Salvador Dalí died 35 years ago today. The Surrealist artist remains well-recognised, thanks to his moustache, but did you know about these unusual antics? (Thank you Alice Vincent!)
1. Salvador Dalí made accidental millionaires of his secretaries
Long before the interning trend took off, Dalí refused to pay his secretaries. Instead he gave them commissions, which didn’t pay their rent at the time, but resulted in many of them cashing in seven-figure sums in later life.
2. Breaking Bad’s Walter White and Dalí share an alter-ego
Dalí was inspired by obscure scientific theories throughout his entire life and practice. In 1958, he proclaimed himself interested in the work of Nazi physicist Dr Werner Heisenberg in a gallery catalogue. But according to Dalí, the feeling was mutual between himself and Heisenberg, the name adopted by Breaking Bad anti-hero Walter White for his meth-cooking purposes. Dalí wrote: “I, who previously only admired Dalí, will now start to admire that Heisenberg who resembles me”.
3. Dalí was expelled from art school, but only because he wanted to be
The budding artist refused to be examined for the art history final of his degree, saying “none of the professors of the school being competent to judge me, I retire”. Dalí’s reason for leaving was not, however, idological, but practical: he wanted to continue being financially supported by his father, but this would stop once he had a degree. Instead, he had reason to go and study in Paris at his expense.
4. His dislike of Britain resulted in a useless portrait of Laurence Olivier
By now considered in artistic circles to be more of a commercial painter, in 1955 Dalí was commissioned to paint a portrait of Laurence Olivier for a film poster for Richard III, in which Olivier played the title role, by the film’s director, Sir Alexander Korda. However, the desired poster never emerged. Despite sketching Olivier in the Shepperton Studios, Dalí refused to paint it in England, which he called “the most unpleasant place”, and returned to Spain to complete the portrait. It got held up in Barcelona Airport after being deemed to valuable to transport. Although Korda was naturally angered by this, Olivier got lucky and received it as a gift.
5. Dalí nearly suffocated explaining his own importance
During the London International Surrealist Exhibition in 1936, Dalí, then in the prime of his artistic career, gave a lecture wearing an old-fashioned deep-sea diving suit to represent, he later revealed, how he existed in the bottom of the sea of subconciousness. What his adoring fans didn’t realise is that Dalí was suffocating inside the soundproofed glass bowl, thinking his exaggerated gestures an amusing part of his act. As the artist nearly fainted, poet David Gascoyne came to the rescue with a spanner.
6. He found deep meaning in cauliflowers
Dalí filled up a white Rolls Royce Phantom II with 500kg of cauliflowers and drove it from Spain to Paris in December 1955. The reasoning was, he later told an audience of 2,000, that “everything ends up in the cauliflower!”. He explained to American journalist Mike Wallace three years later that he was attracted to their “logarithmic curve”.
7. Even his pets were works of art
In the Sixties Dalí got a pet ocelot called Babou, which accompanied him on a leash and a studded collar nearly everywhere he went – including, famously, in a restaurant in Manhattan. When a fellow diner became alarmed, he calmly told her that Babou was a normal cat that he had “painted over in an op art design”.
8. Dalí married his friend’s wife
Dalí met his beloved wife, Gala, while she was still married to his friend, French poet Paul Eluard in 1929. Eluard diplomatically appeared as one of the witnesses at their wedding. The marriage offended Dalí’s family, who disapproved of Gala being both a mother and 10 years older than Dalí, and Dalí was disinherited by his Father as a result.
9. He remained devoted to Gala’s demands until her death
Dalí and Gala were together until her death, despite her frequent extra-marital affairs. In 1969 Dalí bought a castle in Pubol, 50 miles from his home in Port Lligat, for Gala. According to an explosive article run in Vanity Fair in 1998, he was only allowed to visit with a written invitation. Gala continued to entertain her lovers there into her eighties, one of whom was Jeff Fenholt, star of the musical Jesus Christ Superstar, who had a recording studio on site.
10. Dalí didn’t travel light
Upon arriving in New York harbour for the second time, in 1934, after wearing a life jacket for the entire journey and travelling by train while attached to all of his paintings by string, Dalí waved a two metre-long loaf of bread at paparazzi. To his dismay, they were unfazed by his enormous baked goods.
11. He wasn’t the ideal game-show guest
Dalí appeared as a guest on Fifties gameshow What’s My Line, in which contestants had to guess the profession and name by asking yes or no questions. Dalí, a polymath and an immodest one at that, caused havoc during the game by claiming to be at once a writer, TV personality, athlete and cartoon artist. One exasperated contestant nearly gave up, proclaiming, “there’s nothing this man doesn’t do!”