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



The Proof of Love

1929 - 1935



Rebelling against Father Breton

Dali's enemies and allies tend to have one thing in common: they largely ignore his own writings. Yet when Dali availed himself of the written or spoken word, he did so with all his extravagance and bravado, with his core reticence and his embarrassed revelations, and above all with the man's unique brilliance - and often his statements contain vital information on his evolution as a painter, the tempestuous ups and downs of his life, his tenderness and cruelty, and the stern logic that governed the apparent contradictions in his thought. Eccentric though Dali was, through it all there ran an exemplary continuity. The Secret Life of Salvador Daligives us the first steps the child took, the youth's quest for identity, the upheavals in his life, and the hidden, passionate sides of a provocative and free-thinking mind that caused scandals from the outset, cared nothing for the opinions of others, and tended to thrive on people's stupidity.

The Diary of a Genius (the continuation of his autobiography) expressed his personality as Dali - that is to say, the public persona that used a kind of delirium to achieve effects. In the book we witness Dali grappling with art and with his own formidable abilities. It is fascinating to follow the relentless logic with which his way of thinking develops, the steps in his conquest of the irrational. And no one describes Dali's relations with Surrealism better than Dali himself. He was a Surrealist "from birth," writes Dali. He explains the reasons for the breach with Breton - who (he concedes) was after an aesthetic of the unconscious, but who imposed limits and would accept neither the full, alarming risk of the enterprise nor the lack of control. Dali, by contrast, was naturally inclined to total, untrammelled Surrealism. If Breton closed the movement's doors to Dali, that was understandable: he himself had founded it, only to have Dali declare himself the truest, most absolute Surrealist and expect Breton to acknowledge himself as the master of the movement.


Photo of Mae West used by Dali for "Mae West's Face"

Face of Mae West Which May Be Used as an Apartment
c. 1935


Mae West's Lips Sofa



But for all his magalomania and conceit, his contradictions and absurdities, the traps he laid for the public, his arrant lack of shame, and in spite of his idiom of delirium, Dali as a 'writer must be taken just as seriously as Dali the painter.

In the Diary of a Genius, Dali explicitly states that he was aware from the very start that the Surrealists, whose "slogans and subjects [he] had already studied closely and taken apart minutely" when he joined the movement, would try to impose restrictions on him just as his family had done. Gala had 'warned him that he "would have to put up with the same restrictions among the Surrealists as he would anywhere else, and that basically they were all Philistines."

Dali begins his book with a quotation from Sigmund Freud - "The hero is the man who resists his father's authority and overcomes it" - and then, having dealt with the most important writer of his times, goes on to settle scores with his new father, Andre Breton.

Approaching his subject with a "quite Jesuitical" honesty, yet "always with the thought at the back of my mind that I would soon become the leader of the Surrealists," Dali "took Surrealism quite literally, rejecting neither the blood nor the excrement that was in their manifestoes. Just as I had once endeavoured to become a perfect atheist by reading my father's books, I now became so diligent a stud. surr. that I was soon the only full Surrealist. So much so, that in the end I was expelled from the group because I was overly-Surrealistic."


Woman with a Head of Roses



It was not difficult to be expelled by Breton - many others travelled the same road, and they tended to be the best, the most independent-minded. Small wonder: a gardener wants his shrubs trained in the style he has chosen, after all. "When Breton discovered my art he was horrified at the scatological elements that stained it," Dali reports in the Diary of a Genius. "I was surprised. The very first steps I took were taken in sh—, which, psychologically speaking, could be interpreted as an auspicious token of the gold that was fortunately to rain down on me later. I tried craftily to persuade the Surrealists that those scatological elements could bring the movement good fortune. In vain I referred to the emphatically digestive iconography found in all eras and cultures; the hen that laid the golden eggs, the intestinal delirium of Danae, Grimm's fairy tales. But they wouldn't have it. My decision was taken at the moment. If they didn't want the sh-- I was generously offering them, I would keep my treasures and gold to myself. The famous anagram Breton thought up twenty years later, Avida Dollars, could just as well have been prophetically proclaimed then and there."

Gala was right: up to a certain point the scatological elements were tolerated, but an excess was taboo. "Once again I came up against the same prohibition as my family had imposed. I was permitted blood. A little crap was all right. But just crap was not on. Depicting genitals was approved, but no anal fantasies. They looked very askance at anuses! They liked lesbians very much indeed, but not pederasts. One could have sadism in dreams to one's heart's content, and umbrellas and sewing machines, but no religion on any account,' not even if it was of a mystical nature. And to dream of a Raphael Madonna, quite simply, without apparent blasphemy, was strictly prohibited."

