Featured Museum: A Dalinian Experience

A look into the world of Salvador Dali in Figueres, Spain

Each morning when I awake, I experience again a supreme pleasure – that of being Salvador Dali. — Salvador Dali

Salvador Dali, Soft Self Portrait

Soft Self Portrait with Grilled Bacon

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

These are not surprising statements from Salvador Dali, one of the prominent founders of surrealism, who exuded an intentionally outrageous persona throughout his life. He sought to shock, confuse, touch nerves, and get reactions.

Dali Theatre-Museum

Dali died in 1989, but his fame lives on in his still popular works and in the places that influenced his life and art in the Costa Brava region of northeastern Spain. At the Dali Theater-Museum in Figueres that he himself conceived and designed, visitors are surrounded by Dali’s surrealism. To many, including himself, he was a genius. To others, he was crazy. I’ve always been an admirer of Dali’s work, but when visiting the museum recently, courtesy of Visit Costa Brava, I became even more interested in the man and his art.

Museum Tower

Dali Theatre-Museum in Figueres, Spain

The Dali Theatre-Museum is in the location of the former Figueres Theatre that was destroyed by fire during the Spanish Civil War in 1939. Dali was born in Figueres and at the age of 14 participated in his first art exhibition at the theatre.

Where, if not in my own town, should the most extravagant and solid of my work endure, where if not here? — Salvador Dali

The museum itself is actually a work of Dali’s art. Outside, the building’s walls are decorated with representations of bread rolls common to this area while giant eggs adorn the top. When you’re inside the museum, you are immersed in a Dalinian experience amidst the roughly 1,500 paintings, drawings, installations, photographs, jewelry designs and other works.

Salvador Dali's Crypt

Salvador Dali’s Crypt at Dali Theatre-Museum

Dali’s last years were lived in his museum. He died in 1989 and is buried in a crypt in an area in the center of the museum near exhibits of gold jewelry that he designed.

Avida Dollars

Jewelry Designed by Dali

“Avida Dollars” is an anagram of his name and refers to his well-known love of gold and money.

Barcelona Mannequin, Salvador Dali

Barcelona Mannequin by Salvador Dali (1926)

Our museum tour guide, Gloria Lomas, is shown here discussing Barcelona Mannequin, one of Dali’s most famous paintings. Dali admired the works of Velázquez, Vermeer and Raphael. But when asked in an interview about who were the great living artists he said, “Dali the first. No doubt.” However, he gives Picasso some credit — after himself.

Galarina, Salvador Dali

Galarina (1945)

Much of Dali’s art deals with death and immortality, gold and money, and eroticism. Symbolism abounds — rocks signify strenth, bread represents feeding the mind, crutches represent weakness, eggs portray hope and love. Dali also painted portraits of his wife and muse, Gala, whose real name was Elena Ivanovna Diakonova. They met in 1929 and were married in 1958. “She was destined to be my Gradiva – one who moves forward, my victory, my wife”. (Gradiva was the title character in a novel by W. Jensen who provides psychological healing to Sigmund Freud.)

The Rainy Cadillac

The Rainy Cadillac in Museum’s Central Patio

The installations inside the central courtyard of the museum were also designed by Dali to be core pieces in the museum.

There are two mannequins sitting in the back seat of Dali’s 1941 Cadillac, supposedly once owned by Al Capone. By inserting a coin, rain falls inside the car. The bronze statue on the Cadillac is of Queen Esther by Austrian sculptor, Ernst Fuchs, but it may be representative of Dali’s sister.

Boat with Condoms

Gala’s Boat, The “car-naval” (1978)

The boat above the patio was used by Dali and Gala and the blue condoms hanging from it symbolize tears. The geodesic dome rising above the building was part of Dali’s vision and was designed by Spanish architect Emilio Pérez Piñero. The dome is a key feature of the museum as well as a Figueres landmark.

In 1973, a British program, ITV Aquarius, produced a documentary filming Dali for three days at his home in Portlligat (near Cadeques on the Costa Brava) and at the museum while it was being constructed. He relished the opportunity to be center of attention and perform for the cameras. Inspired by my visit to the museum to watch a series of YouTube videos of this broadcast, I was fascinated by the parts filmed there as it was being constructed with Dali present, standing in this courtyard. On film, he mentions the tragedy of Piñero’s death in a car accident the previous summer.

Palace of the Wind Ceiling (1972-1973)

Palace of the Wind Ceiling (1972-1973)

The most prominent features of this ceiling painting in the Palace of the Wind at the museum are the feet of Dali and Gala.

In the British documentary, Dali is shown climbing scaffolding to work on this mural. He carefully paints a definitive line, then dashes off a few more brush strokes before turning to the camera declaring, “Bravo! Bonjour!” It’s very entertaining.

