Salvador Felipe Jacinto first saw the light of day in Figueras, Spain on May 11, 1904. A Catalan family of notable personalities and intellectuals, friends of Picasso’s, encouraged the young Dali to embrace an artistic career. At the age of six he wanted to be a cook, at seven he wanted to be Napoleon, and his ambitions continued to grow in time. The mesmerizing city of Barcelona, with its Guell Park and Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia inspired his first aesthetic impressions. When he was only 16, he wrote down in his notebook: “I will be a genius, and the world will admire me. Perhaps I’ll be despised and misunderstood, but I’ll be a genius, a great genius, I’m certain of it.” Interesting how he could foresee his future with such accuracy.
Dali set off on an artistic journey from Eclectic Cubism to Purism and Surrealism. However, he never gave up on his “objective” aesthetics. For him, surreality was contained by reality. He did not follow any rule, which is why he was at one point eliminated from the Surrealist group of artists. However, this didn’t stop him from referring to himself as the only artist capable of capturing and depicting surreal forms. He adapted a paranoiac-critical method, which is why he is often called the Great Paranoiac, with reference to his famous painting.
Sought after by art collectors, it is impossible not to recognize at least one of his paintings. His most famous canvas, painted in 1931, Persistence of memory is commonly referred to as the Melting Clocks, and is currently in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York. He captured images transcending from extraordinary fantasy to stupefaction, obsessive themes in which the universe is dominated by eroticism, sadism, scatology, and putrefaction, stepping on the fine line between genius and madness. His dreamscapes in vivid colors are morphological echoes, eccentric apparitions fueled by his megalomania and cult of personality. They are his dreams and nightmares on canvas.
7. Nude on the Plaine of Rosas: $4 Million
Nu dans la plain de rosas, or Nude on the Plain of Rosas, was painted in 1942, when Dali was living in America. In 1939, as soon as World War 2 burst out, he left Europe. His wife Gala being Jewish was one of the reasons, the other was that he simply could have not faced a totalitarian regime. It’s actually interesting to see how he predicted the imminence of the war and regime in many of his 1930’s works. The canvas was commissioned by Helena Rubinstein, who wanted to decorate her dining room in her Park Avenue apartment. It depicts a nude figure laying on one side that can be viewed from behind, looking in the distance from a portico at her hero fading in the horizon. It was sold by Christie’s in 2009 for a whopping $4 million.
6. My wife, naked looking at her own body, which is transformed into steps, three vertebrae of a column, sky and architecture: $4.76 Million
Ma femme nue regardant son propre corps devenir merches, trois vertrebes, d’une colonne, ciel et architecture, or My Wife, Naked Looking at her own Body, which is Transformed into Steps, Three Vertebrae of a Column, Sky and Architecture was painted in 1945, when Dali was living in New York, and believed he had finally discovered the true way to paint. It depicts his wife Gala sitting naked with her back facing the viewer, an allegorical vision of morphological echoes.
Gala was a Russian born in Kazahstan who married Surrealist Paul Eluard. Their marriage and daughter did not stop the two from leading a libertine life, engaging Eluard in a sexual frenzy he simply adored. Dali met her at the same time when he met the poet, and he instantly knew she was the incarnation of his childhood dreams, his little Russian. In fact, he owes much of his inspiration to Gala and her liberating influences. His muse and counselor transformed into an obeying and beloved Mrs. Dali. A unique anthropomorphic vision, the painting was sold by Sotheby’s at a London auction in 2000.
5. Night Specter on the Beach, $5.68 Million
Yet another one of Dali’s enigmatic dreamscapes, Night Specter on the Beach, or Spectre du soir sur la plage was painted in 1935 and is a fine example of his visionary Surrealist works. It is believed that the beach is at Rosas in Costa Bravas, a beach he frequented as a child. The same beach appeared in other paintings as well. Depicting far away figures under a mysterious sky covered by glimmering clouds, and a man in the foreground gazing in the distance, it stands to show how one look at Dali’s paintings will not even get you close to beginning to understand his genius and vision. Night Specter on the Beach was sold by Sotheby’s in 2010 in New York for $5.68 million, becoming the most expensive Dali painting sold at an American auction.
4. Study for ‘Honey is Sweeter than Blood’: $6.8 Million
Etude pour ‘Le miel est plus doux que le sang’, or Study for ‘Honey is Sweeter than Blood’ in English is Dali’s first Surrealist picture, proof to his progression from Cubism toward capturing subconscious obsessions on canvas. It is of even greater value as it is the study for the painting Honey is Sweeter than Blood, painted in 1927, which has been lost and is believed to have been destroyed. On the background of a beach scene lay rotting donkeys, decapitated horses, sleeping heads, levitating breasts, and needles. It was painted in 1926, when Dali was only 23, and it became one of his landmark works. In 2011, it was sold by Christie’s in London for $6.8 million.
3. Enigmatic Elements in a Landscape: $11 Million
Dali painted without interruption, and it’s only natural that not all his paintings be as popular. However, everyone was thrown back when this painting that only few have heard about fetched $11 million in 2011. Painted in 1934 in Paris, Enigmatic Elements in a Landscape is an oil-panel work, supremely Surrealistic and Dalian, in which many enigmatic elements are intertwined under a dazzling sky. On the wide lane of Port Lligat viewers can see Jan Vermeer, one of Dali’s idols, working at his easel. Before him lays an enigmatic tower and cypress trees, common in the Spanish countryside the artist grew up in, while a shrouded figure adds the habitual enigma. There are the customary hugging beans, and a young Dali upon the landscape wearing a sailor suit and holding a bone and hoop. The absinthe green enveloping the dreamscape is one of the painter’s favorite colors. Enigmatic Elements in a Landscape was purchased by Fundacio Gala Salvador Dali and can now be admired at the Dali Theater-Museum in Figueras.
2. Printemps Necrophilique: $16.3 Million
Set in a barren desolate desert, the type of landscape Dali preferred in many of his works, Printemps necrophilique, or Necrophiliac springtime stands as an allegory for the painter’s paranoia, his conscience shifting toward illusion. Painted in 1936, Printemps necrophilique depicts a seated seated man and a flower-headed woman on the left, separated by a cypress tree, the woman looking toward the viewers, while the man gazes at the blurred landscape. The desert slowly fades from hyperrealistic to hallucinatory. Originally owned by fashion designer and Dali’s close friend Elsa Schiaparelli, the canvas went under the hammer in 2012 in London, and was sold by Sotheby’s for $16.3 million.
1. Portrait de Paul Eluard: $22.4 Million
In April 1929, while shooting Andalusian Dog in Paris, Dali met Surrealist poet Paul Eluard. The two immediately clicked. Eluard was stunned by the painter’s canvases and vision, and Dali in turn was amazed by his elegance and ease with women. In the same year, he bought his first paintings and commissioned a portrait. Portrait de Paul Eluard shows the admiration between the two men, as the poet is surrounded by completely new elements of Dali’s imagery, proof to their intimate connection. When he met Eluard, Dali also met his wife at the time Gala, who would later become his muse and lover. Given the couple’s nonconformist relationship, is it possible that Eluard used Gala to obtain the portrait? After all, he did use her before to acquire art works for free. Painted in the summer of 1929, Portrait de Paul Eluard was sold by Sotheby’s in 2011 at a London auction. The price? Hold on tight! A staggering $22.4 million. It became the most expensive of Dali’s canvases sold to date and the most expensive Surrealist work of art ever sold.