Salvador Dali is Surrealism

February 2, 2009
Andre Breton

Andre Breton

by Bruno Zabaglio

Surrealism is an artistic and literary movement officially born in France in 1924 with the publication of the ‘Manifeste Surrealiste’ by Andre’ Breton, who was a poet and a critic and a strong supporter of Freud’s study of dreams and the unconscious. In the manifesto the writer declares Surrealism as a movement of psychic automatism in its pure state and under the influence of thoughts freed by reason and both aesthetic and moral principles. The new movement was a derivative of Dadaism and was influenced by the ‘Pittura Metafisica’ of the Italian painter Giorgio De Chirico. Following the theories of interpretation of dreams and the unconscious, many artists enrolled in this new method of artistic creation. The concept of automatic writing was an important one in the development of the surreal because it involved the complete detachment from reality.
Surrealism attracted many artists, such as Man Ray, Meret Oppenheim, Hans Bellmer, Max Ernst, Alberto Giacometti, Rene’ Magritte, but without any doubt the most recognized name connected with the movement is Salvador Dali. Anyone unfamiliar with art history and Surrealism would never recognize many of those names except for one: Salvador Dali’.

Salvador Dali

Salvador Dali

Dali was born at Figueras, in Catalogna (Spain), in 1904. He stated that the most traumatic event in his life happened the 11th of May, 1904 at 8:45, on the morning when he was born. Since his early years Dali’ showed signs of unconventional behavior; in fact as a child he used to wear a king’s outfit, and basically became the supreme ruler of the house. When he was a little older the artist set up a studio in an old laundry room that contained a large cement basin which he would fill with water and take long soaking baths in order to let his imagination work.
In 1921 Dali entered the School of Fine Arts in Madrid. During the years between 1921 and 1923 he was influenced by Cubism, Futurism and Purism, and it was also during this period that he became familiar with Freud’s book ‘The Interpretation of Dreams’. While in Madrid, Dali met Garcia Lorca and Luis Bu_uel, who were both part of an avant-garde student group, and it was with Bu_uel that he made the famous movie Un chien Andalou in 1928 (a milestone in surrealistic movie-making). The same year he met Joan Miro’ and Andre’ Breton and in 1929 he joined the Surrealist movement in Paris. During the years of involvement with the movement, Dali created many works that galvanized the Surrealist ideas, such as The First Day of Spring (1929), The Great Masturbator (1929), and the famous The Persistence of Memory (1931).
An important factor in Dali’s life was his encounter with the psychoanalyst Jacque Lucan, because it helped the artist in the development of his public and private individuality. With the development of his paranoiac critical method, the artist was able to use his obsessions as a base for his creations, such as the many references to the painting Angeluos by Millet, which he incorporated in many of his own works, including The Architectonic Angelus of Millet (1933), Meditation on the Harp (1932-34), Archeological Reminiscence of Millett’s Angelus (1933-35), and Perpignan Railway Station (1965).
In one of his most famous surrealistic paintings, The Persistence of Memory (1931), Dali depicts a vast and deserted beach with a rocky cliff in the background and a body of water that seems to fuse with the blue serene sky. In the foreground there are four elongated, soft looking watches that symbolize the irrationality of time. It seems that the concept of time in this composition is related to the notion that the expansion and contraction of time is relative to the singularity of each individual. The watch drooping across the fetus-like-shaped figure refers perhaps to the pre-birth traumatic memories of the artist.

The Persistence of Memory (1931)

The Persistence of Memory (1931)

By 1934 Dali’s notoriety was increasingly rising and so was his eccentricity, which started to derail him from the guidelines of Surrealism. By that time Andre Breton was becoming unhappy with Dali’s fascination with Hitler. So were the rest of the surrealist artists because of Dali’s egotistical declaration that he made at his arrival in New York: “I AM Surrealism”. In 1941 in the catalogue of his show in New York, Salvador Dali declared himself officially finished with Surrealism and announced that he was to become classic.
Salvador Dali lived a long, eccentric, and successful life. Anywhere he went he was recognized (his famous upward twisted moustache became a symbol for Dali himself). He met the most famous and connected people from everywhere in the world. Salvador Dali is one of my favorite artists not only because of his unusual public and private comportment (I am a fan of out-of-the-box thinkers), but also because I find his works, especially the ones focused on the nuclear mysticism and the Christian faith, fascinating and incredibly capturing. Dali’s approach to traditional religious subjects, in paintings such as Christ of St. John of the Cross (1951), Corpus Hypercubicus (1954), and The Last Supper (1955),

The Last Supper (1955)

The Last Supper (1955)

show his artistic genius, talent and foresight in his choice of compositional structure, meticulous and precise renditions of figures and landscapes, and overall visionary aspect in the scene.
Unfortunately his artistic talent was at times obscured by his flamboyant personality, and his name was primarily connected with the extravagances of his personal and public life, secondly with his artistic accomplishments. His long-life companion and muse-like influence behind many of his paintings, Gala Eluard, died in 1982. Seven years later, on January 23rd 1989, Salvador Dali died.


  1. flamboyant personality: Dali once arrived at a Surrealist event to speak to a group that was dressed in suits and ties etc. Dali was searing a diving helmet and full diving suit and delivered his speech from inside the metal helmet. The press had to write about it and of course people talked and Dali had accomplished his goal. He was a genius in more ways than one.


  2. A great piece on a great artist. Dali has always been a favorite of mine.

  3. Thanks for your comment. I hadn’t heard this story about Dali before. It sounds just like him, one of the greatest artists that ever lived. I went on to your website and I was impressed with the amount of information that you have about Dali.

  4. Thanks for the post on Salvador Dali – he is my favourite artist and i love to find out more about him. Perhaps include some more pics too? I would appreciate that a lot. Elephants is my favourite, along with The Persistence of Memory. Those melted clocks are mad!



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