Gala and Abraham Lincoln

Gala Nude Looking at the Sea (1975)

The photos directly above and below are different views of an abstract hologram in the museum’s foyer. The subject appears to be Gala in the nude until you view it from further back when it is a portrait of Abraham Lincoln.

Abraham Lincoln/Gala

Gala Nude Looking at the Sea (1975) viewed from 18 meters 

Gloria mentioned several interesting aspects of Dali’s life, including his time living with Gala in the United States from 1940 – 1948 and during later visits. He met many famous and powerful people, and developed relationships with celebrities like the Marx Brothers who he liked very much. In the British program I saw, he’s showing off a pair of socks given to him by Elvis Presley. He was interviewed on several television programs in the United States and appeared in an episode of I’ve Got a Secret in 1963 that I also came across on YouTube.

Mae West Portrait Resconstruction

Face of Mae West Which Can Be Used as an Apartment (1974)

In this installation at Dali Theatre-Museum, he created a reconstruction of a portrait he did of Mae West in the 1930s. The elements representing her lips, nose, eyes, are framed by platinum hair which isn’t shown in this photo, unfortunately. On the same level as the exhibit, they look like individual pieces, as shown here. But from a platform above, the full picture is visible.

Building with Bread Loaves

Dali Theatre-Museum in Figueres, Spain

A Dalinian Surprise

I am the first to be surprised and often terrified by the images that I see appear on my canvas. — Salvador Dali

Mr. TWS actually had a Dalinean experience that seemed almost like it had been orchestrated by Dali himself. He was taking photos of the building’s exterior while were waiting to enter the special Dali Jewels gallery adjacent to the museum. What must have been a very large bird decided to create some art of its own, splattering about a dozen droppings on the back of his shirt. Curiously, his shirt now looked much like the side of the building you see in the photo.

Is it possible that Dali was creating a Dalinian event?

What are your perceptions of Dali and his work? There is no wrong answer. As Gloria explained, in Dali’s art everything is a carnival — nothing is what it seems.

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36 thoughts on “Featured Museum: A Dalinian Experience

  1. Leigh

    I would have loved to visit this place. I ‘d heard a bit about going to Figueres as a day trip from Barcelona but we were just too short on time last year to do it. I think I would have preferred this over Seville.
    I wonder if Dali the person was little hard to be around as he was obviously quite self important – and indeed very talented..His self portrait is amazing. That would be an interesting exercise for all of is to undertake.

    1. Cathy Post author

      I think he would be a little hard to take on a daily basis. I’d like to find some more information about his years with Gala — particularly from Gala’s perspective.

  2. Michael Figueiredo

    Visiting the Dali museum must have been very surreal, so to speak. I’ve always wanted to see the Gala Nude painting since I saw it in my Spanish book in high school.

    That’s funny about what happened to your husband’s shirt! In some cultures that’s considered lucky. 🙂

    1. Cathy Post author

      That’s what people were telling us — that it can be lucky. But I don’t think Mr. TWS thinks he’s seen evidence of that yet. 🙂

    1. Cathy Post author

      It’s very cool. In person, the effects are even more noticeable. Something about taking a photo doesn’t capture the nude Gala as distinctly.

  3. Mary @ The World Is A Book

    What an incredible museum to visit. I’ve always been interested in Dali’s paintings and my husband is a big fan. Those masterpieces must have been amazing to see in person. We saw a few of his huge artwork at the Reina Sofia in Madrid. He has a painting there similar to Gala Nude called Person looking at the Window but it was his sister and fully clothed, of course. It was a little unnerving looking at some Dali paintings with kids in tow. We had to usher them past a couple because they were so graphic. Sorry to hear about Mr. TWS’ Dalinian moment.

  4. Nancie

    I love Dali, I saw a lot of his work when I was in Madrid this past winter. I also got to see an exhibit of some of his sketches when I was in Prague this summer. I would love to wander around here for a few hours.

    I hope you husband kept the shirt as a souvenir 🙂

  5. Laurence

    I love Dali, and visiting this museum was really awesome when I went back in April of this year. The only thing was that it was so darn busy! Otherwise, a fantastic place 🙂

  6. Laurel

    I definitely think Mr. Sweeney was Dali was creating a Dalinian event :). I wish I would have gotten to this museum. I’ve been to the Dali house museum, but I just can’t get enough. I’m not sure how I feel about him, but I do find him fascinating!

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  10. Andrew Graeme Gould

    Some fantastic images here, Cathy… And I must say, I’m amazed at what your husband is prepared to go through for the sake of art !!!

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