Salvador Dali facts
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10 Mind-Blowing Facts About Salvador Dali You Definitely Didn’t Learn in Art Class

1. He believed he was the reincarnation of his dead older brother

Dali’s parents had another son named Salvador who tragically died as an infant before Dali was born 9 months later. Young Dali grew up in the shadow of this deceased older brother who shared his name.

Salvador Dali in 1939 / Photography by Carl Van Vechten / Credit: The United States Library of Congress

Dali’s parents believed their new son was the actual reincarnation of the brother they lost. They went so far as to take him to visit his own grave and told him he was the first Salvador reborn.

This idea resonated with Dali, who truly believed he was living the second life of his dead sibling. He felt enormous pressure from his parents to live up to the potential of this brother and carry on his legacy through his art. This spiritual burden haunted Dali well into adulthood.

2. Dali hardly slept

Dali followed a strict regime of only sleeping a few hours a night when he slept at all. He saw sleep as a waste of time that kept him from painting.

Dali’s most famous sleep technique was known to explore the hypnagogic cycle of sleep. He would hold a key in his hand and place a metal plate on the ground. As he drifted off, the key would fall and clang on the plate, waking him up suddenly.

This allowed Dali to repeatedly enter the hypnagogic state between wakefulness and sleep. He would experience vivid dreamlike visions and associations, which he tried to capture immediately in his work.

The Persistence of Memory by Dali, 1931 / Credit: Collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York

Dali also reportedly spent many nights half-sleeping while perched on a chair with a spoon balanced on the arm under his wrist. If he fell fully asleep, the spoon would clatter and wake him.

The artist would frequently work continuously for days without any real rest or break. His bizarre sleep habits fueled his surrealist visions and creations.

3. He hosted wild parties with famous guests

Dali and his wife Gala were legendary party hosts, throwing lavish events at their seaside home in Port Lligat, Spain. Their exclusive guest lists attracted movie stars like Jack Warner and Igor Stravinsky, artists like Pablo Picasso, and celebrity bullfighters.

The parties were surreal affairs filled with extravagant decor and costumes. Dali would greet guests wearing unconventional outfits, once even donning a deep sea diving suit. He would stage elaborate scenes and stunts to shock and delight his celebrity crowd.

Photography from his surrealist cult cookery book Les Diners de Gala, first published in 1973 / Credit: Taschen

There are some days when I think I’m going to die from an overdose of satisfaction.

Salvador Dali

4. He had an unusual hobby: snail collecting

Dali was fascinated by the mathematical spiral patterns of snail shells. He would collect interesting snails to study their shells and even used them in his artwork at times.

5. Dali bought Castle Pubol for Gala and made it her retreat

In an extravagant display of wealth and eccentricity, Salvador Dali purchased the Castle Pubol in Catalonia for his wife Gala in 1969, when he was at the peak of his fame and fortune. He spent lavishly to renovate and furnish it to Gala’s discerning tastes.

However, Dali imposed the strange condition that he could only visit the castle if Gala invited him in writing. This reflected the highly unusual power dynamic between them, where Gala often called the shots. Supposedly she would only invite him once a year, entertaining Dali as an honored guest rather than her husband with rights to his home.

Gala and Dali in 1935 / Photography by Cecil Beaton

The castle became Gala’s retreat for trysts with young lovers during her later years, while Dali lived mainly at their Port Lligat residence. To most, this arrangement would seem dysfunctional or even masochistic. But for Dali, the castle represented a dramatic act of love and generosity, albeit in his own eccentric way.

6. He turned to theatre, design, and film later in his career

While best known for painting, Dali branched out creatively in his later years. He explored set design, wrote screenplays, collaborated on films, and even designed the Chupa Chups lollipop logo.

The “Chupa-Chups” logo created by Dali in 1969

He explored set design, writing the screenplay for the films Chaos and Creation and Babaouo as well as designing the dream sequence for Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbound. His set designs included the ballet Bacchanale for the New York Metropolitan Opera, the nightclub decor for the Copacabana in New York, and a dream-like set for a production of Tristan and Isolde in Rome.

On the set of Chaos and Creation written and directed by Salvador Dali and Philippe Halsman, 1960 / Photography by Philippe Halsman

I have Dalinian thought: the one thing the world will never have enough of is the outrageous.

Salvador Dali

7. Dali collaborated with Walt Disney

Dali’s enthusiasm for pop culture led him to approach Walt Disney in 1945 to produce an animated film inspired by Fantasia. Their project Destino featured surrealist images set to Mexican folk songs, but it was shelved after eight months of production.

Though never completed in Dali’s lifetime, his vision for Destino was finally realized in 2003 when Disney’s nephew Roy revived the film and worked with Disney Studios to turn it into a six-minute animated short. Destino showcased Dali’s surrealist style blended with Disney animation, bringing together two creative icons decades after their initial collaboration.

Dali & Disney: A Date with Destino / Credit: Disney/IMDb

Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never reach it.

Salvador Dali

8. Dali would draw on the backs of cheques, to avoid paying restaurant bills

Even though he lived an extravagant lifestyle, the surrealist artist was not always keen on footing the lofty bills that came with such luxury. Dali’s sneaky technique to avoid payment was to write out a cheque for the meal, then turn it over and swiftly sketch an original drawing or doodle on the back.

Since nobody could pass up the opportunity to take home a bonafide Dali artwork, the restaurants rarely cashed those cheques. Instead, they preserved them as prized relics with the artist’s impromptu scribbles, essentially letting Dali and his party dine for free.

Dalí and Babou, 1965 / Photography by Philippe Halsman

9. His extravagant tastes extended to his choice of pets

Dali had an ocelot named Babou, whom he would bring to restaurants and social gatherings on a studded leash and collar. When dining with Babou in New York, a frightened patron was reassured by Dali that the ocelot was “simply painted over in an op art design.”

Dali’s pampered pet reflected his flamboyant personality. In fact, the character Cheryl on the cartoon Archer has an ocelot named Babou likely inspired by Dali’s iconic cat. The surrealist artist maintained his lavish and eccentric lifestyle even in the animals he kept by his side, treating Babou the ocelot to a life as unique as his own.

Dali and Babou at the St. Regis hotel, New York / Credit: Getty

10. Dali aimed to get kicked out of art school, and he succeeded

Dali’s time at Spain’s Academia de San Fernando art school was short-lived. He was first expelled in 1923 after being accused of inciting a student protest when painter Daniel Vázquez Díaz was denied a professorship.

However, Dali was readmitted in 1926 only to be expelled once more when he boldly proclaimed the judges assessing him were not competent enough to judge his talent.

While defiant and cocky, Dali’s ploy achieved his aim – he wanted to be thrown out to make a statement. The young artist, who already saw himself as a master, had no interest in formal instruction. Dali’s ego thrived on controversy and he got his wish by willfully goading the art academy into expelling him not just once, but twice.

The Temptation of Saint Anthony by Dali, 1946

Intelligence without ambition is a bird without wings.

Salvador Dali

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