The Shameful Life of Salvador Daliby Ian Gibson
The most thorough and ambitious biography of Salvador Dalí ever written, a remarkable evocation of the outlandish personality, paranoia, and sexual torment lurking behind the nightmarish images that shook the world.
Drawing on extensive original research and recently discovered sources, Ian Gibson presents a daringly original portrait of one of this
The most thorough and ambitious biography of Salvador Dalí ever written, a remarkable evocation of the outlandish personality, paranoia, and sexual torment lurking behind the nightmarish images that shook the world.
Drawing on extensive original research and recently discovered sources, Ian Gibson presents a daringly original portrait of one of this century's most celebratedand infamousartists. He provides a full narrative of Dalí's life as artist and as uninhibited exhibitionist, from his wild and troubled youth through his often rollickingly funny adventures in Paris, New York, and Hollywood to his poignant last years. Here is Dalí fully revealed through his voluminous correspondence; his novel, poems, and essays; and interviews with some of those closest to him. The Shameful Life of Salvador Dalí reexamines the roles of the two most important individuals in the artist's life: the Spanish playwright and author Federico García Lorca and the enigmatic, libidinous Gala, the Russian émigré whose marriage Dalí broke up and with whom he subsequently lived in unconsummated bliss and terror. This is a truly incandescent life of the surrealist artist who caught the imagination of the twentieth century.
- Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
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The Witches of Llers
The remains of the little Catalan town of Llers stand on a hill overlooking the plain of the Upper Emporda region in north-east Spain. They are a gaunt reminder of the ferocious civil war that unleashed itself in July 1936 and raged for almost three years. In February 1939 Llers was bursting at the seams with Republican soldiers and thousands of refugees fleeing from General Franco. When it became obvious that all was lost, the military ordered the civilians out and fused the magazine, installed in the parish church, before hurrying off to cross the French frontier at Le Perthus, an hour's march away. Behind them, the terrific explosion blew most of the town sky-high.
Llers was once reputed to be infested with witches. Perhaps, some locals today will hint ironically, their malign influence was responsible for the place's terrible fate, hardly mitigated by the construction, after the war, of a new quarter further down the hill. Today the town is only a shadow of its former self.
Salvador Dali's ancestors on his father's side were agricultural labourers from Llers, although the painter never mentions the fact in his misleadingly titled autobiography, The Secret Life of Salvador Dali, or anywhere else in his work. That he knew about his background there can be no doubt, however; and in 1925 he illustrated a book called The Witches of Llers by his friend, the Empordanese poet Carles Fages de Climent.
The Llers parish registers, which fortunately survived the civil war, enable us to trace these Dali forbears back step-by-step to the late seventeenth century, but no further. Some earlier documentation has come to light in the Historical Archive at Girona, the provincial capital. It shows that, while a census carried out in 1497 mentions no Dalis in Llers, a notarial protocol dated 12 April 1558 lists among its inhabitants a certain Pere Dali. This man may have been the father of the Joan Dali who, according to a seventeenth-century Latin document preserved in the same archive, bought an inner courtyard in Llers in 1591 which was in turn inherited by his son, Gregori, and then by his grandson of the same name. The latter, who sold the courtyard in 1699, is the first Dali to appear in the surviving Llers records.
Dali is neither a Spanish nor a Catalan name, and has almost completely disappeared throughout the Iberian Peninsula. The painter repeatedly claimed that his forbears, and accordingly his surname, were of Arab origin. `In my family tree my Arab lineage going back to the time of Cervantes has been almost definitely established,' he boasts in the Secret Life. Other remarks of his show that he had in mind the notorious Dali Mami, a sixteenth-century pirate who fought for the Turks and was responsible, among other dubious achievements, for Miguel de Cervantes's period of captivity in Algeria. But there is not a shred of evidence to suggest that the artist was related to that adventurer.
Insisting on his `Arab lineage', Dali once pushed the date of the connection back much further than the sixteenth century, claiming that his ancestors descended from the Moors who invaded Spain in AD 711. `From these origins,' he added, `comes my love of everything that is gilded and excessive, my passion for luxury and my love of oriental clothes.' Again and again we find him referring to such `atavisms'. On one occasion a burning summer thirst is ascribed to this origin; on another, the `African desert' featured in his painting Perspectives (1936-7). A later picture gave rise to the commentary: `I always paint those vast sandy expanses that go as far as the eye can see. I don't know why; I have never been in North Africa. I suppose it's an atavism of the Arab blood." Dali even liked to think that the readiness of his skin to go almost black in the sun was another Arab trait.
