Brilliance and craziness, reflected in the life’s work and lifestyle of this great artist
I have long been an admirer of the surrealist artist Salvador Dalí, so during a trip to Northern Spain I decided to undertake a pilgrimage to visit some of the local sites associated with this amazing artist.
There were several places to chose for our homage but we chose two:
- Teatre-Museu Dalí, Figueres
- Dalís home in Port Lligat
Teatre-Museu Dalí, Figueres
We reached Figueres late morning, beating the rush of visitors to the Teatre-Museu Dalí, which houses a fabulous collection of his works and is also the site of his burial. Interestingly at the time of our visit there was a controversy going in respect of the claim of a tarot card reader that Dalí was indeed her father. A Spanish court had just ordered his body be exhumed for a quick bit of DNA testing. The exhumation took place in July and when they raised the silk handkerchief covering his face they found his magnificent moustache was still in place in its iconic “10 to 10” position – much to the delight of the guy who had embalmed him!
The museum itself was originally a theatre that had fallen into ruin after it was burned during the Spanish Civil War. In the 1960 Dalí and the town mayor decided to rebuild it and dedicate it as a museum to the town’s most famous son. It houses an amazing selection of his works – mainly his private collection. From the outset the museum is a true tribute to the fertile imagination of Dalí, the building itself resembles a Moorish castle, painted red and ordained with a cluster of golden plastered croissants and a roof lined with Oscar like statues and huge eggs.
The entrance to the museum itself is bizarre with an odd mixture of roman and medieval symbolism, and above the door to the museum is statue of someone in a diver suits surround with some ladies carrying large baguettes over their heads.
The museum itself is built around a courtyard at the center of which is a large installation entitled Taxi Plujós (Rainy Taxi), an early Cadillac, surmounted by statues. The place is full of surprises, tricks and illusions, and contains a substantial portion of Dalí’s life’s work, but not his most famous pieces as they are scattered around the world. It is one of those places that causes sensory over-load, with so many different visual and visceral experiences.
The Sala de Peixateries (Fishmongers’ Hall) holds a collection of Dalí oils, including the famous Autoretrat Tou amb Tall de Bacon Fregit (Soft Self-Portrait with Fried Bacon) and Retrat de Picasso (Portrait of Picasso). Gala, Dalí’s wife and lifelong muse, is seen in many of the works. In the Mae West room you climb up a set of wrought iron stairs to a special point to see the image of the famous actresses face. As well as Dalí’s work there were other collections, the most interesting and extensive is that of Antoni Pitxot. His works is based on paintings and installations of rocks and other natural objects to form images of people.
Dalís home in Port Lligat
Today we set out at the crack of sparrows to reach the small fishing village of Port Lligat, where we were booked into an early tour of the home that Salvador Dalí’s had shared with his wife Gala for many years. It was a short journey but involved a trip over the coastal range and some extremely bendy roads. As we traveled over the mountains we were greeted with spectacular views, but I had to keep one eye on the crazy drivers and brave cyclists. We arrived in plenty of time, so we decided to stop in the neighboring town of Cadequés. This is a very quaint town hidden in a peaceful bay, well away from the main tourist traps of the Costa Brava, and being so early in the morning it was completely dead … except for few keen tourists and a convoy of trucks delivering to the cafes that lined the seafront.
Dalí was born in nearby Figueres and first visited Cadaqués as a child during family holidays. The area later provided inspiration for some of his most famous works. In 1929 Dalí met his muse and future wife Gala (real name Elena Ivanovna Diakonova). Apparently, his father didn’t approve of their relationship and following an argument, contacted local hoteliers to ensure that none of them would rent a room to his son.
Because of this in 1930 Salvador Dalí purchased a small “barraca” (fisherman’s hut) in nearby Port Lligat where he and Gala lived for more than 40 years. Little by little the couple enlarged and extended the house, adding a second floor and purchasing 6 adjacent cottages, which they annexed, to create the unique rambling property which can be seen today. Dalí lived in Port Lligat until Gala’s death in 1982 and the house is maintained exactly as it was when the couple lived there. Many of their personal belongings are on display as well as magazine cuttings and photographs with famous people including Coco Channel, Ingrid Bergman and Walt Disney.
Despite the quirky interior design features; including stuffed swans, a bejeweled polar bear and the famous phallic shaped swimming pool, we were surprised by the simplicity of the house. With someone as creative as Dalí you might have expected something more grandiose. Most of the small whitewashed rooms were decorated with large bunches of Gala’s favourite yellow Sempervivum flowers. Light flooded the house, especially at the time of day we were visiting. It was easy to see why Dalí found the house and its’ setting so inspirational.
Dalí was a colourful character and his early years coincided with a very unstable political dynamic in Europe. He spent time initially in Madrid and later, during the 1920s, in Paris where he met up with fellow artists including Picasso, Magritte and Miró, who influenced his direction towards Surrealism. With the approach of war in Europe, Dalí clashed with members of the Surrealist movement and was expelled from their group. During World War II, Dalí and his wife moved to the United States. They remained there until 1948. The last years of his life were marred with sadness, with illness preventing him from painting and then in 1982 the passing of his beloved wife and friend Dala. He shuffled off this mortal coil in 1989 and was buried in a crypt at the Teatro-Museo in Figueres.
The relationship between Gala and Dalí was deep and profound and he used her image in many of his works – but it was an unusual relationship. According to most accounts, Gala had a strong sex drive and throughout her life had numerous extramarital affairs (among them with her former husband Paul Éluard), which Dalí encouraged, since he was a practitioner of candaulism. Salvador Dalí claimed to be a virgin, completely impotent and afraid of women’s anatomy.
The tour of the house at Port Lligat was inspiring and the setting was remarkable, with panoramic views across the port and bay, and the rugged coastline in the distance. In one of the small outbuilding there were a series of films about Dalí, including some incredible footage of the man himself creating works on the very terrace outside where were sitting! It was stiflingly hot inside the small rooms, so it was a relief to get back outside. The only thing that tarnished the tour were the other tourists – the worst being one British couple, from South London judging by their accent, that I found particularly irritating. I try not to be a snob, but some people are so uncouth and ignorant. Bah!