Seven surreal facts about Spain’s Salvador Dalí

Surrealist artist Salvador Dalí (1904-1989) is one of the most interesting characters in Spanish history, as brilliant as he was bizarre. Here are seven things you probably didn’t know about him.

salvador dali surreal facts
Off his head: Salvador Dalí poses with a waxwork of his head in 1971. The surrealist Spanish painter is one of Spain's most interesting and bizarre personalities to this day. Photo: AFP

He was expelled from art school

One of Spain’s most iconic artists never finished his art degree… because he refused to be examined by his incompetent professors. “None of the professors of the school being competent to judge me, I retire,” he said, and was promptly kicked out. There was also an ulterior motive to not finishing; once Dalí had his degree, he would lose all financial support from his father. Perishing the thought, he left university early and lived off his father’s money in Paris.

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A young Dadlí photographed painting in 1930. Photo: STF/AFP

A fortune teller claimed to be his daughter

It seems fitting that the surrealist master should be the subject of a suitably surreal paternity case, filed 26 years after the painter’s death. Astrologist and tarot reader María Pilar claimed Dalí had an affair with her mother, who he met in the fishing village of Port Lliget, where he had a home. Dalí’s body was exhumed in 2017 but DNA tests proved her claims were not true. She has since been ordered to pay for the exhumation costs. 


MaríaPilar Abel Martinez, 66, claimed to Salvador Dali’s daughter. (Photo by LLUIS GENE / AFP)

READ MORE: Are you my surreal dad? Dalí to be exhumed on paternity case

His parents believed he was reincarnated

When Dalí was five-years-old, he was taken to the grave of his brother and told by his parents that he was the incarnation of his older sibling. His older brother, also named Salvador, had died almost nine months to the day before Dalí was born. Dalí came to believe he was his older brother’s reincarnation and featured him in several of his paintings, including one titled Portrait of My Dead Brother.

salvador dali family

The Dalí family in 1910: from the left, his aunt María Teresa, his parents, his aunt Catalina (his father’s second wife), his sister Ana María and his grandmother Ana. Photo: Josep Pichot (1869-1921)

He released a cookbook

It is a little known fact that Dalí adored cooking, so much so he even released his very own cookbook, Les Diners de Gala, in 1973. But true to his surrealist routes, it was far from ordinary. Billed as “an erotic cookbook” it includes a chapter on aphrodisiacs and recipe’s including “Cassanova cocktail”. It was a homage to indulgence as Dalí wrote in the introduction: “If you are a disciple of one of those calorie-counters who turn the joys of eating into a form of punishment, close this book at once.”

Dali’s cookbook. Photo: ebay

He collaborated with Disney

You might not immediately associate the dark surrealism of Dalí with the saccharine Walt Disney but the two planned to collaborate after Disney approached Dalí to work on a follow up to Fantasia in 1945. The project, Destino, was never brought to the screen, but was released as a short film in 2003.

Spanish artist Salvador Dalí with Walt Disney in 1961. Photo: AFP

He made his secretaries millionaires

At the time, Dalí’s secretaries were probably hugely annoyed that the artist paid them in paintings instead of money… but they certainly had the last laugh when decades later they would cash in the works that were by then worth millions of dollars. Some of the eccentric artist’s paintings have sold at auction for as much as €12 million. In 2021, a painting bought for $10 at a second-hand store in North Carolina turned out to be a Dalí, a truly surreal experience for the buyer. 

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Dalí donated the majority of his 2,000 painting collection to the Spanish State. Stock photo: AFP

Dalí’s face is now everywhere

The huge success of Spanish Netflix series Money Heist, in which the main characters wear red jumpsuits and Dalí masks, have turned a cartoon-like rendition of the artist’s face into a global symbol of rebellion, in a similar way to how the Guy Fawkes’s V for Vendetta mask came to represent the Anonymous movement.  You can now expect to see Dalís pointy moustache in protests in everywhere from Palestine to New York.  

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A Palestinian wearing a Dalí mask holds a picture of a prisoner in the West Bank town of Hebron, during a demonstration in solidarity with detainees held in Israeli jails. Photo: HAZEM BADER / AFP


Fifteen unmissable paintings at El Museo del Prado in Madrid

The Prado is home to one of Europe’s finest collections of European art, including the work of Goya, Velázquez, El Greco, Rubens, Titan and Bosch. As Madrid's iconic museum is so vast, here are the must-see paintings you can't miss.

Fifteen unmissable paintings at El Museo del Prado in Madrid
The Family of Charles V by Goya. Credit: Museo del Prado

You could spend days discovering everything El Prado has to offer, but there are a few masterpieces and captivating gems that stand out as some of the best in European history.