It seems that Dali was right to claim Arab blood or, at least, Moorish. The surname occurs regularly throughout the Muslim world, and there are several Dalis in the Tunisian, Moroccan and Algerian telephone guides (rendered indifferently Dali, Dallagi, Dallai, Dallaia, Dallaji and, particularly, Daly). Oddly, though, the painter never seems to have delved further into his background. Had he done so, he might have discovered that in the local Catalan of the River Ebro region there used to be an interesting trace of Spain's Muslim past in the noun dali, from the Arabic for `guide' or `leader', which designated a kind of strong staff wielded by the daliner, or boss, of the men employed to tow boats from the riverbank." It might also have dawned on him that from the same Arabic root comes the Catalan adalil and Spanish adalid, a not-too-common term in both languages for `leader' (and which has given rise to the Arab surname Dalil, also quite frequent in North Africa). Dali enjoyed saying that the fact of being called Salvador showed that he was destined to be the `Saviour' of Spanish art. Had he realized that his highly unusual surname coincided with the word for `guide' or `leader' in Arabic, he would no doubt have informed the world, just as he liked to tell people that it corresponded phonetically to the Catalan delit, `delight'. As it was, he hugely enjoyed its extreme rarity, emphasizing its palatal `l' by energetically pressing his tongue against the roof of his mouth, and coming down hard on the accented `i'. Salvador Dali simply could not have had a rarer, or more colourful, surname, and it gave him endless pleasure.
It may be, in view of what has been said, that the first Dalis to settle in Llers in the fifteenth century were moriscos, the pejorative term for the Spanish Muslims who opted for forced conversion to Christianity rather than expulsion after the fall of Granada in 1492 to Ferdinand and Isabella, the event that marked the end of the so-called Christian `Reconquest' of Spain and inaugurated centuries of harsh religious and racial repression. But if so we do not know from where they came. In the extant parish registers of Llers the first reference to the family occurs in 1688 when Gregori Dali, described in the Girona Latin document already mentioned as `laborator Castri de Llers'(`labourer of the stronghold of Llers') and here, in Catalan, as a `young labourer' (`jove trebellador'), married Sabina Rottlens, daughter of a carpenter from the nearby and much larger town of Figueres, today capital of the Upper Emporda. Like Gregori Dali and his father before him, the subsequent generations of Dali menfolk are classified in the records almost invariably as `labourers', although a few were blacksmiths, including the painter's great-great-grandfather, Pere Dali Raguer, born at Llers in the 1780s. Among the ruins of the town there is a wall with a bricked-up doorway which the locals claim was the entrance to the Dali forge, `Can Dague' (`The House of the Dagger-Maker'). They also point out the site of a solid stone house erected by another Dali forbear: only the site, though, because `Can Dali' (`Dali's House') was blown to pieces in the 1939 explosion.
At the beginning of the nineteenth century, for reasons unknown, Silvestre Dali Raguer, the elder brother of Pere, the blacksmith, moved from Llers to the isolated fishing village of Cadaques, forty miles away on the other side of the mountains flanking the sea. The first reference to him in the Cadaques parish records comes in 1804, when the baptism of his son Felipe is registered. Silvestre's profession is not stated. After losing his first wife in Llers, Pere Dali followed his brother to Cadaques where, in 1817, he married a local girl, Maria Cruanyes. Several entries in the parish registers describe him as `blacksmith', so it seems safe to assume that on arrival in Cadaques he continued the profession he had practised in Llers. Pere Dali and Maria Cruanyes had three sons: Pere, Cayetano and, in 1822, Salvador, the future painter's great-grandfather. In 1843 the latter married Francisca Vinas, whose father, according to the wedding certificate, was a `labourer', although in another document he is described as a sailor. According to gossip transmitted years later to the Catalan writer Josep Pla, Salvador Dali Cruanyes and his wife led a turbulent life together and petitioned, unsuccessfully, for a divorce.
Cadaques, famous thanks to the work of Salvador Dali, is severed from the plain of the Upper Emporda by a coastal range dominated by the forbidding, maquis-clothed hump of the Peni Mountain, which rises to 613 metres. Despite the twists and turns, and the narrowness of the road, today it only takes about forty minutes to drive here leisurely from Figueres. In the 1800s it was a very different matter and the return journey could not be done in a day. An adequate road connecting the village to Roses, and thence to Figueres, was not built until early in the twentieth century. For Cadaques, the Land's End of eastern Spain, the sea was not only its livelihood but its highway in and out. The inhabitants did not feel Empordanese, had little time for the sardana (the national dance of Catalunya), spoke their own peculiar version of Catalan, known as salat, and, unlike the denizens of the Emporda plain, enjoyed dressing in lively colours. In essence, as Josep Pla maintained, the place was an island.
The south-east-facing bay of Cadaques is the deepest on the hazardous Costa Brava and the most protected from the elements. Here, when the sea outside is lashed into a fury, boats can lie peacefully at anchor. Thanks to this fine natural harbour, Cadaques boasted a sizeable merchant fleet until the early years of the twentieth century and maintained an active Mediterranean and South American trade. Many Cadaques men had been to Cuba or Africa but never to Figueres, and the sailors were often away from home for months on end.
Over the centuries Cadaques supplied fighters as well as mariners, and whenever the Crown of Aragon (which from AD 1137 incorporated Catalunya) embarked on a new Mediterranean enterprise, the cadaquesencs were sure to be there, as happened in 1228-9, when King Jaume I seized Majorca from the Moors. As a result of this conquest, the Majorcan variety of Catalan is deeply influenced by salat.
