Skip to main content

About the exhibition Dalí

Exploring the themes

Figure at the window , © Culturespaces / Eric Spiller

Cadaqués

The coastal village Cadaqués was a constant source of inspiration that influenced Dalí's paintings. A large fresco emerges based on the artist’s early artworks. These works bring together two of Dalí’s favourite subjects: his sister Anna Maria and the coastline of Cadaqués.

Dalí invited the members of the Surrealist group to Cadaqués. The fishing port attracted major figures such as Max Ernst, Paul Éluard, René Magritte, and André Breton. Dalí met the artists after being suspended from the San Fernando Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Madrid in 1926. He subsequently joined the Surrealist group, which rejected logic and reason in their compositions.

He met Gala (who, at the time, was Elena Éluard, Paul’s wife) in the Summer of 1929. Henceforth, they would always be together and Gala became Dalí’s muse until the end of her life.

Back drop for the ballet Labyrinth, , © Culturespaces / Eric Spiller

The Theatre-Museum

Dalí’s visual imagery was formed by the landscapes of his childhood as well as the European avantgarde artists and the theatre. His love for art and theatre grew in the 1930s. Exiled in the United States, between 1940 and 1948, Dalí took part in various projects such as the creation of costumes, theatre sets, opera and film scenarios. 

In October 1941, Dalí began working with the Russian choreographer Léonide Massine on Labyrinthe, a ballet based on the myth of Theseus, accompanied by Schubert’s music. He wrote the booklet and designed the costumes and sets.

Inaugurated in 1974, the Dalí Theatre-Museum, considered to be one of the artist’s last works, was built over the vestiges of the former municipal theatre in Figueres.

Archaeological Reminiscence of Millet’s Angelus, , © Culturespaces / Eric Spiller

Metaphysical Surrealism

In 1930, Dalí presented his ‘Paranoiac-Critical Method’ in a theoretical essay entitled "L’Âne pourri" (‘The Stinking Ass’, published in the magazine Le Surréalisme au service de la Révolution). Paranoia became his favourite approach. This method rendered the invisible manifest via a delirium of interpretation or the use of an optical illusion in his works.

Obsessed by the famous piece of Jean-François Millet, Angelus (1857–1859), Dalí created a new composition, inspired by his ‘Paranoiac- Critical Method’.

The scene is linked to the Angelus prayer, a Biblical event in which two peasants are represented in a field. For Dalí, deeply affected by the death of his brother Salvador three years before his birth, the Angelus is a contemplative scene. To him, the two figures in the picture have in fact just buried their child. In his version executed in 1934, Dalí represented the two figures and depicted them in a mystical context.

Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee around a Pomegranate One Second Before Awakening , © Culturespaces / Eric Spiller

Evocations

Painted in the United States at the end of the Second World War, Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee Around a Pomegranate One Second Before Awakening (1944) represents Gala levitating and asleep on a rock. The bee flying around her provokes Gala’s dream: everything is in a state of suspension and time has come to a stop.

Dalí’s Temptation of Saint Anthony (1946) attests to a technical mastery that is reminiscent of the great classical masters and a fantastical world featuring Surrealist animals. St Anthony is represented naked in a desert, in a vulnerable position, brandishing a cross. The animals - a huge horse, and a line of elephants with very long and tapering legs - represent the carnal or material temptations that have to be resisted. The picture brings together Dalí’s favourite themes: desire, dreams, fear, impulses, and mysticism.

Royal Heart , © Culturespaces / Eric Spiller

Jewellery

Painter, architect, and sculptor, Dalí designed high-class jewellery with his series of jewels created in New York in Carlos Alemany’s workshops. Between 1941 and 1970, while working on his paintings, he designed this jewellery with finesse and precision. He also selected the materials used to make them (gold, precious stones, and pearls) according to their colour, value, and symbolic connotations. Each example is unique and has a name reflecting the surrealist cosmos (Oeil du temps, Coeur royal, etc.). The ensemble, with its plant and animal motifs, symbols, hearts and eyes, shows that Dalí was an artist with unlimited talent, capable of expressing himself through various techniques and supports.

Face of Mae West Which May Be Used as a Surrealist Apartment , © Culturespaces / Eric Spiller

Mae West

Mae West (1893–1980) was a Hollywood actress and a sex symbol from the 1920s to the 1940s. Based on one of her photograph, Dalí created a Surrealist apartment: each part of her face was a part of the decor, furniture, motifs, and decorations. The objects were adapted from their everyday use to create an ideal image. The eyes became paintings, the nose a fireplace, and the lips a red couch.

The colours used are a reference to the theatre and to Mae West’s profession, and a symbol of the mise en scène and reinterpretation of reality. In 1974, Dalí recreated the picture in three dimensions, with the help of the architect Oscar Tusquets.

