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May 12, 2021

10 Bizarre Facts You Might Not Know About Salvador Dalí

Salvador Felipe Jacinto Dalí y Domenech, otherwise known simply as Salvador Dalí, was born on May 11, 1904, in the town of Figueras, Spain. He died at the ripe old age of 84 on January 23, 1989, in his hometown, close to the French border with Catalonia.

Salvador Dalí is most famous for his contribution to the world of art, particularly to the surrealist movement. Dalí was not just famous for his artwork though. He had a particular tendency to play the fool, with his antics and bizarre lifestyle sometimes stealing the spotlight from his artistic works.

Here are eight bizarre facts about the artist:

1. Salvador Dalí’s Parents Believed He Was His Older Brother Reincarnated

Portrait of My Dead Brother by Salvador Dalí, 1963

Dalí was born just nine months after his older brother died of gastroenteritis at just twenty-two months old. When the artist was five, his parents took him to the grave of his older brother and told him that they believed he was his brother’s reincarnation. They had even given him his brother’s name—Salvador.

Dalí was haunted by the idea of his dead brother throughout his life, mythologizing him in his writings and art. Dalí said of him, “[we] resembled each other like two drops of water, but we had different reflections. He was probably a first version of myself but conceived too much in the absolute.” Images of his brother would reappear in his later works, including Portrait of My Dead Brother (1963).

2. Dalí Was Expelled From the Same Art School Twice

Portrait of a very young Salvador Dalí.

Though Salvador Dalí proved to be an exceptionally gifted artist, he wasn’t always a gifted student. He was expelled from the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando in 1923 for participating in a student protest when painter Daniel Vázquez Díaz was passed over for a professorship. When he returned later to the same school, he was expelled again in 1926 because he said the professors who were slated to give him his final oral examinations were incompetent.

He even wrote later in his autobiography, “I am infinitely more intelligent than these three professors, and I therefore refuse to be examined by them. I know this subject much too well.”

3. To Avoid Paying Restaurant Bills, Dalí Would Draw on the Backs of Cheques

Salvador Dalí would often avoid paying for drinks and meals in bars or restaurants by drawing on the cheques, making them priceless works of art and therefore un-cashable.

Dalí wasn’t quite the dine and dasher, but he did cheat his way out of a few hefty restaurant bills. After hosting extravagant dinners for himself and a few friends, he would write out a cheque then scribble a drawing on its back. As nobody wanted to pass up the chance to own a Dalí original, more often than not restaurants wouldn’t cash in the cheques.

4. Dali’s Unusual Marriage

A 26-year old Dalí photographed with Gala, his Russian-born wife, in 1930.

In August 1929, Dali met the love of his life: Elena Ivanovna Diakonova, better known as Gala. Unfortunately, Gala was already married to the French surrealist poet Paul Eluard. Dali wasn’t discouraged: “She was destined to be my Gradiva, the one who moves forward, my victory, my wife.” Since Gala and Eluard had what we might now term an “open marriage” – they had previously spent three years in a menage a trois with the artist Max Ernst – there was little to impede her relationship with Dali. After divorcing Eluard (although they apparently continued a sexual relationship), Gala married Dali in 1934. They would remain together until her death in 1982.

While it wasn’t exactly a traditional marriage – both continued to see other people – the relationship was apparently a happy one. Gala became Dali’s muse and business manager, her financial shrewdness supporting his extravagant lifestyle. The partnership was so important that Dali would frequently sign art with both of their names. In 1968, Dali bought Gala a castle in Spain, which she accepted on the condition that he could only visit her there after obtaining her permission in writing. That might sound unusual – but wouldn’t anyone need some time off if they were married to Salvador Dali?

5. He Took Commercial Commissions

Chupa Chups logo, designed by Salvador Dalí.

Though many artists look down on commercial work, Dalí was not one of them. Throughout his long career, the artist created magazine covers for Vogue and Town and Country, the logo for Chupa Chups lollipops, and ads for major brands, such as De Beers, S.C. Johnson & Company, Gap, and Datsun. He even worked as a spokesperson for companies like Alka-Seltzer and Lanvin, a French chocolate company.

6. Salvador Dalí Worked With Alfred Hitchcock and Walt Disney

Alfred Hitchcock and Salvador Dalí during the filming of Spellbound.

Famed director Alfred Hitchcock asked Dalí to help create paintings for the dream sequences in his 1945 film, Spellbound, which starred Gregory Peck and Ingrid Bergman. The paintings were also included in the plot as clues to one of the characters’ psychological problems.

The artist also worked with John Hench, a Disney designer in 1946 on an animated movie called Destino. For the film, Dalí completed twenty-two oil paintings and drawings, which became storyboards. Though the film was unfinished due to budgetary constraints, it was later released as a six-minute short in 2003.

7. His Weird Fascination With Hitler

The Enigma of Hitler by Salvador Dalí, 1938.

Dalí was obsessed with Hitler in a way that even Hitler would probably have found unsettling. During the Nazi’s rise, most surrealist artists sought to distance themselves from fascism and Hitler. Dalí, on the other hand, began to paint him. One painting of Dalí’s which at first appears to be a landscape is actually a photograph of Hitler turned on its side and made to look like a placid lake. Later, when asked about his fascination with Hitler, Dalí said: “I often dreamed about Hitler as other men dreamed about women. His flesh, which I had imagined whiter than white, ravished me…”

8. With Alice Cooper

  Alice Cooper and Salvador Dalí, 1973.

Dalí had a lot of famous friends, spending time hanging out with Elvis Presley, John Lennon, David Bowie, Pablo Picasso, and even Sigmund Freud. But probably his weirdest acquaintance was with rock legend Alice Cooper. In 1973, Dalí heard about Cooper and became fascinated by his stage show, which was partly inspired by Dalí’s work. Naturally, the artist asked for a meeting with Cooper and his manager. According to Cooper, Dalí turned up wearing a giraffe-skin coat, sparkly socks acquired from Elvis, and curly, elastic boots. He ordered a cup of hot water, which he proceeded to top up from a jar of honey he kept in his pocket, then he cut the dripping strand of honey with a pair of scissors he kept in his other pocket. Dalí was accompanied by an entourage of beautiful teenagers dressed in robes who said nothing.

Things got weirder when Dalí gave Cooper a plaster sculpture of his brain, crowned by a chocolate eclair with real ants running down the middle - and then asked Cooper to model for him. Cooper ended up doing so under armed guard, since he was wearing a diamond tiara provided by Dalí worth $2 million. At the end of it, Dalí had created an amazing revolving hologram of Cooper covered in diamonds and biting the head of a Venus de Milo statuette. He accomplished this by using lasers to capture a three-dimensional image.

9. He Had a Pet Ocelot Named Babou

Dalí in the 1960s sporting his characteristic flamboyant mustache holding his pet ocelot, Babou.

He adopted Babou in the 1960s, and brought him everywhere with him including restaurants. He is also remembered for his pet anteater, which he took on walks through the streets of Paris and even brought him on an appearance of the Dick Cavett show.

10. Salvador Dalí Built a Museum for Himself and Then Died in It

Salvador Dalí Museum in Spain.

The mayor of Dalí’s hometown asked him to donate a piece of his art to the town’s museum but ended up with much more than he asked for. Dalí ended up rebuilding the municipal theater where he held his first exhibition into a museum dedicated to himself and his works. Dalí lived in the museum in the last few years of his life and died there in 1989.


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