May 11, 1904 – Salvador Dalí
“Each morning when I awake, I experience again a supreme pleasure – that of being Salvador Dalí.”
He was born Salvador Domingo Felipe Jacinto Dalí i Domènech, Marquis of Dalí de Púbol.
Salvador Dalí‘s frequent proclamations of his own astounding genius make that mango-hued disgraced twice-impeached president and his pal Kanye West seem like a complete amateurs. He once announced his polymath qualities during a chaotic 1957 appearance on the television show What’s My Line, answering “yes” to nearly every question about his profession, admitting to being an athlete, leading man, writer, and comic strip artist. Watch:
Dalí was one of the 20th century’s most important artists. He was a skilled draftsman, famous for the striking and bizarre images in his Surrealist work which included film, sculpture, photography, and collaborations with many kinds of artists in a variety of media.
Dalí was famous for his art, but even more so for his unusual, grandiose behavior. His manic expressions and famous moustache made him a cultural icon. His eccentric manner and attention-grabbing public antics brought dismay to those who held his work in high esteem, and the irritation of his critics.
As Dalí said of Dalí:
“The only difference between me and the surrealists is that I am a surrealist.“
On film, he has been portrayed by Robert Pattinson in Little Ashes (2008), Adrien Brody in Midnight In Paris (2011), and on Sesame Street by a gold Muppet named “Salvador Dada”.
Little Ashes is about the love affair between Dalí and his fellow Spaniard, Federico Garcia Lorca, the doomed gay playwright and poet. Lorca wrote the plays Blood Wedding and The House Of Bernarda Alba, and was murdered when he was 38 years old by fascists during the Spanish Civil War. Little Ashes is set in the culturally and politically tumultuous 1920s, in Madrid, and it tells the tale of the intense relationship of three revolutionary young artists: Dalí, Lorca and filmmaker Luis Buñuel.
Lorca is played by the Spanish actor Javier Beltran, and Buñuel by Matthew McNulty.
In real life, Dalí denied his relationship with Lorca ever became physical:
“He was homosexual, as everyone knows, and madly in love with me. He tried to screw me twice… I was extremely annoyed, because I wasn’t homosexual, and I wasn’t interested in giving in. Besides, it hurts. So nothing came of it. But I felt awfully flattered vis-à-vis the prestige. Deep down I felt that he was a great poet and that I owe him a tiny bit of the Divine Dali’s asshole.“
Yet, it’s clear something happened between them. Their letters show that something sexual was going on. What started as a friendship, became more intimate and moved to a physical level, but Dalí found it difficult and couldn’t consummate it. Considering his many hang-ups, it’s not surprising.
During his childhood, Dalí’s father would force him to look at graphic images of advanced-stage untreated sexually transmitted diseases. Young Dalí developed a fear of and obsession with sex, decay, and castration. These became frequent themes in his work, most famously in his painting The Great Masturbator (1929).
Dalí admitted having sadomasochistic tendencies. As a child he enjoyed throwing himself down the stairs, explaining:
“The pain was insignificant; the pleasure was immense.“
Sadomasochism is featured frequently in his work, including Un Chien Andalou (1959), a film collaboration with Buñuel which features a woman’s eyeball being cut open.
In his later years, Dalí admitted to finding men sexually attractive, but only if they were androgynous or feminine.
Lorca slept with a female friend of theirs, which Dalí called “the ultimate sacrifice.” Dalí watched and this was the start of his life of voyeurism.
Dalí was haunted by Lorca for the rest of his life and talked about him more than his wife, Gala (born as Elena Ivanovna Diakonov). The depths of Dalí’s sexual ambiguity was matched by his wife’s sexual ambition. Famed even before they met for her long list of lovers of both sexes.
In 1929, when Dalí met Gala, he was said to still be a virgin because of his fear of female sex organs. He found sexual gratification from watching his wife have sex with others and the couple hosted orgies. Their open marriage gave Gala the freedom to have multiple affairs, but rumors continued to surround Dalí’s own sexual preferences. He regularly masturbated in front of a mirror, and had no other sex because of his fear of being touched, so Lorca probably never got very far.
Gala was a Russian-born former school teacher who left Dalí’s poet friend Paul Éluard for the artist. She served as Dalí’s muse until the end of his life. He once asked Gala, who was standing on the edge of a cliff, what she wanted from him. She answered: “I want you to kill me!“. Dalí credited this confession to curing him of the hysteria that he had been experiencing his whole life. He bought her a castle in Púbol, Spain, which he transformed with his own artwork. He was only permitted to visit her with her written permission.
Dalí’s surrealism wasn’t just reflected in his art; his life was surreal. He had an obsession with Adolf Hitler, a crippling fear of grasshoppers, and a very bizarre encounter with art historian Brian Sewell who claimed that Dalí asked him to lie naked in front of one of his sculptures and masturbate while he watched. Dalí’s list of seriously strange exploits are as endless as his creativity.
Dalí produced over 1,500 paintings in his career, in addition to illustrations for books, lithographs, designs for theatre sets and costumes, drawings, and dozens of sculptures.
When interviewed by Mike Wallace on 60 Minutes, Dalí kept referring to himself in the third person, as the “Divino Dalí”, and told the poor startled Wallace matter-of-factly that he did not believe in death.
Dalí frequently traveled with his pet ocelot Babou, even bringing it aboard the luxury liner SS France. He sometimes appeared in public with an anteater, including on The Dick Cavett Show in 1970 when he carried a small anteater onstage and surprised fellow guest Lillian Gish by flinging the animal onto her lap.
When they were just becoming famous, Cher and Sonny Bono were invited to an orgy at Dalí’s apartment in New York City’s Plaza Hotel. Cher said:
“I picked up a beautiful, painted rubber fish. Just fabulous. It has this little remote-control handset, and I’m playing with it, and the tail is going back and forth, and I’m thinking it’s a child’s toy. So, I said to Salvador: ‘This is really funny’. And he said: ‘It’s wonderful when you place it on your clitoris’.“