Salvador Dali was born on 11 May 1904 at Figueras in Catalonia, Spain. Dali started going to drawing school and had his first public exhibition, in 1919, at the Municipal Theater in Figueras.
Dali's mother died of breast cancer, in February 1921, when he was sixteen years old. It was a great blow that he experienced in his life.
In 1922, Dali started to study at the School of Fine Arts, in Madrid. He started to experiment with Cubist painting and Dada. Just before his final exams, in 1926, he was expelled from the School of Fine Arts because he had said that no one on the faculty was competent enough to examine him. Also in 1926 Dali visited Paris for the first time and met Pablo Picasso. Over the next few years Dali made several works that were strongly influenced by Picasso and Joan Miro.
Dali officially joined the Surrealist group in 1929. Dali's work had been strongly influenced by surrealism for the past two years, and had developed his paranoiac-critical method which involves accessing the subconcious for greater artistic creativity. Dali also had some important exhibitions in 1929. In December 1929 Dali's father threw him out of the home after a big argument. In the summer of 1930 Dali and Gala (his future wife) rented a small fisherman's cabin at Port Lligat, not far from his original home. Later he bought the property and expanded it over the years.
One of Dali's best known works was painted in 1931, it is titled The Persistence of Memory and shows soft, melting pocket watches. The inspiration for the soft watches came from when he was eating ripe camembert cheese. The meaning of the painting is that the assumption that time is rigid is rejected.
In 1934 Dali and Gala got married. Also that year Dali had an exhibition in New York that was a great success. Later in 1934 Dali was expelled from the Surrealist group, and his answer to this was "I myself am surrealism."
Dali exhibited in the London International Surrealist Exhibition in 1936. He delivered a lecture while wearing a deep-sea diving suit and helmet, and had to have the helmet unscrewed while he struggled to breathe.
At this point in time Dali's main patron, in London, was Edward James who was very wealthy. He bought many of Dali's works and for two years supported him financially. Also they collaborated on the Lobster Telephone and the Mae West Lips Sofa. In 1937 Dali painted one of his most intense pictures titled The Metamorphosis of Narcissus. It is a classic work of Surrealism.
Dali met Sigmund Freud (who was an influence on Dali), in London, in 1938. In 1940, Dali and Gala moved to the United States and stayed there for eight years. During this period Dali practiced Catholicism. In 1942 Dali's autobiography, The Secret Life of Salvado Dali, was published. In 1944 Dali wrote a novel about a fashion salon for automobiles.
From 1949 onwards Dali spent his time in Catalonia, Spain. He did not restrict himself to just painting but also experimented with unusual and novel media. For example he was one of the first artists to use holography in an artistic way, and some of his works have optical illusions. The period after World War 2 Dali described as Nuclear Mysticism, as Dali became a more devout Catholic and was inspired by the atomic age. In this period his work shows technical virtuosity and an interest in religion, science and optical illusions. Good examples of paintings of this period include The Hallucinogenic Toreador (1968-1970) and La Gare de Perpignan (1965).
From 1960 to 1974 Dali mainly worked on the Dali Theatre and Museum in Figueras. Dali's health deteriorated in 1980. His nervous system had been damaged by being given a dangerous mixture of unprescribed drugs by his wife Gala. His hands trembled a lot.
In 1978 Dali was elected to the Beaux-Arts Academy. King Juan Carlos bestowed on Dali the title of Marquis of Dali de Pubol, in 1982.
On 10 June 1982 Gala died at their castle in Pubol. When Dali was 80, in 1983, he was severely burnt in a fire at his home. In November 1988 Dali went to hospital with heart failure, and on 23 January 1989 he died of heart failure at Figueras. He was 84 years old.