Salvador Domingo Felipe Jacinto Dalí i Domènech was born on 11th May 1904 in Figueres in the north of Spain, close to the French border. He and his younger sister were brought up by a strict father whose disciplinary approach was tempered by his wife’s gentler more encouraging demeanour. Two significant events in his childhood were to prove particularly influential to both his life and his art. The first was being repeatedly told that he was the reincarnation of his older brother (also called Salvador) who had died at 22 months, just over 9 months before Dali was born. Dali came to believe this was true and images of the brother he had never met appear in his art. Secondly, when he was just 16, Dali’s mother died, a loss that he would later describe poignantly as “the greatest blow I had experienced in my life. I worshipped her… I could not resign myself to the loss of a being on whom I counted to make invisible the unavoidable blemishes of my soul.”
In 1922 Dali moved to Madrid to study at the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando. He became part of a group of young intellectuals who wrote poems, essays and stories as well as painting. His early works were largely landscapes and he held his first solo exhibition at Galeries Dalmau in Barcelona in November 1925 which was well received. By the late 1920s however he had begun to depict the dreamscapes that he is best remembered for and was learning to express his inner thoughts and fantasies on canvas.
In 1929 Dali met the woman who would become his inspiration, muse and wife. Elena Diakonova was ten years his senior and already married to surrealist poet Paul Éluard , however she left both him and their daughter to spend the rest of her life with Dali. That same year Dali formally joined the Surrealist group and some of his most well known works were painted in the years immediately following, including ‘The Persistence of Memory’ which depicts a group of pocket watches that appear soft and melting.
Alongside his own artistic pursuits Dali enjoyed collaborating with other creatives such as film makers and authors and in 1935 he began working with the fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli who introduced him not only to the world of fashion design but also to jewellery design. In 1941 he undertook a joint project with Fulco di Verdura to create a set of five jewels which combined miniature paintings by Dali in opulent jewelled settings by Verdura. These pieces debuted at the Julien Levy Gallery in New York and afterwards were exhibited at various museums including the Museum of Modern Art.
Dali went on to design many jewels, each seemingly more fantastical than the next. He partnered with the workshop Alemany & Ertman in New York who brought his creative visions to life under close supervision from Dali. One of his best known and most extraordinary works is The Royal Heart jewel from 1953. A large 18ct gold heart with a crown on top which has a rectangular opening in the middle inside which nestles a ruby-set heart fitted with a tiny mechanism that causes it to pulse, thereby appearing as though it is truly beating.
Dali continued to create jewels until the end of the 1970s and said of his work, “In jewels, and in all my artistic activity, I create what I love most.” Today most of his jewels are on display in the Dali Museum in his hometown of Figueres in Spain where they can be seen and admired by all.