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



The year 1929 was a decisive year for Dali. It marked the turning point at which he was recognized as a paid-up card-carrying Surrealist. Not that this would have gone so smoothly had it not been for the skilful assistance of Miro. "It's going to be hard for you," he had told Dali. "Don't talk too much" - at this point, Dali noted in the Secret Life, he understood that perhaps Miro's silence was a tactic -"and try to do some physical culture. I have a boxing instructor, and I train every evening. [...] Tomorrow we'll go and visit Tristan Tzara, who was the leader of the Dadaists. He is influential. He'll perhaps invite us to go to a concert. We must refuse. We must keep away from music as from the plague. [...] The important thing in life is to be stubborn. When what I'm looking for doesn't come out in my paintings I knock my head furiously against the wall till it's bloody." (Dali had a vision of Miro's bloody wall, and noted: "It was the same blood as my own.")

While Dali 'was waiting for Un Chien Andalou "to plunge right into the heart of witty, elegant and intellectualized Paris", Bunuel was in fact still busy editing the film. In 1929, Eugenio Montes wrote that the film was "an event in the history of the cinema, writ in blood as Nietzsche would have wished and as has always been the Spanish way." And he continued: "Bunuel and Dali have just placed themselves resolutely beyond the pale of what is called good taste, beyond the pale of the pretty, the agreeable, the epidermal, the frivolous, the French." For his part, Dali fled Paris once again, for the soothing familiarity of Catalonia. Pleased as he was to be back in the light of Cadaques, though, he still sensed that a change was happening withm him. He had not yet had much contact with the Surrealists, but now he set out to paint "trompe I'ceil photographs", making skilful use of all the tricks he had mastered by then. Dali was a quarter of a century ahead of his time, using techniques that later made him the patron saint of the American photoreahsts. Dali's photographic precision was used for his own distinctive ends, though - to transcribe dream images. It was a method that was to become a constant in his work; the first products, dating from this period, may be considered forerunners of his Surrealist paintings proper. As late as 1973, by which time his definition of his own art had been clarified, he "was still declaring: "My art is handmade photography of extra-fine, extravagant, super-aesthetic images of the concrete irrational."

Even if Dali had not yet conquered Paris, white-washed Cadaques offered him memories of his childhood and adolescence. Now grown to manhood, he felt that he was "trying by every possible means to go mad". Before his departure he had painted all his phantasmagoric private images in a single picture, Little Cinders; and now on his return he found that his fetishist vision was a steadfast thing. The images in that painting meant a great deal to Dali: they represented memories, fetishist obsessions, love-hate likenesses (including the head of Lorca), hallucinations. It was the first in a series of paintings that were to lead Dali to the absolute freedom of his "paranoiac-critical" approach; it was also the only one Dali mentions having painted during his military service. He seems to have finished it in 1928. Dali identified the items in the picture as a metre ruler, signifying the obsession of a liberating imbalance; the ass's cadaver, pure as mica; the bird-cum-fish, standing for illusions that contain within them the diversity of concrete fact; a hand, for a woman friend seen in a waking dream; a severed head, for melancholy caused by space-time; an anatomical head, for corrosive reality; a thumb, for rare and disturbing things; ambivalent shapes, for the intervention of desire; flies as God's way of pointing mankind to the most hidden laws of the universe; blood, for the independent process of becoming; the guitars and geometrical figures, for spatial presentation of pre-natal memories and mythic childhood. Thus Dali.

At the time of The Stinking Ass - which he considered far superior to Bunuel's film - and Nude Woman Seated in an Armchair, which he painted violently, poking a finger into the canvas to mark the navel and impishly calling the dribble of paint down the canvas a nude woman, Dali worked in a state of exalted tension punctuated with "spasmodic explosions of laughter". In his Secret Life he reported that he could be heard out in the garden, where his father, "amused and preoccupied as he watered a skeletal rosebush wilting in the heat", would observe: "That child laughing again!"

