choose a drawing teacher for you."

"No, I don't want a teacher! I am an Impressionist painter!"

The child who had just answered with such self-assurance was only twelve years old.


dali's father, c.1904
DALI'S FATHER, c. 1904
© Gala-Salvador Dali Foundation
Source: Dali (Taschen Basic Art Series)

1917

Young Salvador was lucky enough to find at the Institute a drawing teacher, Don Juan Nunez, who was aware of his gifts and helped him to find himself. They became very fond of one another and very often teacher and pupil continued at home the work begun in class.

1918

Salvador discovered the meticulous and elegant work of his compatriot, Mariano Fortuny, and it enriched his early teens. He painted still lifes, portraits, and started his "stone age," pasting on his canvases pebbles which he later painted, declaring that only the thickness of the material could properly capture and depict the profundity of the rays of light. He also came upon Cubism in the magazine L'Esprit Nouveau, and his friends often heard him speak of "the imperative and categorical mysticism of Juan Gris."

It was true that he had recently read Kant and was impressed by his philisophy. In Figueras he was asked to exhibit a few pictures in a show of thirty local artists. The critics mentioned the works of Salvador Dali. This success influenced his father to allow him to go to Madrrid to study at the School of Fine Arts as soon as he had finished at the Institute. The son of the notary had become an important person. He was asked to draw a poster for a local festival: Fiesta in Figueras.

1919

The boy of fifteen, along with a group of his friends at the Institute of Figueras, published a magazine called Studium, printed on wrapping paper. Salvador not only did drawings for it but also wrote the colum entitled "Great Masters of Painting."

1920

At this point the young artist changed his style. Since he already enjoyed producing things which would baffle the public, he started painting in tempera. First he did genre paintings; he filled his studio with gypsies who served as models. His Two Gypsy Lads (below) were taken from this happy troop which surrounded Salvador with its prattle and laughter. By the time of his departure for Madrid, Salvador was perfectly aware of his own genius. Neither happiness, joy, terror, nor astonishmnet was brought to him by this knowledge. It simply gave him the extremely agreeable feeling of constancy.

Salvador's first contact with the capital produced a curious reaction. He was sufficiently struck by the entrance into the School of Fine Arts and by his visit to the Prado to lead a monastic life divided between his art courses, his amazement, and his room, where the idea of Juan Gris haunted him.

He walked through the streets with his hair down to his shoulders, an enormous bow with long streamers at his neck, wearing a fur-covered beret and an outlandish cape falling to his heels. Even in the students' quarters he did not pass unnoticed.


Salvador Dali Two Gypsy Lads
TWO GYPSY LADS, 1920
© Gala-Salvador Dali Foundation | Enlarge Image

1921

He was observed, and even though he was a loner, he became acquainted with a few young people whose names would become famous. Among them were Federico Garcia Lorca and Luis Bunuel. Dali admits that with this group of new friends he began to make whoopee. He changed; he tried to dress himself properly, which prouced curious results.

1922

He spent his vacation in Cadaques where he put the pleasure of his discoveries into the portrait of his aunt, Tieta (below), and Orchard Lane, Cadaques. His family was somewhat astonished to find him now an elegant young man. He painted himself in his new state while the bright colours of his beloved Mediterranean Sea streamed through the open window: Self-Portrait of the Artist at his Easel, Cadaques. Dali's own egoism lead him to paint himself again and he started that same year his Self-Portrait with the Neck of Raphael.

In October, the Dalmau Gallery in Barcelona held an exhibition of students' works. This was the first time that Dali had taken part in a show where his works were for sale. He painted a Jug which had undoubtedly been placed there by Lucia, their kind-hearted maid.


Salvador Dali Tieta
TIETA, 1920
© Gala-Salvador Dali Foundation | Enlarge Image

1923

Spain was restless. People in all walks of life demanded their rights. Even at the School of Fine Arts was not outside the movement. The students were protesting the nomination of a professor and made a public demonstration in one of the lecture halls. Salvador left before the official speech and before the scuffle. Therefore, the authorities thought that he gave the signal for the uprising and they expelled him for one year.

The Dali family were very upset by this ruling, especially since a few days after the return of the prodigal son, the police came to arrest him. Salvador spent a month in jail in Figueras before being transferred to a prison in Gerona. Catalonia was seething with restlessness, and the government was trying to suppress the beginning of a real revolutionary movement there. But, while violent passions broke loose outside, in his prison Salvador was quite content, sheltered from life and curled up in a warm tranquility, with the trivialities of Madrid far from him,

When he was released his father gave him the best gift possible: a press for making engravings. Thus Salvador tried his hand at a new technique which he would use later on with great success.