Desperately exposed to attack from the sea, unable to depend on assistance from the hinterland, Cadaques was early fortified by the counts of Empuries, lords of the region, against Moorish and Turkish incursions. Its massive ramparts did not prevent it from being often sacked, though: by the Moors in 1444, when its archives were destroyed; by Barbarossa in 1534; and several times more over the next few hundred years. Even in the early eighteenth century, when Spain was still a power to be reckoned with, Moorish raiders continued to threaten the coast. All of this, added to the hazards attending fishing in the area, meant that the people of Cadaques developed a tough, independent character. For Josep Pla, their fabled tenacity can best be appreciated in the patiently constructed dry slate walls (parets seques) almost two thousand kilometres of them, it has been calculated with which they have terraced the hillsides, protecting them from erosion: only a people of immense determination, held Pla, could have succeeded in taming such a hostile environment and making it productive.
In the nineteenth century Cadaques earned its living principally from wine and salted fish. Among the latter, its anchovies were famous and much in demand at Rome. Coral culled by divers from nearby Cape Creus was also exported profitably. From Civitavecchia and Genoa the boats brought back wood for making wine and fish barrels, and by mid-century the population was reasonably prosperous. But then disaster struck when, in 1883, the phylloxera epidemic that had already ravaged France, and, the previous year, the Emporda plain, reached Cadaques, and the carefully terraced hillsides lost their vines. The devastation spelt poverty and exile for many families, and reduced the population from 2,500 to 1,500 souls.
Another consequence of the phylloxera was an increase in smuggling. Cadaques had always done a strong line in contraband, a profession encouraged by the Costa Brava's innumerable inlets and caves, ideal for hiding booty. Now the proclivity received a new impetus, and the village, cut off from the rest of the country by its mountain barrier but only a few miles by sea from the French frontier, became an Empordanese version of Gibraltar. Salt, much in demand in Cadaques for curing fish, was the prime objective, since great savings could be made by avoiding the government tax on the commodity. Before long, however, the authorities discovered the reason for the sharp decline in revenue from that quarter and began to take repressive action. Silk, coffee, essence of perfume and tobacco leaves were also landed in huge quantities. The latter were furtively rolled into cigars and cigarettes and then re-exported. Cadaques, tabaquers, contrabandistes, bons mariners i lladres ran the saying, attributed to the nearby, and rival, seaside village of Port de la Selva: `Cadaques, tobacco hawkers, smugglers, good sailors and thieves'. It was a neatly comprehensive description of how these people made their living.
A Paranoiac in the Family
Salvador Dali Cruanyes and Francisca Vinas had two children, Aniceto Raimundo Salvador, born in 1846, and Gal Josep Salvador, on 1 July 1849. Gal, who was thus named in honour of Saint Gall (whose feast day is 1 July), was living by the age of twenty with a married woman from Roses, Teresa Cusi Marco, five years his senior, and the latter's daughter, Catalina Berta Cusi, born in 1863. On 25 July 1871 Teresa gave birth to Gal's daughter Aniceta Francisca Ana, who died the following year. Then, on 25 October 1872, she produced a son, Salvador Rafael Aniceto, the future painter's father," and, on 23 January 1874, her last child, Rafael Narciso Jacinto. Two months later, her estranged husband Pedro Berta having died, she married Gal. The fact that Salvador and Rafael were born out of wedlock was hidden from future members of the family: the Dalis tended to be secretive.
About their lives during those early years we know hardly anything. Salvador Dali's father was born, he told him in 1921, `in a white house beside the church'. On the same occasion he recalled happy days before the phylloxera struck the vines and, it seems, misled him into believing that his paternal grandfather, Gal Dali, had been a doctor. In fact, as a document in the Roses Land Registry office shows, he was a taponero, that is, a maker of wooden or cork stoppers for casks: a relatively lucrative profession in Cadaques, given the lively export trade in fish, olives and, until the phylloxera outbreak, wine. The same document details the small, one-storey house that Gal inherited on the death of his mother in 1870. Situated at 321 Calle del Call, it is described as being in a lamentable state of repair. This, presumably, was the `white house beside the church' in which Dali's father and uncle were born.
Gal Dali later got into the transport business, running a horsedrawn `bus' between Cadaques and Figueres. According to a vaguely remembered anecdote in Figueres, he painted a large `G' and `T' on the back of the carriage. They stood for Gal and Teresa, his wife, but also meant `Gracies i Torneu', `Thanks and Please Come Again'. He was something of a character."
Around 1881 Gal Dali moved to Barcelona. According to family tradition the main reason for this decision was that he found he could no longer stand the tramuntana. This fierce north wind, as integral a part of life in the Upper Emporda as the rain in London, has to be experienced to be believed. Dry and bitterly cold in winter, it roars and blasts its way down through the passes of the Pyrenees (hence tramuntana, `from across the mountains'), sweeping the sky clear of clouds, and, hitting the Emporda, forces the cypresses almost to their knees, smashes flowerpots, snaps television masts and coats the cliffs of Cape Creus white with salt lashed from the waves. The tramuntana blows regularly at over 130 kilometres an hour, and has been known to overturn railway carriages and hurl cars into the sea. At Port-Bou, on the French frontier, it can be so violent that the paramilitary Civil Guard used to enjoy a special dispensation allowing them to climb to their quarters upstairs on all-fours: a position that would normally have been considered undignified in the extreme for a force of law and order famed for its machismo.