Dali set to work on two paintings that inaugurated his Surrealist period: The Enigma of Desire - my Mother, my Mother, my Mother and The Lugubrious Game. The latter took its title from the French poet Paul Eluard. The figure wearing shit-stained underpants made the painting notorious in Barcelona even before the scandal shocked the Surrealists. In the former painting, the baroque superstructure emblazoned with the words ma mere is taken from the windblown geological rock formations of Cape Creus, with a little imaginative help from the architectural genius of Antom Gaudi.

At the very moment he finished this painting, Dali came across a coloured lithograph of the Sacred Heart at the Rambla in Figueras, and wrote on it: "Sometimes I spit on the picture of my mother for the fun of it." In his view (he subsequently explained in justification) it was perfectly possible to love one's mother wholeheartedly and still dream of spitting on her; indeed, he pointed out, in some religions spitting was a sacred act!

The Enigma of Desire - my Mother, my Mother, my Mother


Study for "the Enigma of Desire - My Mother, My Mother, My Mother"


Studies for "The Enigma of Desire" and "Memory of the Child-Woman"


Amalgam - Sometimes I Spit on the Portrait of My Mother for the Fun of It


The Lugubrious Game


The Lugubrious Game

Dali's title The Lugubrious Game can be taken as an explicit pointer to the meaning of the painting, which presents castration and the conflicting reactions to it in great detail and with extraordinary expressive power. Without claiming to be able to analyse all the elements in the picture, I wish only to adumbrate the thematic outline. The act of castration is expressed through figure A, the body of which is slit from the belly. The provocation prompted by this bloody act is expressed in B through male dreams of boyish, burlesque recklessness (the male elements are expressed not only in the bird head but also in the red umbrella, the female in the hats). But the deep, age-old reason for the punishment is none other than the disgusting dirt on the underpants of C, a dirt for which there seems no occasion, for this figure finds a new. true masculinity in disgrace and horror. The statue at the left (D) personifies the unusual satisfaction given by the sudden castration, and betrays a need for the none too male poetic extension of the game. The hand covering the statue's face breaks the rules of Dali's art, in which people who have lost their heads normally only find them again if they pull horrified faces. We may therefore ask in all seriousness how it must be for those for whom the mind's windows are opened wide for the first time and who see castrated, poetic pleasure where there is no more than an urgent need to recourse to shame.

Georges Bataille

Print and comment by Georges Bataille for his article "The Lugubrious Game", 1929

Study for "The Lugubrious Game"



Parallel to the painting of The Enigma of Desire, Dali began work on The Great Masturbator, using a colour photograph bought at a fairground, of a woman smelling a lily. Once Dali's brush got to work, of course, it was no longer a lily that the woman was taking to her nose and mouth. His mam obsession at that time can best be termed desire. In Paris he had not succeeded in finding the elegant woman he sought, or even a not so elegant woman to comply with his every erotic fantasy. He had roamed the streets like a dog looking for a bitch, he recalled; but when he did happen across a suitable woman, "timidity" prevented him from talking to her. It was, he declared in retrospect, pitiful that the young artist who set out to conquer Paris could not even conquer a plain Jane.

When he was painting these first Surrealist works, and particularly The Great Masturbator, Dali's mind went back to the unattainable women of Paris: "With my hand, before my wardrobe mirror, I accomplished the rhythmic and solitary sacrifice in which I was going to prolong as much as possible the incipient pleasure looked forward to and contained in all the feminine forms I had looked at longingly that afternoon, whose images, now commanded by the magic of my gesture, reappeared one after another by turn, coming by force to show me of themselves what I had desired in each one! At the end of a long, exhausting and mortal fifteen minutes, having reached the limit of my strength, I wrenched out the ultimate pleasure with all the animal force of my clenched hand, a pleasure mingled as always with the bitter and burning release of my tears - this in the heart of Paris, where I sensed all about me the gleaming foam of the thighs of feminine beds. Salvador Dali lay down alone in his bed [...]"


