When you hear the name Salvador Dali, chances are the first thing that comes to mind is either his prolific mustache or that print you had in your college dorm room. Many painters languish in obscurity until after their deaths, but not Dali—he was an international celebrity in his 30s, a status he relished and actively cultivated. As you might expect, his life was as bizarre and disturbing as his paintings.
5 He Hated School
To say Dali didn’t do well in school would be an understatement. Though it’s somewhat cliché for artists to feel confined by the disciplinary rigors of formal education, Dali took his hatred for school to extreme levels. In primary school his performance was mediocre at best, with the young Dali spending more time daydreaming than studying. His poor performance led his father to enroll him in a private school, where he did marginally better but continued to feel stifled by the classroom. When he later gained acceptance to an art academy in Madrid, the provocative painter redefined youthful rebellion. The San Fernando Academy of Art expelled Dali twice—once for allegedly leading a student revolt, and finally for calling an examination tribunal incompetent.
4 His Contemporaries Called Him a Sell Out
As Dali became more of an international celebrity, fellow surrealists became openly critical of his fame and the commercialization of his art. André Breton, founder and purported leader of the Surrealist movement, took to calling the artist “Avida Dollars,” an anagram of “Salvador Dali.” The nickname can be roughly translated to “eager for dollars,” inferring Dali was only in it for the money—the type of person you’d today dismiss as a “sell out.” When Dali divorced from the movement he ceased affiliating himself with any particular group, in much the same way modern musicians insist they’re not a part of any particular genre.
3 He Had the Same Name as His Dead Brother
Salvador Dali’s parents had another son before him, a son who contracted meningitis as a toddler and died. When his mother gave birth to a second son nine months later, she and his father gave him the same name as the previous son who had died. Leaving aside the matter of timing that leads to the conclusion the artist was conceived the same day his brother died, this was still a fairly questionable parenting decision. Dali’s parents looked upon him as a replacement for the son who had died, and Dali’s carefully cultivated eccentricity was designed to distinguish him from the ghost-child. In many ways, Dali came to consider his brother an early version of himself—a rough draft he needed to destroy.
2 He Worked with Walt Disney
Disney may be the last name you’d think of when you think of Dali, but the two men met in the 1940s and became lifelong friends. Disney even approached Dali once about collaborating on a film, and Dali enthusiastically agreed. The artist began sketching storyboards for “Destino,” a film based on a folk song popular in Mexico. Although Disney scrapped the project just three months after it started, Dali’s notes and sketches survived. The Disney company brought in a group of French animators over 50 years later to bring life to “Destino,” and their six-minute short is available on YouTube.
1 He Had a Thing for Hitler
Dali’s paintings often transcribed his dreams and the images that floated through them, but he got in a tangle with his fellow surrealists when he developed a rather odd obsession with Adolf Hitler. In Dali’s sleeping mind, Hitler pranced about as a pale-skinned woman. He’d also pictured Hitler as “a wet nurse with four testicles and four foreskins,” although he focused most intently on fantasy-Hitler’s breasts, which he believed symbolized childhood memories. Sometimes even the absurd can go a step too far, and sexual fantasies about Hitler were a bit rich for Dali’s contemporaries in Spain in 1934. After being tried and expelled from the surrealist movement, Dali moved to the United States.