Along the coast of the Upper Emporda the tramuntana often collides head-on with the llebeig (or garbi), a south-wester that blows in from Africa. In the words of a local historian, the region is `an impressive metereological laboratory', an `incessant battlefield' between two great winds.
The tramuntana can affect the emotions as brutally as it does the sea and countryside, and is a constant topic of conversation in this region. The Empordanese are known for their intransigence (the Dalis were no exception), and one authority on the area has attributed this to their having to push constantly against the wind. Anyone a little dotty in these parts, or with a tendency suddenly to flare up, is likely to be labelled atramuntanat (`touched by the tramuntana'), and in the past crimes passionnels committed when the wind was raging were half-way to being condoned. As for depressives, they can be driven to absolute despair by a prolonged bout of the wind and the bouts may last for eight or ten days, especially in winter. It is even alleged that the tramuntana is responsible for suicides, especially in Cadaques. The protagonist of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's short story, `Tramuntana', is such a victim. It may well be that Gal Dali feared that, if he stayed on in the village, he was in mortal danger.
For more normally constituted people, however, the tramuntana can be exhilarating, and for a long time it was believed to be a disinfectant. In 1612 the disappearance of a severe epidemic of fever in Figueres coincided with a particularly energetic visitation of the wind. The thankful citizens organized a pilgrimage to the village church of Our Lady of Requesens, considered appropriate because it lies due north of the town among the foothills of the Alberes Mountains, from where the wind sweeps down onto the plain. The procession became an annual event, setting out on the first Sunday of June and returning a few days later. It only died out in the early years of the twentieth century, when improved medicine had made the wind's allegedly prophylactic ministrations less necessary.
When the tramuntana holds sway, the sky of the Emporda acquires the scintillating luminosity, and its landscape the sharply defined contours, that Salvador Dali so often captured in his paintings. They are the qualities which the artist's friend Carles Fages de Climent evoked in his `Prayer to the Christ of the Tramuntana':
Arms stretched on the holy wood
Lord! Protect the sheep-fold and the sown field.
Give the exact green to our meadows
and measure out the precise tramuntana
to dry the grass but not spoil our wheat.
Bracos en creu damunt la pia fusta
Senyor! Empareu la cleda i el sembrat.
Doneu el verd exacte a nostre prat
i mesureu la tramuntana justa
que exugui l'herba i no ens espolsi el blat.
If the tramuntana had become a very real threat to his sanity, Gal had another good reason for moving himself and his family to Barcelona for, in September 1882, it would be time for his son Salvador, ten that year, to begin his bachillerato (baccalaureat) course, only possible where there was an official Instituto, or State secondary school. In theory he could have moved the family to Figueres, which had one of the oldest Institutos in Spain; but the capital of the Upper Emporda suffers as much from the tramuntana as does Cadaques, and Gal may have felt that it was better to make a clean break and get to wind-free Barcelona. Perhaps, more importantly, he felt he would have more opportunities for making money in the capital.
Montserrat Dali, Gal's granddaughter, was told as a child how, swearing never to return to Cadaques, their forbear had gathered his family and belongings together and set off for the railway station at Figueres, taking with him a sack full of gold coins and, to protect the latter, two hired guards equipped with blunderbusses. Might the loot have proceeded from some supplementary activity in the smuggling line, an activity in which so many cadaquesencs were involved in one way or another? Montserrat Dali (who did not know about Gal's `bus') inclined to this view, but there is no proof. The source of Gal's treasure trove remains a mystery.
When Gal Dali Vinas arrived with his family in Barcelona around 1881 the city had approximately 250,000 inhabitants out of a total of some 1,700,000 for Catalunya as a whole. In 1865 the destruction of the restricting walls of the medieval city had finally been achieved, the enterprising, grid-system Eixample, or Extension to Barcelona, was now nearing completion, and the population was rocketing (thirteen years later more than half the Catalan population would be living in the city). Barcelona's cotton mills, which had so much impressed the great English hispanist Richard Ford forty years earlier, were enjoying a boom; thanks to the phylloxera plague that had devastated the French vineyards, and soon would strike south of the Pyrenees, the value of Catalan wines and brandy had soared; and many rich Catalans had returned from Cuba and elsewhere in South America and were pouring their wealth into industry and the construction of extravagant houses. For seven years now the city had been indulging in an unprecedented credit binge, known popularly as the febre d'or, `gold fever'. Sixteen new banks opened in 1881-2, the peak years of the fever, and huge fortunes were made on the stock exchange. Greed for easy money had gripped the Catalans, who are habitually pilloried in the rest of Spain for their tight-fistedness and hoarding instinct (there are more savings banks in Catalunya than in the rest of the country put together). `People opened their savings and poured them into the Llotja [stock exchange],' writes Robert Hughes in his marvellous book on Barcelona. `Schemes rose like thistledown, like bubbles, like balloons. The destiny of everything was to rise. For several years, the Catalans lost whatever claim they might have to their supposed cardinal virtue of seny.'