The Great Masturbator


The Lost Face - The Great Masturbator


Study for "The Great Masturbator"


The Kiss - Study for the Couple who are embracing in
"The Great Masturbator"



The Red Tower (The Antropomorphic Tower)


The Butterfly Chase


Imperial Monument to the Child-Woman


Profanation of the Host




But presently there was good news, for Dali's desires and his bank balance alike. First an enthusiastic telegram arrived from the dealer Camille Goemans, to the effect that, in addition to buying three paintings (to be chosen by Dali) for 3,000 francs, he would exhibit all his work at his Paris gallery once Dali returned to the French capital. Then a group of Surrealists descended upon him, no doubt attracted partly by the Catalonian's eccentricity and partly by the sexual and scatological extravagance of his work. Among them were Rene Magritte and his wife, Luis Bunuel, and above all Paul Eluard and his wife Gala. It was a visit that changed Dali's life.

Dali felt flattered that Paul Eluard should have come to see him. With Andre Breton and Louis Aragon, Eluard was one of the leading lights of the Surrealist movement. As for Gala, she was a revelation - the revelation Dali had been waiting for, indeed expecting. She was the personification of the woman in his childhood dreams to whom he had given the mythical name Galuchka and for whom various young and adolescent girls had already stood in. He recognized her by her naked back; the proof that Gala "was the woman was provided by the fact that her physique was precisely that of the women in most of his paintings and drawings. In the Secret Life he later described her in these terms: "Her body still had the complexion of a child's. Her shoulder blades and the sub-renal muscles had that somewhat sudden athletic tension of an adolescent's. But the small of her back, on the other hand, was extremely feminine and pronounced, and served as an infinitely svelte hyphen between the wilful, energetic and proud leanness of her torso and her very delicate buttocks which the exaggerated slenderness of her waist enhanced and rendered greatly more desirable."


Portrait of Paul Eluard


The Bust of a Retrospective Woman


The Bust of a Retrospective Woman



The problem was that whenever Dali tried to talk to her, he went into a fit of laughter. The Lugubrious Game, featuring the underpants stained with excrement, was painted with such enthusiastic realism that friends and visitors wondered whether Dali had coprophagic tendencies. Gala decided to put an end to the speculation and met Dali for a walk along the cliffs, in the course of which the painter managed to restrain his laughter for once. In response to her question, he hesitated: "If I admitted to her that I was coprophagic, as they had suspected, it would make me even more interesting and phenomenal in everybody's eyes [...]" But Dali opted for the truth: "I swear to you that I am not 'coprophagic'. I consciously loathe that type of aberration as much as you can possibly loathe it. But I consider scatology a terrorizing element, just as I do blood, or my phobia for grasshoppers." The Surrealists were alarmed by the picture because of the excrement, and Georges Bataille saw "an appalling ugliness" in it. Bataille detected fears of castration in the painting: the body of the figure in the centre, intent on male dreams, has been torn apart. To its right, a besmirched figure is just escaping castration by "shameful and repellent" behaviour, while the figure on the left is "enjoying his own castration" and seeking a "poetic dimension". Dali rejected this interpretation, and indeed it led to a break between Bataille and the Surrealists.

 Dali and Gala

In the course of the long walks Dali and Gala were now regularly taking along the cliffs at Cape Creus, an intensely melancholy spot, Dali told her he loved her. He did so in the interval between two fits of laughter; it did not come easily. The woman everyone called Gala - her name was Helena Devulina Diakanoff, and she was the daughter of a Moscow lawyer - was a fascinating, charming, self-confident person, and she made quite an impression on Dali. To have her body so close to his own took his breath away. "Did not the fragile beauty of her face of itself vouch for the body's elegance?" he noted later. As a girl, Gala had been treated for a lung complaint. "I looked at her proud carriage as she strode forward with the intimidating gait of victory, and I said to myself, with a touch of my budding humor, 'From the esthetic point of view victories, too, have faces darkened by frowns. So I had better not try to change anything!'"