"Now I'm alone
while in the garden
under the flowering acacia,
Death awaits me.
But my life is here.
My blood surges and trembles
like a coral tree
under the soft sea surf."

Beautiful verses, such as this one, were read in a strong voice on warm nights in Cadaques. The Dali family, assembled on the terrace, listened excitedly. The voice belonged to a friend of Salvador; it was the voice of one of the greatest poets of contemporary Spain. To his friends gathered around in the coolness from the sea, Frederico Garcia Lorca read his play, >Mariana Pineda. During the day, while Lorca was writing, Salvador was painting. He was most excited when he discovered the Italian Metaphysical School of Giorgio de Chirico and Carlo Carra. He derived the first elements of his Surrealism from them.

The end of this glorious vacation was also the end of his suspension from the School of Fine Arts. Salvador returned to school and to his friends.

1925 - 1926

The personality of this boy of twenty-one went beyond local frontiers. He became known through his contributions to the Gaceta de les Artes (Barcelona) and L'Amic des Arts (Sitges).

1925

Because of this, Dalmau, the owner of an art gallery in Barcelona, offered to present an exhibition of Dali's works from the fourteenth to the twenty-seventh of November. For this show, Dali assembled five drawings and seventeen paintings: portraits of his father and of his sister; landscapes of Cadaques, among which was Marine Landscape. He insisted on putting in the exhibition catalogue Ingres' famous phrase: "Drawing is the essence of art," thus proving that, under his frivolous exterior, Dali remained a man with one purpose and with one goal.

1925 - 1926

At this time, Salvador continued his search and experimented with the Cubist style. Some biographers have dated this period as 1926, but by then he had already painted Large Harlequin and Small Bottle of Rum annd Venus and Sailor, followed the next year by Reclining Female. The severe geometry of Cubism impressed Dali, but he quickly withdrew from it while still retaining its essence, or, in other words, he kept its mass and solid construction which he admired. He proves this for us in Figure on the Rocks.

1926

However, the life of revelry and anarchy was stronger than ever. Therefore, nobody was surprised, least of all the interested party himself, when the King signed the decree for the final expulsion of Salvador Dali from the School of Fine Arts in Madrid. The banished lad returned home without any regrets whatsoever. He even "forgot" on purpose all his clothes and left them in Madrid so as to cut himself completely off from the past. Thus, one fine day an empty-handed young man stepped off the train in Figueras; but, with these bare hands, he intended to fulfill his destiny. Salvador's objective, the first one to which he really aspired, was Paris.

Back home once more in the land with which he could communicate, Dali rendered it homage with his Girl with Curls, the girl with ample, undulating hips; later, he would take a canvas of this same period to Paris and show it to Picasso. At the dame time, he was painting with zeal his Basket of Bread. Here he plainly shows his taste for meticulously controlled work.

One glance at this work and a new Dalinian antithesis strikes the eye - the authorities had expelled from the School of Fine Arts an "anarchist" completely bedazzled by "classicism"....to be continued.

Source: Max Gerard, - Dali, Paintings

Dali Links

Salvador Dali: In Depth Early Years (1904 - 26)

Complete Biography >> In Depth Early Years (1904 - 26) >> Prodigy Child Without An Exam >> Dali & Gala >> In The U.S.A. >> Classic Period After World War II >> Death In His Own Museum >> Biog. II >> Biog. German >> Biog. French >> Dali Prints & Fakes >> Latest Updates

Salvador Dali: Gallery >> L'Age d'Or >> Spellbound >> Un Chien Andalou >> Luis Bunuel

Salvador Dali Wares: Cards >> Six Dali Paintings Cards >> Sculptures (incl. the wonderful Parastone Sculptures) >> Prints >> Dali's World: The Treasures of Dali Book >> Dali Books >> 2004 Dali Prestel Postcard Book Fully Scanned >> Dali Phaidon Colour Library Book - Smartphone Page >> Dali The Reality of Dreams Pegasus - Smartphone Page >> Dali (Taschen Basic Art Series) Book - Smartphone Page >> Spellbound UK Dvd + Scans Added >> Official Dali Watercolour Tubes >> Official 6 Acrylic Paints Tubes >> Official Dali Artist's Case Scanned >> Dali In New York Dvd Review

Salvador Dali Links: Links >> Dali Prints, Books and Dvds available @ amazon.com >> Search Site For other Surrealists

Advertise here

Female Surrealists: Frida Kahlo >> Leonora Carrington >> Nusch Eluard >> Leonor Fini >> Remedios Varo >> Dorothea Tanning >> Valentine Hugo >> Jacqueline Lamba Breton >> Rita Kernn Larsen >> Dora Maar >> Lee Miller >> Meret Oppenheim

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Max Gerard ~ Dali, Paintings

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