Seny (common sense, caution) did indeed seem to have been put aside and the impetuous Gal Dali was no exception. The siren-song of quick gain was soft music to his ears and he decided to invest his cache of gold in the stock exchange. Gal was still sensible enough to ensure, first, that his sons were launched on a good education. In September 1882 Salvador entered one of the best private schools in the city, the College of San Antonio, run by the Piarist fathers (escolapios) on the Ronda de San Antonio, and was also enrolled at the Instituto for the first year of his bachillerato, gateway to university and the professions. Two years later his brother Rafael followed in his footsteps. They both worked hard, although Rafael proved the better student.
Gal Dali was a litigious man and, according to his granddaughter, Montserrat, forever in and out of the courts. His lawyer, Goncal Serraclara Costa, enjoyed a high reputation in the city and was one of the increasingly vociferous band of Catalans who, sick of their region's political subservience to far-off Madrid, wanted Spain restructured as a federal republic. In the 1860s Serraclara had represented Barcelona in the central Madrid parliament, but in 1869, unjustly accused of anti-monarchist rabble-raising, he had been forced into exile in France. When allowed home in 1872 he had opted out of active politics, playing no part in the short-lived Federal Republic (1873-4) largely engineered by the Catalans and devoting himself to the family law office, which under his direction acquired considerable prestige in the city.
Josep Maria Serraclara, Goncal's youngest brother, worked with him in the office and was every bit as passionate a Catalan nationalist. He became celebrated as a defence lawyer in political trials and, later, was deputy mayor of Barcelona. In 1883 he married Catalina Berta, the daughter of Gal Dali's wife Teresa by her first husband. Gal was now not only well connected but could count on free legal advice. He needed it, having developed a paranoid tendency to slap injunctions on people in high places whom he felt were persecuting him.
The Barcelona stock exchange now took a turn for the worse the boom was over and Gal Dali suddenly lost a considerable sum of money, some of it not his own. He was already suffering from a form of persecution mania and the reversal of his fortunes came as a terrible blow. In the early hours of 10 April 1886 he appeared on the balcony of his third-floor rented apartment on the Rambla de Catalunya, screaming that thieves were trying to steal his money and kill him. But there were no thieves. That afternoon he almost succeeded in hurling himself into the street, but was prevented by the police. Six days later, however, he did the job properly, landing on his head in an inner patio and dying instantly. According to one newspaper, the `unhappy madman' was to have been interned that day in a lunatic asylum. He was only thirty-six years old.
The suicide was hushed up (Gal's name did not appear in the newspaper reports), and the official death certificate, based on a statement by his lawyer son-in-law, Josep Maria Serraclara, stated euphemistically that Dali Vinas died of a `cerebral traumatism'. Gal, despite his suicide, received a Catholic burial in the East Cemetery.
Josep Maria Serraclara (then twenty-three) and his wife Catalina Berta took in the bereaved family. Teresa Cusi, Gal's widow, lived with them until her death in 1912, and Salvador and Rafael until they finished their university careers.
The subject of Gal's suicide became taboo in the family, and the form of the grandfather's demise was carefully hidden from the next generation. `In England you say that every family has "a skeleton in the cupboard", well, in our family it was our grandfather's suicide,' Montserrat Dali, the painter's cousin and exact contemporary, recalled in 1992, shortly before her death. `When I found out what had happened I was already grown up and it came as a most terrible shock. It was Catalina Berta who told me, and she said, "Don't breathe a word of this to your father." Salvador found out at about the same time.' We may assume that the revelation deeply affected the painter, who neither mentions the suicide in his extant adolescent diaries or his published work, nor, so far as it has been possible to ascertain, ever breathed a word about it to his close friends. During his childhood Dali must have heard stories of people committing suicide in Cadaques under the influence of the tramuntana; now he had discovered that his own grandfather, who had fled from Cadaques because he dreaded the dire wind, had been unable to escape his fate. Little wonder, then, that years later, without mentioning any names, he said that the cadaquesencs were `the greatest paranoiacs produced by the Mediterranean': once touched by the tramuntana, always touched. In view of this unacknowledged family trauma, surely we are justified in assuming a connection between Dali's stubborn silence about Gal, his famous insistence that he himself was sane (`the only difference between a madman and me is that I am not mad') and the elaboration, in the 1950s, of his `paranoiac-critical method'. Moreover, the concern in the Dali family about inherited paranoia (and depression) was justified: years later Montserrat's father, Rafael, tried to kill himself in exactly the same way as his father, and was only prevented by the sudden appearance of a servant.
