Walking in the foot path of Salvador Dali, the Spanish Master of Surrealism – World Meanderings (n°77)
By Frederic de Poligny
What could be the future of Catalonia, Cadaquès, Figueras and Putbol will forever stay as the Salvador Dali’s country. These three places are known as the three corners of the Dalinian Triangle.
First stop, the city of Figueras
To better understand the life and work of Dali, those who are familiar with Dali’s work recommend that you begin your journey by Figueras.
Figueras is a small and old city found by Greek settlers coming from Marseille and was an important trade centre during antiquity. Nowadays tourism is the main activity of the city. About one million of tourists, 80% foreigners, went in 2017 to Figueras to visit the Salvador Dali’s Museum, named “Teatre-Museu Gala Salvador Dali” in Catalan. This museum is not only a museum it’s also the biggest artwork of the “Master”.
Figueras is the city where Salvador Dali was born in 1904 and where he died in 1989. He lived in Figueras until the age of 18 when he moved to Madrid as a student at the Academy of Fine Arts where he met young Luis Bunuel and Federico Garcia Lorca. But he always came back to Figueras and its region. Dali was so sentimentally linked to his hometown, that when times came for him to create his own museum, he decided to built in Figueras an architectural chef-d’œuvre that incorporated a huge tower of the ancient walls and the city theatre that has been partially destroyed during the Spanish civil war.
Dali created this place as his most important artwork. Every building, every details of the buildings, every volume, everything has been designed by Dali himself, even the size of the toilets! Everything has been done to allow visitors to enter the artistic and surrealist vision of Dali. The works began in 1960 and the museum was only open to the public in 1974. In the following years till 1980 Dali only made a few little modifications.
The external vision of the huge red wall toped by a long line of giant white eggs and golden statues, is the first emotional shock for visitors. The theatre is the main entrance. Its classical style facade is adorned by statues wearing long bread, by a diver in dry suit wearing his copper helmet, and by other art pieces that all played an important role in the intellectual journey of the artist.
In the central Courtyard the Dali’s black Cadillac, the upside down boat floating in the air and all the statues and works that covered the walls around, leave the public totally astonished. The tomb of Dali has been installed in a crypt under the floor of the large hall topped by an immense glass dome on the other side of the courtyard. This hall gives access to the interior of the museum and its maze of rooms of which the design has been made to fit the works they contain. Every room from floor to ceiling, every corridor, every passage, every little corner shelter Dali’s works, small or big! Paintings, sculptures, jewels, furniture, artistic installations show the complexity and the diversity of Dali’s creativity. Dali wanted to offer to the visitor a theatrical vision of his life.
If you want to do the whole Dali’s tour, you can pass by his two family houses on Carrer Monturiol n°6 and n°10. Don’t miss to get to the Duran restaurant (it’s also an hotel) where Dali used to invite his friends for fine and joyful dinners. The decor stays untouched and the owner and his son could tell you a few amusing anecdotes about Dali.
Cadaquès, the Dali’shouse at Portlligat:
Cadaquès is a closed-by little seaside city where Dali’s family went on vacation every summer when he was a child. In 1929, at the age of 25 he went to Paris to meet André Breton, Man Ray and Picasso. When he saw Gala, the wife of the poet Paul Eluard, it was a double love at first sight. Gala who was ten years older than Dali, followed him and was his muse ever after.
His romance with Gala was unacceptable for Dali’s father. So Dali and Gala bought a very little house at Portlligat, a little bay that were used as a small harbour by a few fishermen. Portlligat is just outside Cadaquès. Over years they enlarged it by buying the neighbouring fishermen cabins. Then Dali began to design their private home with his artistic imagination, creating an unusual and grandiose world, their beloved villa by the sea.
The house of Portlligat is open to the public, but advance booking is strictly mandatory with a time schedule. The rooms are small and everything stays untouched, so to avoid any problem, the visitors can only enter by little groups of twelve people every 15 minutes with a guide. The time schedule of the booking is very strict and you must be on the spot 15mn in advance, if not you can loose your reservation and you are not eligible to refund.
The visit in the intimacy of Dali and Gala is impressive. There are so many artefacts that it’s impossible to see all. In Dali’s bedroom a small window has been positioned to allow Dali to see from his bed the first ray of sunshine illuminating a peninsula in the distance. The house was also his studio. After the guided visit of the house itself, you are free to discover the numerous terraces of the garden overlooking the house and to admire the swimming pool that has a sexual design, as well as the artworks that decorated the walls and all those that are scattered everywhere.
Dali felt in love with Portlligat for the beauty of its landscape and also for the purity of the light there. For artists, a beautiful light that varies all along the day is a main factor of creativity. Portlligat seems to be at the very end of the earth far away from our bustling world, far away too from any pollution, a haven of serenity, except when in high season and on week-ends hordes of tourists wait their turn to visit the house!
Pùbol the Gala’s Castle:
Dali when he met Gala, as many young lovers promised her a castle as a gift. Many years later, in 968, he bought the Castle of Pùbol for her. He made huge works in this medieval building with the aim of providing Gala with a unique home and private resting place. She accepted the gift with her own conditions. Dali has to wait for a written invitation from Gala to be allowed to come to the castle. He agreed to the deal.
When gala died in 1982, she was buried in the garden and Dali expected to do the same. Soon Dali moved from Portlligat to Pùbol to live in the castle. The same year the King of Spain Juan Carlos bestowed on Dali the title of Marquis of Dali de Pùbol. In 1984, an unexplained fire broke up in his bedroom and a few friends incited him to stay and live in his Theatre-Museum of Figueras. On January 23d 1989, he died there and was quickly buried in the museum, an excellent idea to enlarge the number of visitors even if that meant that Dali and Gala should be separated for eternity.
Text & Photos ©Frederic de Poligny