Dalí was a skilled draftsman, best known for the striking and bizarre images in his surrealist work. His expansive artistic repertoire included film, sculpture, photography, theatre, and fashion, at times in collaboration with a range of artists in a variety of media. Dalí's painterly skills are often attributed to the influence of Renaissance masters. His best-known work, The Persistence of Memory, was completed in August 1931.
Dalí was highly imaginative, and also enjoyed indulging in unusual and grandiose behavior. To the dismay of those who held his work in high regard, and to the irritation of his critics, his eccentric manner and attention-grabbing public actions sometimes drew more attention than his artwork.
Dalí employed extensive symbolism in his work. For instance, the hallmark "melting watches" that first appear in The Persistence of Memory suggest Einstein's theory that time is relative and not fixed. The idea for clocks functioning symbolically in this way came to Dalí when he was staring at a runny piece of Camembert cheese on a hot August day.
Dalí frequently traveled with his pet ocelot Babou, even bringing it aboard the luxury ocean liner SS France. He was also known to avoid paying tabs at restaurants by drawing on the checks he wrote. His theory was the restaurant would never want to cash such a valuable piece of art, and he was usually correct.
Besides visual puns, Dalí shared in the surrealist delight in verbal puns, obscure allusions, and word games. He often spoke in a bizarre combination of French, Spanish, Catalan, and English which was sometimes amusing as well as arcane.
Salvador Dalí was born on May 11, 1904, in the town of Figueres, in the Empordà region, close to the French border in Catalonia, Spain. Dalí's older brother, who had also been named Salvador, had died of gastroenteritis nine months earlier, on 1 August 1903. His father, Salvador Rafael Aniceto Dalí Cusí was a middle-class lawyer and notary, an anti-clerical atheist and Catalan federalist, whose strict disciplinary approach was tempered by his wife, Felipa Domènech Ferrés, who encouraged her son's artistic endeavors.
In August 1929, Dalí met his lifelong and primary muse and future wife Gala, born Elena Ivanovna Diakonova. She was a Russian immigrant ten years his senior, who at that time was married to surrealist poet Paul Éluard. In the same year, Dalí had important professional exhibitions and officially joined the Surrealist group in the Montparnasse quarter of Paris. His work had already been heavily influenced by surrealism for two years. The Surrealists hailed what Dalí called his paranoiac-critical method of accessing the subconscious for greater artistic creativity.
In 1940, as World War II tore through Europe, Dalí and Gala retreated to the United States, where they lived for eight years splitting their time between New York and Monterey, California.
On the morning of 23 January 1989, while his favorite record of Tristan and Isolde played, Dalí died of heart failure at the age of 84. He is buried in the crypt below the stage of his Theatre and Museum in Figueres. The location is across the street from the church of Sant Pere, where he had his baptism, first communion, and funeral, and is only 0.45 kilometres from the house where he was born.