It is possible that the rise and fall of Gal Dali may have partly inspired a famous novel, Narcis Oller's La febre d'or (Gold Fever), set during the last great flourish of the credit boom in 1880-1 and published ten years later when it was all over. Oller, a disciple of Zola who believed that a good novel must be based on the scrupulous reporting of real life, told Spain's most celebrated contemporary novelist, Benito Perez Galdos, that he had gone to considerable lengths to mask the identity of the characters in the book, whose protagonist, an ex-carpenter turned stock-exchange speculator, is called Gil Foix. The similarity of the names Gil and Gal catches the eye. There are other striking coincidences, not least Gil's reaction to his spectacular bankruptcy. It is true that unlike Gal he does not jump off a balcony. But he commits mental suicide, retreating into what his doctors term `neurasthenia' and suffering, as Gal did, from the delusion that people are trying to rob him. Nobody knowing the sad case of the Cadaques stopper-maker who tried to make the big time in Barcelona could have failed to notice the parallel. But there is no record of any awareness of, or reaction to, the novel on the part of Gal Dali's two sons, or of anyone else in the family.
The Dali Brothers and Catalunya
Salvador Dali Cusi, the artist's father, finished his bachillerato successfully in October 1888 and entered the Law Faculty at Barcelona University that same winter. His brother Rafael enrolled in the Medical Faculty two years later. The two were similar in personality and physique: corpulent, passionate men who enjoyed arguing about religion and politics and could suddenly flare up violently in a bout of ferocious temper. Salvador, in particular, was known for this latter tendency, a characteristic he never lost. No doubt influenced by the Serraclaras, Salvador and Rafael were soon converts to the Catalan federalist cause (they disliked the centralist Bourbon monarchy intensely) and stout defenders of the Catalan language which, since the eighteenth century, had been systematically excluded by Madrid from public life. Indeed, so convinced a supporter of Catalan federalism was Salvador that, shortly after graduating, he gave a series of lectures on the subject to a working-class audience in Barcelona's Federalist-Republican Centre. Both he and Rafael were vehement, anti-clerical atheists, and Salvador was to remain so for forty years until, that is, the excesses of the 1936-9 civil war drove him to reconsider his position, whereupon he became as aggressive a Catholic as previously he had been a free-thinker. Salvador Dali Cusi argued his case, whatever it was, with missionary zeal (`a permanent militant', Josep Pla called him), and he passed on his ability for a rapid but carefully argued volte-face to his son.
The Dali brothers transmitted their Catalanist fervour to their offspring: Rafael to his only child Montserrat and Salvador to the future painter and his sister Anna Maria. Right up to her death in 1993, aged almost ninety, Montserrat Dali's eloquence on the subject of the wrongs done to Catalunya by Madrid never waned. Her obsession, above all, was the `Nueva Planta': the `New Order' imposed on Catalunya by Spain's first Bourbon king, Philip V, in 1714, after the Catalans had made the mistake of supporting the Hapsburg pretender, Archduke Charles, in the War of the Spanish Succession (Spain's last Hapsburg king had died in 1700 without a direct successor).
It is true that 11 September 1714, the day on which Barcelona surrendered to the Bourbon troops, marks a watershed in the history of Catalunya. One third of the city was razed to the ground in reprisal, and there were mass executions; under the `New Order' the Catalan institutions, including the parliament (Gen- eralitat) and the universities, were closed down; while, most offensive of all, Spanish was imposed as the language of the administration. The latter provision meant that official documents such as death or birth certificates, previously couched in Catalan, must perforce now be made out in Spanish, with the changes in the forms of Christian names that this implied: Spanish Pedro for Catalan Pere, for example, or Narciso for Narcis. But although concerted efforts were made to undermine the use of Catalan in other areas, the people, rich and poor alike, never stopped speaking their native tongue. It was their main way of resisting the oppressor. The Catalans' subservience to distant Madrid was symbolically expressed in the unassailable citadel the hated Philip V ordered to be erected just outside the city walls. How, Montserrat Dali would ask again and again, could you expect Catalans to feel anything but repugnance for Madrid, the Spanish language and the centralist monarchy? Was it not a fact that, when she and her cousin Salvador, the painter, were at school, Catalan was still not taught? That even today the ignorant believe that Catalan is `a dialect of Spanish', as if it were not a language in its own right, with a fine literature? Was it not true that the enemies of Catalunya used always to sneer that the Catalans `bark' their language rather than speak it? Just think, she would add, that Catalunya, which formerly stretched into France and was once co-partner in the Kingdom of Aragon, with a Mediterranean empire, had been reduced by the Bourbons to mere provincial status, despite the fact that its capital was as populous as Madrid, richer and more civilized! Compare the two cities, she would say: in Barcelona there was civic pride, life was well ordered, people cared passionately about their city, the buildings of Gaudi, the Extension; Madrid was chaotic, dirty, noisy Montserrat Dali's fine nostrils would flare as she spoke, her eyes flash fire. `In Catalunya we call it the fet diferencial,' she would exclaim. `We're different, we're not like other Spaniards.' And naturally, she insisted, her cousin Salvador felt exactly as she did about being Catalan. In their families they never spoke Spanish, because Spanish was associated with school, with repression. It was an imposed language, and they and their parents before them had come to resent it deeply; so whenever they could they all avoided using it. And that was that.
The Budding Notary Public
Salvador Dali Cusi, the painter's father, had a solid but not outstanding university career, taking his law degree in 1893. For the next few years he prepared deeds in a land registry office and worked part-time for the Serraclaras.