Dali continually boasted of having initiated dissent among the Surrealists. He said he agonized over how he could get them to accept an idea or picture that was totally at odds with their taste. To this end he resorted to that "Mediterranean, paranoiac hypocrisy" which he thought himself capable of only in cases of perversity. "They didn't like anuses! Craftily I sneaked masses of them past them, in disguise - Machiavellian anuses for preference. Whenever I made a Surrealist object in which no such apparition was to be seen, the whole object had the symbolic function of an anus. Thus I used my famous active method of paranoiac-critical analysis to counter pure, passive automatism - and the ultra-reactionary, subversive technique of Meissonier to counter enthusiasm for Matisse and abstract trends. To check the cult of primitive objects I singled out the supersoph-lsticated objects of the modern style, which we were collecting together with Dior and which were one day to be revived as a 'new look'."


The Angelus of Gala



Breton was an atheist. Dali thought it would be deliciously ironic if Surrealism were elevated to become a new, true religion - sadistic, masochistic, dreamlike and paranoiac - with Auguste Comte as its Messiah and Breton as its great preacher. We must bear in mind that Dali was a mystic, as he was to demonstrate amply later in life when he decided to return to the aesthetic of the Italian Renaissance and paint works such as The Madonna of Port Lligat and Leda Atomica. In these works, Dali was not only processing the golden section and ideas borrowed from modern physics; the paintings also reflect the development of the artist's mind, with his (typical) dual allegiance to agnosticism and to Roman Catholicism. The shamelessness he was accused of was in fact his way of protecting his inmost self- by flinging firecrackers at his pursuers' feet to ensure he could make a getaway, so to speak. He was attacking in order not to be overwhelmed: a response essentially modest and chaste, the response of the unbending savage or of the Catalonian peasant. Even the controversial scatology derived from "angelic" inspiration, and expressed the painful awareness of a man terrified by the evidence of his own mortality - the processes of excretion. Though he did not speak of them much, he certainly did not turn away from them "as a cat turns away from its excrement." Disease and decay fascinated him, as he himself said. And he was equally obsessed by death. Dali had to keep a cold eye on the things he hated.


The Horseman of Death


The Knight of Death

Surrealist Warriors for a Four-part Screen, Centre Left


Surrealist Knights for a Four-part Screen, Centre Right


The Judges


Knight of Death (variant)


Surrealist Horse - Woman-Horse


The Knight of Death (Horseman)




This was the origin of his countless acts of provocation, such as the three-metre-long backside supported on a crutch which he gave Lenin. To his intense disappointment, the painting did not spark a controversy amongst the Surrealists. "But I was encouraged by this disappointment. It meant I could go still further [...] and attempt the impossible. Only Aragon was outraged by my thought machine with breakers of warm milk. 'Dali has gone far enough!' he roared angrily. 'From now on, milk is only for the children of the unemployed.'" It was a point for Dali: he had lured Aragon into his trap. He was delighted, and took the opportunity to take a swipe at his despised opponent. "Breton, thinking he saw a danger of obscurantism in the communist-sympathizing faction, decided to expel Aragon and his adherents - Bunuel, Unic, Sadoul, and others - from the Surrealist group. I considered Rene Crevel the only completely sincere communist among those I knew at the time, yet he decided not to follow Aragon along what he termed 'the path of intellectual mediocrity' [...] and shortly afterward committed suicide, despairing of the possibility of solving the dramatic contradictions of the ideological and intellectual problems confronting the Post-War generation. Crevel was the third Surrealist who committed suicide, thus corroborating their affirmative answer to a questionnaire that had been circulated in one of its first issues by the magazine La Revolution Surrealiste, in which it was asked, 'Is suicide a solution?' I had answered no, supporting this negation with the affirmation of my ceaseless individual activity."

The Echo of the Vold


Mediumnistic-Paranoiac Image


Paranoiac Visage - The Postcard Transformed


Paranoiac Visage - Postcard Sent by Picasso to Dali


Paranoiac Visage - The Postcard Transformed



Paranoiac-Critical Solitude




Puzzle of Autumn


Solitude - Anthropomorphic Echo


The Surrealist Mystery of New York I


Conic Anamorphosis


Surrealist Figure in the Landscape of Port Lligat


Surrealist Furniture. Preparatory Drawing for Singularities
c. 1934-35


Don Quixote


Woman in a Hat Sitting on a Beach. Drawing for "American Weekly"


Drawing for "American Weekly"


The Nostalgic Echo


Soft Cramas and Skull Harp


Study for "Suburbs of a Paranoiac-Critical Town"


Thought Machine - Illustration for "The Secret Life of Salvador Dali"

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