SPANISH genius and eccentric enigma. Salvador Dali earned fame as a painter, photographer and even film-maker, yet he is still recognized as one of the most ambiguous personalities of the 20th century.
Olga Leleka looks at the man, his love of Paris and the hotel he called home in the French Capital.
The world would never have recognized the scale of Dali’s talent and flamboyance if the famous painter wasn’t preoccupied with his passions for art, women and Paris.
He first became acquainted with Paris in 1926 when a young visited the city with his family. Captured by the beauty of the “City of Light”, the young fellow discovered a workshop held by Pablo Picasso.
Inspired by the master, Dali used to spend hours learning to paint in Picasso’s style. His attempts to emulate Picasso would instill in him a lifelong passion for art.
On his return to Madrid, Salvador Dali would forget about Paris for the next three years and become a part of forward-thinking intellectual life of Spain – challenging the backwardness of the political system and the Catholic Church of Spain and its beliefs that were out-of-step with contemporary thought.
However, the French capital would beckon to him again pushing Dali to film-making.
In 1929 his friend Luis Buñuel would ask him to assist with the film An Andalusian Dog that later became a classic surrealist movie. On his arrival to Paris, Dali chose the Le Meurice Hotel to stay in and it was here the depth of his surrealist vision would become apparent.
Legend has it, Dali used to book an entire floor of the hotel and spend hours riding the corridors on a bicycle in a search of inspiration.
His activities bordered on the bizarre.
The culmination of his stay was when he had a herd of goats delivered to the hotel so that he could shoot them with plastic bullets to spark his creativity.
During his stay, Dali couldn’t imagine the rapid changes soon to come in his life. The love story between he and Gala, his future wife, that would determine the direction of his development as a painter.
With the words “my boy, let us never to be separated…” she brought a maturity to Dali’s works. He would later thank her as only he knew how – by telling the story of his transformation through Gala in his work Metamorphosis of Narcissus (1937).
Meanwhile, his eccentricities and trademark upturned and waxed moustache were getting him attention worldwide.
It appeared to be something he reveled in and his idiosyncrasies became a money-maker.
Dali was paid $10,000 for a phrase in a 15-second commercial where he simply said “I am mad, I am completely mad – over Lanvin chocolates.”
In his later days he would spend time in Paris staying in his favorite Le Meurice and would earn cash signing autographs in the hotels’ lobby.
More than 20 years after his death in 1989, Dali still raises questions about the nature of his personality.
Was his avant-garde image a reflection of the true personality of the man or artificially cultivated?
Who was the man behind the upturned wax moustache? This is a question without answer and maybe it is better this way as this secret is the main source of modern “Dalimania”. Passing many years his art is still sold and women still recognize Gala’s lips chosen as the basic theme for bottles of the magic aromas sold under the brand Salvador Dali.
What most people don’t know is the connection between the man and a Parisien hotel filled with his spirit.