For one brief moment he was in the public eye. On 7 June 1896 a bomb was thrown at the tail-end of a Corpus Christi procession in Barcelona, killing twelve workers. The attack was attributed to the anarchists, who were then proliferating in the Catalan capital. It may, however, have been perpetrated by an `agent provocateur' in the pay of the police (which would explain why no notabilities were killed). The authorities, at all events, reacted with great brutality. Anarchist suspects were rounded up, taken to the infamous military prison on the slopes of Montjuic, the mountain outside Barcelona overlooking the sea, and, in many cases, subjected to appalling tortures to make them confess. Several suspects died and one went mad. Five men, almost certainly innocent, were garrotted; and, of those acquitted, sixty-five were sent to the harsh penal settlement in Rio de Oro, in the Spanish Sahara. The Montjuic trials, held in December 1896, showed the other face of a country that eight years earlier, with the Barcelona International Exposition, had sought to impress the world by its modernity.
Among the anarchist suspects thrown into gaol after the bombing was a young lawyer called Pere Coromines. Although in fact he was a moderate Republican, Coromines was tried as an anarchist accomplice. Called as one of the defence witnesses, Salvador Dali Cusi, described in court as an intimate friend of the accused, insisted that the latter was known for his patriotism and had been praised in that capacity by El Diario de Barcelona, the most conservative, and rabidly anti-anarchist, newspaper in town. There was no possibility that he could have been involved in the bombing outrage. Coromines, ably defended by a military lawyer, was acquitted, and went on to become a famous newspaper editor, writer and political commentator. Grateful for the support of his friend Dali, he rarely failed henceforth to pay him an annual visit.
By the time of the Montjuic trials, and now wanting to be his own master, Salvador Dali Cusi had decided to bend his efforts towards becoming a notario, or notary, a public servant authorized to draw up contracts, deeds and wills and to witness signatures, all for a good fee. To become a notario you had to learn the subject by yourself after finishing your law studies (there was no professional degree) and apply to take the Ministry of Justice public examination when a vacancy presented itself. Once you were awarded a notaria, and provided you behaved impeccably, you had security for life. The system remains very much the same today. It is significant that both Salvador Dali Cusi and his brother went for professions guaranteed to provide a steady income and a solid position in society (the Serraclaras used their influence to have Rafael appointed as doctor to the Barcelona Fire Brigade, and he never changed jobs). After what had happened to their father, as few risks as possible for them. This despite their enthusiasm for progressive causes.
In 1898 Salvador Dali Cusi began to apply unsuccessfully for various notarias, deciding the following year to concentrate his efforts on the town of Figueres. In this decision he was encouraged by a close friend he had made at the Instituto in Barcelona, Josep (`Pepito') Pichot Girones. The friendship had continued at Barcelona University, where Pichot abandoned his law studies in 1892 after two years without having passed a single examination; and it seems likely that Dali Cusi frequented the Pichot family's first-floor apartment at Carrer de Montcada, 21, a cavernous mansion set in the heart of old Barcelona and only a few metres from the city's most beautiful church, Santa Maria del Mar, a soaring Gothic miracle of symmetry and grace. Josep Pichot's father, Ramon Pichot Mateu, had worked his way up to a senior position in the firm of Vidal i Ribas (which specialized in drugs and chemical products), and his wealthy and well-related mother Antonia Girones Bofill, a woman passionately interested in the arts, was the daughter of a Cadaques man made good, Antonio Girones. The latter circumstance cannot have been indifferent to her son's friend Dali Cusi, given the fact that he was himself a cadaquesenc.
At a moment when Barcelona had become one of Europe's most exciting centres of avant-garde art and architecture in the wake of the 1888 International Exposition, which gave the city a new confidence, the Pichots' salon was celebrated for its hospitality, style and verve. In the same rambling building, on the second floor, lived the young writer Eduardo Marquina, whose father, like the Pichots', worked for Vidal i Ribas. Marquina, who became a famous dramatist but today is almost forgotten, married Mercedes, the youngest of the seven Pichot children, in 1903. One of these, Ramon, was a painter, and by the late 1890s had struck up a close relationship with Pablo Picasso, nine years his junior. It is just possible that Salvador Dali Cusi may have met Picasso at the Pichot family's apartment in Carrer Montcada or, failing that, at the cafe Els Quatre Gats (`The Four Cats'), founded by the painters Santiago Rusinol and Ramon Casas in 1897, and immortalized in Picasso's illustration for the menu. But even if no such encounter took place, Dali Cusi must surely have been well informed about Picasso and Ramon Pichot's bohemian life in Barcelona and, immediately afterwards, in turn-of-the-century Paris.