Gala Dali

(From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)

Gala Eluard Dali, (7 September [O.S. 26 August] 1894 – 10 June 1982), usually known simply as Gala, was the wife of Salvador Dalí, and an inspiration for him and many other artists.

Gala was born Elena Ivanovna Diakonova in Kazan, Tartary, Russia, to a family of intellectuals. Among her childhood friends was the poet Marina Tsvetaeva. As a young woman, living in Moscow, she graduated as a school-teacher in 1915.In 1913 she was sent to a sanatorium in Clavadel, Switzerland for the treatment of tuberculosis. She met Paul Éluard while in Switzerland and married him a few years later. She moved to Paris with him and they had a daughter named Cécile, whom Gala was to mistreat and ignore all of her life.With Éluard, Gala became involved in the Surrealist movement. Gala was an inspiration for many artists including Éluard, Louis Aragon, Max Ernst and André Breton. Breton, the "ideologue of surrealisme" later despised her, claiming she was a destructive influence on the artists she befriended.

In early August 1929, Éluard and Gala, and their friends, visited a young Surrealist painter in Spain. The painter was Salvador Dalí. An affair quickly developed between Gala and Dalí, who was about 10 years younger than Gala. They married in 1932. She underwent a hysterectomy at around this time.

She was a muse for Dalí, who said that she was the one who saved him from madness and an early death. Indeed, behind his artistic genius Dalí was a troubled, insecure, and disorganised man, and it was Gala who acted as his ruthless agent, the interface between the genius and the real world. In doing so she hurt many sensitivities, and was accused of being materialistic and a megaera. Before Dalí met Gala, he was involved in an affair with Spanish poet Federico García Lorca. However, their relationship ended when Dalí and filmmaker Luis Buñuel released the surrealist film Un Chien Andalou (1929), which Lorca interpreted as an attack on him personally. Dalí recognized that his future as an artist would be greatly enhanced if he were married to a woman such as Gala who could promote him and manage his business affairs.
Dalí's attachment to Gala was sexually poor and she, according to the accounts, had an above average sexual urge and throughout her life had numerous extramarital affairs (among them with her former husband Paul Éluard), to which Dalí did not object, but encouraged, since he was a practicer of candaulism. She had a fondness for young artists, and in her old age she often gave expensive gifts to those who associated with her.
Gala is a frequent model in Dalí's work, often in religious roles such as the Blessed Virgin Mary in the painting The Madonna of Port Lligat. Dalí's numerous paintings of her show his great love for her, and some are perhaps the most affectionate and sensual depictions of a middle-aged woman in Western art.

Gala died in Port Lligat in the early morning of 10 June 1982 and was buried in the Castle of Púbol in Girona which Dalí had bought for her.



"I want you to kill me!"

Despite his "timidity", Dali did contrive to put an arm around Gala's waist - though it was her hand then that took his. "This was the time to laugh, and I laughed with a nervousness heightened by the remorse which I knew beforehand the vexing inopportuneness of my reaction would cause me. But instead of being wounded by my laughter, Gala felt elated by it. For,, with an effort which must have been superhuman, she succeeded in again pressing my hand, even harder than before, instead of dropping it with disdain as anyone else would have done. With her medium-like intuition she had understood the exact meaning of my laughter, so inexplicable to everyone else. She knew that my laughter was altogether different from the usual 'gay' laughter. No, my laughter was not scepticism; it was fanaticism. My laughter was not frivolity; it was cataclysm, abyss, and terror. And of all the terrifying outbursts of laughter that she had already heard from me this, which I offered her in homage, was the most catastrophic, the one in which I threw myself to the ground at her feet, and from the greatest height! She said to me, 'My little boy! We shall never leave each other.'"