Project for "Spellbound", , © Culturespaces / Eric Spiller

Cinema and Photography

Dalí was an artist obsessed with images and a highly publicised figure. This sequence focuses on Dalí’s work with photography, cinema and video performances, photos, and magazine covers. He co-wrote with Luis Buñuel the scenario of the film An Andalusian Dog (1929), based on their dreams (a hand covered in ants and a knife cutting an eye). Both artists created the scenario by rejecting all rational images and ideas. The sequences of the film transgress any narrative and traditional approach and bear witness to the iconic surrealist imagery and genre of surrealist cinema.

Dalí also collaborated with Alfred Hitchcock on The House of Dr Edwards in 1945. He created a dreamlike scene in which pianos, eyes, and scissors floated in the air.

The Inventor of all kinds of images, Dalí met photographers such as Man Ray, Brassaï, Cecil Beaton, and Philippe Halsman. In 1950, he become friends with Robert Descharnes, who worked with him for forty years. The photographer created the preparatory photos for his works and compiled the photographic and sound archives of the life of Dalí.

The Persistence of Memory , © Culturespaces / Eric Spiller

The first Surrealism

Surrealism enabled Dalí to express his inner conflicts: experimenting with various Surrealist techniques involving images emerging from the unconscious, such as automatism.

In 1931, during a period of poverty and instability in Spain, Dalí painted his most famous piece: The Persistence of Memory, which is now better known as ‘Soft Watches’. In his autobiography The Secret Life of Salvador Dalí, he explained that he was inspired by a runny Camembert cheese, that made him think of time passing by. The picture features the rocks of Portlligat and deformed pocket watches indicating different times. One of them is covered with ants, a symbol linked to death. The painting invites the viewers to liberate themselves from material constraints.

Slave market (with apparition of the invisible bust of Voltaire), , © Culturespaces / Eric Spiller

Double images

The Cap Creus’ rocky landscape introduces works that played on double images and simulacrum, the visible and the invisible, optical effects, and metamorphosis. A master in the art of deforming reality, Dalí was obsessed with the double image. In both paintings Swans Reflecting Elephants (1937) and Slave Market with the Apparition of the Invisible Bust of Voltaire (1940), he experimented with the reflection of objects and visual perception.

Endless Enigma, created in 1938, is often considered as a picture-manifesto. Several elements are visible: a mandolin, a salad bowl with pears, two figs on a table, a mythological beast, the face of the great cyclops, a greyhound, a reclining philosopher, the beach at Cap Creus, and a boat. The canvas, with its many images, conveys a series of endless meanings.

Galathea of the Spheres, , © Culturespaces / Eric Spiller

Atomisation

War became a part of Dalí’s oeuvre when the bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, triggering fresh sources of inspiration. From the outset, Dalí was fascinated by sciences and the theory of relativity and astronomy. The atomic bomb made him interested in the atomic structure of matter. As the heir to the great Renaissance masters, Dalí reinterpreted sacred figures.

Galatea of the Spheres (1952) is one of the most representative works from the mystical-nuclear period. Gala’s face, composed of spheres, is fragmented, highlighting Dalí’s fascination with the theories of atomic disintegration.

Atomic Leda , © Culturespaces / Eric Spiller

Christ and Gala

In the 1940s, Dalí turned to the Renaissance, classicism, and religious painting. Galarina (1945) attested to this return to the old masters: ‘I entitled it “Galarina” because Gala is for me what Fornarina was for Raphael.’

In Atomic Leda (1947–1949), he depicted Gala in a mythical episode: that of Leda seduced by Zeus transformed into a swan. In this work, with its levitating elements, the focus is on the laws of physics and gravity.

A great admirer of Leonardo da Vinci, Dalí painted The Sacrament of the Last Supper in 1955, inspired by the original work and measures 168.3 by 270 cm.

1919

Dalí was only 15 when he painted Landscapes of Cadaqués. He was so gifted that his father agreed to his enrolling at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in San Fernando in 1921. However, his rebellious temperament led to him being expelled first in 1923 and then definitively in 1926.

Paysage ville mer Espagne Cadaquès

1925

In 1925 Dalí painted what is considered to be his first masterpiece, Figure at the Window, depicting his sister Ana-Maria. Very close to his older sister, he grew up pampered by all the women in the household. This attachment was lost when Gala came into the artist's life.

Femme à la fenêtre peinture Dalí

1929

After a first trip to Paris in 1926, Dalí met the Surrealists in 1929 and met Gala, then Paul Eluard's wife, whom he would later marry.

Deux femmes de dos dans le désert

The 1930s

Dalí adopted a very meticulous painting technique, similar to that of Vermeer, whom he deeply admired. He paid homage to Vermeer in several paintings, notably The Ghost of Vermeer of Delft (1934). In 1948, in his classification of the most remarkable painters in history, Dalí placed Vermeer first.