One of the most original feats of Dali Cusi's friend Josep Pichot was to marry his aunt Angela, his mother's sister, known in the family as Angeleta. He did so early in 1900, when he was thirty and she twenty-eight. Angela Girones had inherited a house in Figueres, presumably from her father, who seems to have had interests there (her sister, Antonia, was born in Figueres), and the couple decided to settle in the town. According to both Pichot and Dali family tradition, Josep was instrumental in convincing Salvador Dali Cusi that he must persevere in trying for the Figueres notaria. That way the two friends could continue to see each other regularly. Moreover, did not Figueres have the nearest notaria to Cadaques? Salvador needed little encouragement. Unlike his brother Rafael, who had inherited his father's loathing of the tramuntana, he remembered his birthplace with great affection and was excited at the prospect of being able to revisit it often. He failed to obtain the Figueres notaria in 1899 but succeeded when it fell vacant again in April 1900, being appointed by the Ministry of Justice, after the usual oposicion, or public examination, on 27? April 1900. He received his credentials from the College of Notaries in Barcelona on 31 May 1900, after Josep Maria Serraclara had advanced him funds for the sizeable deposit, and took formal possession of the post on 7 June. Dali Cusi lost no time in starting work, and from 24 June until 30 August 1900 we find him advertising his practice prominently on the front page of a local newspaper, El Regional.
Having secured his desired post, Salvador Dali Cusi, now aged twenty-eight, was in a position to marry his fiancee, Felipa Domenech Ferres, a demure and pretty Barcelona girl two years younger than himself (she was born in 1874). They had met in Cabrils, a charming village some thirty kilometres north of the city in the hills behind the seaside resort of Vilassar-de-Mar, while Salvador was holidaying there at the Serraclaras' summer villa. Anselm Domenech Serra, Felipa's father, had died in 1887, aged forty-seven, when she was thirteen. A haberdashery importer, he had travelled extensively in France. Her mother, Maria Anna Ferres Sadurni, who unlike her husband would live to a ripe old age, was a quiet, sensitive soul with an artistic temperament inherited from her father, Jaume Ferres. The latter, a considerable craftsman, ran a long-standing family establishment that specialized in making objets d'art and Maria Anna Ferres told Anna Maria Dali, the painter's sister, that her father had been the first person in Catalunya to work with tortoiseshell. Several Domenech objects, original or embellished, `all done artistically, with exquisite taste and simplicity', became Dali family heirlooms: boxes, walking sticks, fans, an urn, combs for fixing the mantilla in Holy Week processions, even a book with a tortoiseshell cover. Maria Anna made skilful paper cut-outs which were later to delight her grandchildren. Her artistic sensibility was further shown by the fact that, shortly before her death, she suddenly began to recite, with faultless memory, compositions by the seventeenth-century poet Luis de Gongora. No one had suspected such familiarity with the intricate verse of the author of the Soledades.
Grandmother Maria Anna was a good talker, and loved recounting that as a small child she had travelled with her father on Spain's first railway from Barcelona to Mataro, fifty kilometres up the coast and that they had been able to drink a glass of water without, miracle of miracles, spilling a single drop.
On her father's death, Maria Anna Ferres had inherited the business. It was located in the Call, formerly Barcelona's ghetto, just off the Placa de Sant Jaume. Her descendants are convinced that the Ferres family was of Jewish origin.
Felipa Domenech, Maria Anna's first child, helped her mother in the workshop and developed considerable skill as a designer of `artistic objects'. She was deft with her fingers, and drew well. The delicate wax figurines she enjoyed fashioning out of coloured candles would delight the future painter as a child.
Felipa was followed by Anselm (1877) who, while still a lad, began to work in Barcelona's most famous bookshop, the Llibreria Verdaguer, which was also a publishing house. Founded in 1835 by Joaquim Verdaguer, it had passed to his son, Alvar, Anselm's uncle and godfather, and been a leading force in the `Renaixenca', the Catalan literary revival. Alvar Verdaguer's son died when still a child, and his three daughters showed little interest in the establishment. It was natural, therefore, that Anselm should eventually become a partner in the business. This happened in 1915.
The Llibreria Verdaguer stood almost directly opposite the Liceu opera house on Barcelona's famous boulevard, the Rambla, and was a favourite meeting place for writers and artists. Anselm was in his element in this setting, and before he was twenty had become deeply involved in the artistic and literary life of Barcelona. In particular he loved music, and was to found the Barcelona Wagner Association and, with Amadeu Vives and Lluis Millet, the Orfeo Catala (a musical society devoted especially to Catalan folk tradition). Anselm Domenech was destined to play an important role in the artistic development of his nephew Salvador Dali.
As for Felipa and Anselm's sister Catalina (born 1884), Maria Anna Ferres's last child, she became a hatmaker of some talent, working from home.
On 29 December 1900 Salvador Dali Cusi and Felipa Domenech were married in Barcelona in the church of Nuestra Senora de la Merced. The witnesses were Alvar Verdaguer, the bookseller, and a celebrated lawyer friend of the groom, Amadeu Hurtado. We do not know where the couple spent their honeymoon, only that Felipa, within a few weeks of her marriage and now settled into her new home in Figueres, was already pregnant.
Meet the Author
Ian Gibson lives in a village near Granada, Spain. His Federico García Lorca: A Life won the Duff Cooper Memorial Prize and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize and was named a Best Book of 1989 by the New York Times and the Boston Globe.
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