Dali himself provided the key, both historical and Freudian in character, to their love, which was born that very moment and lasted until death: "She was destined to be my Gradiva, 'she who advances', my victory, my wife. But for this she had to cure me, and she did cure me [...] solely through the heterogeneous, indomitable and unfathomable power of the love of a woman, canalized with a biological clairvoyance so refined and miraculous, exceeding in depth of thought and in practical results the most ambitious outcome of psychoanalytical methods." Not long before, Dali had read Wilhelm Jensen's novel Gradiva, which Sigmund Freud had analyzed in Delusion and Dreams. The heroine of the title, Gradiva, heals the male protagonist psychologically. "I knew," wrote Dali, "that I was approaching the 'great trial' of my life, the trial of love."

At this time, of such crucial importance in his emotional life, Dali was primarily engaged on another painting on the subject of desire: Accommodations of Desire. In it, desire is symbolized by lions' heads. Trembling, he asked Gala: "'What do you want me to do to you?' Then Gala, transforming the last glimmer of her expression of pleasure into the hard light of her own tyranny, answered, 'I want you to kill me!'" Dali noted: "One of the lightning-ideas that flashed into my mind was to throw Gala from the top of the bell-tower of the Cathedral of Toledo." But Gala, as we might predict, proved the stronger of the two: "Gala thus weaned me from my crime, and cured my madness. Thank you! I want to love you! I was to marry her. My hysterical symptoms disappeared one by one, as by enchantment. I became master again of my laughter, of my smile, and of my gestures. A new health, fresh as a rose, began to grow in the centre of my spirit."


Accomodations of Desire


Man with Unhealthy Complexion Listening to the Sound of the Sea, or, The Two Balconies


Illumined Pleasures


The First Days of Spring


Gradiva (Study for "The Invisible Man")

Dali saw Gala off at the station in Figueras, where she took a train to Paris. Then he retired to his studio and resumed his ascetic life, completing the Portrait of Paul Eluard which the writer had been sitting for. He also worked very hard to complete The Great Masturbator, which was to achieve notoriety in due course. "It represented a large head, livid as wax, the cheeks very pink, the eyelashes long, and the impressive nose pressed against the earth," Dali wrote in his Secret Life. "This face had no mouth, and in its place was stuck an enormous grasshopper. The grasshopper's belly was decomposed, and full of ants. Several of these ants scurried across the space that should have been filled by the nonexistent mouth of the great anguishing face, whose head terminated in architecture and ornamentations of the style of 1900."

This painting was a kind of "soft" self-portrait of the artist after his Gradiva experience. Dali had a complete theory of "softness" and "hardness". In the picture he is visibly exhausted, soft as rubber, with ants and a grasshopper on his face. It looks the very image of misery - but there is an explanation in the female face positioned for fellatio: that summer, Dali had known his ecstasy, of a kind he was to represent again on the ceiling of a room in the Figueras theatre-museum. Dali frequently claimed to be "totally impotent", but the fact is that he appears a perfectly good performer in certain pictures. We need only think of the 1934 Atmospheric Skull Sodomizing a Grand Piano, or of Average Fine and Invisible Harp, painted in 1932 after a photograph he himself took at Port Lligat. Gala can be seen in the latter painting, walking away, her derriere still exposed, while in the foreground the "erectile, budding head" of the foremost figure is resting on a crutch. The crutch, and the monstrous outgrowth of mental sexuality sublimated in art, also serve as symbols of death and resurrection - like the act of love itself.

The Invisible Man


Study for "The Invisible Man"

Dali worked hard for a month, and then hired a joiner to crate his pictures for despatch to Paris, monitoring the work himself; the Goemans gallery was due to exhibit his work from 20 November to 5 December. Then, without a thought for the opening, he went to fetch Gala. Crazed with love, they left Paris two days before the opening and travelled to Barcelona, and then on to Sitges, a small seaside town. The most ambitious of contemporary artists, Dali had not even seen his work hung; and, indeed, he recalled that, on their travels, he and Gala were so busy with their own, physical exhibition that they had not a thought to spare for his exhibition of paintings.


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