"Salvador Dali lay on his back in the middle of the ballroom floor, smacking ineffectually at the helmet of his diving suit with his gloved hands."

Salvador Dali 1939
Public DomainSalvador Dali 1939 - Credit: Carl Van Vechten
 Salvador Dalí was a leading Spanish Surrealist painter.  He was born on 11 May 1904 in Figueras, near Barcelona.  Between 1921 and 1926 he studied intermittently at the Madrid Academy.  He was expelled in 1926, shortly before his final exams, when he stated that no one on the faculty was competent to examine him.  In 1929, he moved to Paris and officially became a Surrealist.  In that year, he met his muse and future wife Gala, a Russian immigrant ten years his senior, married at the time to surrealist poet Paul Eluard. 

Dali described his paintings as “hand-made photographs” executed according to the “paranoiac critical method.”  This he defined as a “spontaneous method of irrational knowledge based upon the interpretive critical association of delirious phenomena.” He specialised in depicting familiar objects in illogical settings and combinations. 

Dali Museum
GNU Free Documentation LicenseDali Museum - Credit: Erin Silversmith

Dalí was introduced to America by art dealer Julian Levy in 1934. An exhibition of his works in New York created an immediate sensation.  In 1934, Dalí was formally expelled from the Surrealist group. His response was to announce "I myself am surrealism.” 

In 1936, Dalí took part in the London International Surrealist Exhibition. He delivered his lecture wearing a deep-sea diving suit and helmet.  The helmet had to be unscrewed as he gasped for breath. He commented that "I just wanted to show that I was 'plunging deeply' into the human mind.”

Dali and Gala moved to the United States in 1940, where they lived for eight years.  His autobiography, The Secret Life of Salvador Dali, was published in 1942.  In addition to his autobiography, he wrote several other books, as well as ballets and movie scripts.  In 1949, Dali and Gala returned to Spain.  Dali died in 1989, at the age of 84.