Today’s post comes from Callie Belback from the National Archives History Office and features the man with on of the most iconic mustaches in history: Salvador Dalí.
Salvador Dalí is renowned for his influential Surrealist art, most famously his oil on canvas The Persistence of Memory, now at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Dalí is known for depicting a dream world in which common objects, such as clocks, are morphed in bizarre and irrational ways. Born in 1904, Dalí witnessed the most turbulent events of the 20th century—World Wars I and II—both of which impacted Dalí’s artwork and Surrealism in general.
Dalí was born into an upper middle-class family in Figueres, Spain. His father was a notary, a career that held considerable political and social power. As a child, Dalí was a poor student and was forced by his father to attend a private school that taught all classes in French. During the summer months, Dalí and his family lived in the seaside town of Cadaqués, where Dalí discovered painting under the tutelage of Ramón Pichot, an artist and friend of Pablo Picasso. This interest in art continued through Dalí’s adolescence, and in 1922 he gained admission to the San Fernando Academy of Art in Madrid.
At the academy, Dalí challenged authority and encouraged his peers to do the same. This characteristic eventually gained the attention of the Surrealist art cohort. It was through this semi-professional, semi-social circle that Dalí met his future wife, Gala, and they married in 1934. However, Dalí’s tendency to challenge authority strained his relationship with the Surrealists, and he eventually cut ties with the artistic group in 1939.
On August 8, 1940, as fascism and Germany’s Nazi party rose to power, Dalí and Gala fled Europe and came to the United States, where they remained for eight years.
During his time in the United States, Dalí toured the country while institutions such as the Museum of Modern Art and the Philadelphia Museum of Art put his art on display. He also partnered with famous creators such as Alfred Hitchcock and Walt Disney on film and animation projects. In 1941, Dalí dedicated time to writing his autobiography—the result was much like his paintings: partly real, partly fictionalized.
It was during this time period, in 1942, that Dalí, his wife, and his chauffeur, William Holstrunk, came under FBI investigation. In July 1942, Dalí and his two companions stopped for the night at the Humboldt Hotel in Winnemucca, Nevada. Their final destination was Del Monte, California. The chief of police of Winnemucca, Delbert Moore, mistook the three for wanted German saboteurs, and he contacted the FBI. Eventually, the FBI shifted their scrutiny from Dalí and Gala to Holstrunk, who was a naturalized citizen originally from Germany. The case remained open until 1944, when the United States Attorney found Holstrunk innocent.
The United States dropping the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima in 1945 greatly affected Dalí and his artwork, initiating his Nuclear Mysticism era. Dalí attempted to show the connection between quantum physics and the conscious mind, and he began combining mystical and scientific iconography into his art.
In 1948, Dalí and Gala moved back to Spain. However, the couple remained international jetsetters, traveling around the world.
While he was still alive, two Dalí museums opened. First, in 1971, Reynolds Morse, an avid Dalí art collector, opened the Dalí Museum in Cleveland, Ohio. Eleven years later, the museum moved to its current location in Saint Petersburg, Florida.
In 1974, with Dalí’s input, a second museum dedicated to Dali’s work opened in Figueres, Spain, Dalí’s hometown, the Teatre-Museu Dalí. A decade later, Dalí moved into the annex of Teatre-Museu Dalí and lived there until his death. On January 23, 1989, Dalí died of heart failure and was moved three floors down to the crypt, where he was buried. To this day, Dalí remains an important artist with his famous works available for viewing in museums all over the world.
For more information about this on the Holstrunk incident, read the Text Message blog.