Statues et personnage dans le désert

1934

Dalí's character did not please everyone. While he was in the midst of his Surrealist phase, tensions built up with members of the group, especially after he declared his fascination for Hitler at the peak of Nazism. He received a letter of expulsion from the movement that year, but unperturbed, he asserted ‘I am surrealism! ‘.

Cheval et éléphants dans le désert

1940

Dalí went into exile in the United States with Gala in 1940. There he painted one of his most famous pictures, One Second Before the Awakening from a Dream Provoked by the Flight of a Bee Around a Pomegranate in 1944. During this American period, Dalí tried his hand at many arts, including goldsmithing and sculpture. He began producing his jewellery models in 1941. 

Sculpture éléphant Dalí

1945

Hitchcock chose Dalí to direct a sequence in his film, Spellbound. The scenes were Dalí's paintings set in motion. They plunge the viewer into a forest of unique eyes of all sizes, which a character armed with scissors frantically cuts out.

Projet pour La maison du docteur Edwardes

1948

Dalí returned to Port-Lligat to rediscover the path of faith, the one of his childhood. He was fascinated by the great Spanish mystics of the sixteenth century and their vision of Christ. In his turn, he sought to get closer to God through his painting, a quest he would pursue until his death in 1989.

Bateau Colomb sur l'océan peinture

1952

At the end of the Second World War, his art was profoundly affected by the atomic explosions in Nagasaki and Hiroshima. The atom became one of his favourite subjects. In 1952, he painted Galathea of the Spheres, in which Gala's face disintegrates into a multitude of spheres. An image worthy of a science fiction film!

Femme Gala désintégrée sphère

1974

Dalí inaugurates his theatre-museum, where he brings together paintings, jewellery, sculpture and even personal effects from his home village. An entire room was dedicated to a life-size portrait of Mae West, the scandalous actress who fascinated him. Dalí now rests in his museum-theatre.

Torse humain et forêt sur un rideau

Listen to the exhibition playlist

 

Key Works

Click on an artwork to find out more

Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee Around a Pomegranate a Second Before Awakening

Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee Around a Pomegranate a Second Before Awakening

Salvador Dalí , Around 1944 , Oil on wood , 51 x 41 cm , Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid , © Salvador Dalí, Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí, ADAGP 2023

Mae West's Face which May be Used as a Surrealist Apartment

Mae West's Face which May be Used as a Surrealist Apartment

Salvador Dalí , Around1974 , 50,2 x 76 x 58,7 m , Gala-Salvador Dalí Foundation, Figueres , © Salvador Dalí, Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí, ADAGP 2023

The Temptation of St. Anthony

The Temptation of St. Anthony

Salvador Dalí , 1946 , Oil on canvas , 89,5 x 119,5 cm , Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Brüssel , akg-images , © Salvador Dalí, Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí, ADAGP 2023

Pietà

Pietà

Salvador Dalí , 1958 , Oil on canvas , 115 x 123 cm , Collection Pérez Simón, Mexico , © Christie’s Images / Bridgeman Images , © Salvador Dalí, Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí, ADAGP 2023

The Persistence of Memory

The Persistence of Memory

Salvador Dalí , 1931 , Oil on canvas , 24,10 x 33 cm , The Museum of Modern Art, New York , Bridgeman Images , © Salvador Dalí, Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí, ADAGP 2023

My Wife Nude Contemplating Her Own Flesh Becoming Stairs, Three Vertebrae of a Column, Sky and Architecture

My Wife Nude Contemplating Her Own Flesh Becoming Stairs, Three Vertebrae of a Column, Sky and Architecture

Salvador Dalí , 1945 , Oil on canvas , 61 x 52 cm , Private collection , Bridgeman Images , © Salvador Dalí, Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí, ADAGP 2023

Archeological Reminiscence Millet's Angelus

Archeological Reminiscence Millet's Angelus

Salvador Dalí , Around 1934 , Oil on canvas , 31,75 x 39,4 cm , The Dali Museum, St. Petersburg (Floride) , © Salvador Dalí, Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí, ADAGP 2023

Phantom Cart

Phantom Cart

Salvador Dalí , 1933 , Oil on canvas , 19 x 24,1 cm , Gala-Salvador Dalí Foundation, Figueres , © Salvador Dalí, Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí, ADAGP 2023

Extend your discovery

Download our application

This application, available free of charge on the AppStore and Google Play, brings together commentaries on works from our current digital exhibitions. Discover some thirty works from the ‘Dalí, the Endless Enigma’ exhibition at the Phoenix des Lumières in a fun way, thanks to original anecdotes.

Discover also the exhibitions ‘Egypt of the Pharaohs, from Keops to Ramses II’ at the Atelier des Lumières (Paris) and the Carrières des Lumières (Les Baux-de-Provence), ‘From Vermeer to Van Gogh, the Dutch Masters’ at the Fabrique des Lumières (Amsterdam) and the Bassins des Lumières (Bordeaux).

Download on the App Store Download on Google Play