The Local has complied a list of the works you can’t miss at Spain’s most famous museum.

Velázquez – Las Meninas

In this masterpiece, whose meaning scholars have been arguing about for over three centuries, Velázquez paints the Infanta Margarita with her meninas, ‘ladies in waiting’. Las Meninas may be one of the most analysed paintings in history, due to the mystery behind its meaning.

One theory is that Velázquez, who can be seen working in front of a large canvas, is painting Philip IV and Mariana of Austria, who are reflected in back mirror, when the Infanta Margarita bursts in with her ladies in waiting. Another interpretation is that it is the king and queen who have just entered the room, although not everyone in the scene has noticed it yet.

Murillo – The Patricians’s Dream and the Patrician recounts his Dream to the Pope

This scene narrates the founding of the Roman Church in Santa Maria Maggoire. The two strikingly large paintings are examples of masterly organised narratives, painted for the church of Santa Maria la Blanca in Seville.

El Greco – Nobleman with his Hand on his Chest

This work depicts a Spanish Renaissance gentleman, whose indentity is unknown, and many believe to be a self-portrait of Doménikos Theotokópoulos, el Greco. The natural gestures, the expressive gaze and attention to detail has made this painting one of the Greek artist’s most celebrated pieces of work. 

Bernardo López – María Isabel de Braganza as Founder of the Museo del Prado

Wife of King Ferdinand VII, it was María Isabel de Braganza who encouraged her husband to use El Prado, which was originally intended to house the Natural History Cabinet, for a national museum of paintings and sculptures.

She stands in this painting in a red embellished gown, with her finger pointing towards the museum. 

Claudio de Lorena – Landscape with Tobias and the Archangel Raphael, The Finding of Moses, Landscape with the Burial of Saint Serapia, The Embarkation of Saint Paula

These four landscapes, which can be found hung in a line in the museum, capture the effects of radiant sunlight in various scenes with trees, mountains, water as well as people and buildings.

The stunning 17th century portrayal of light at different times of day is captivating, especially if you take a step back and take in all four paintings at once.

Goya – The Family of Charles IV

This gallant, majestic display of bourbon power, was painted just after Goya was named First Chamber Painter. Royal splendour can be seen in beauty of clothes, the richness of jewels and emblems of rank, while the different personalities of each individual can be seen in their facial expressions.

Goya – The Clothed Maja and the Naked Maja

It is said that these two portraits originally hung in the home of Prime Minister Manuel de Godoy, with the clothed Maja covering the naked one, which could be revealed with aid of a pulley mechanism. The contrast between strong lighting and shadowy background is stunning, along with the finely painted silk pillows which show the illumination and softness of naked body. Both paintings were confiscated in 1813 for being too obscene.

Goya – Second and Third of May 1808

These two works, which commemorate the victims of the uprising against Napoleonic troops, highlight insanity and irrationality of violence that leads to fights to the death with one day and one night scene.

Goya – The Threshing Floor or Summer

In this, one of Goya’s more cheerful works displayed at Prado, summer is illustrated through the labours of harvesting wheat, resting, getting drunk and laughing. Take a wander around the second floor to find works by Goya and others with blue skies and the same lazy, summertime feel that is portrayed in The Threshing Floor.

Goya – Saturn

In serious contrast, on the ground floor you can find Goya’s black paintings, the sombre, almost harrowing collection whose meaning is still unclear. In this, on of the more powerful of the black paintings, we see Saturn devouring one of his sons, personifying the human emotion of loss of power.  

Hieronymus Bosch, The Garden of Earthly Delights

This complex and enigmatic masterpiece is another of the more well-known works at Prado. It comprises of three scenes on the theme of sin, starting with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, and ending in Sin’s punishment. Although over 500 years old, the painting portrays an almost futuristic vibe, with attention to detail that could be pondered over for hours. The work relates to false paradise over lust and the enjoyment in sinful pleasures.

Rubens, The Three Graces

The Three Graces, surrounded by flowers and countryside, are symbols of love, beauty, sexuality and fertility. The work gives a feel of joy and sensuality, perhaps inspired by the love happiness and pleasure that Rubens experienced in his second marriage.  

Titan, Danaë and the Shower of Gold

This work illustrates the moment in which Jupiter possess the princess in the form of golden rain, and is thought to have been intended as a delight for the senses, rather than something to be pondered over. The version of this painting in Prado is more erotic than other versions, with total nudity and Danaë’s ecstatic expression.

Titan, Emperor Charles V at Mühlberg 

This portrait commemorates Charles V’s victory over the Schalmalkaldic League at Mühlberg on April 24th 1547. It is a piece of political propaganda, which was part of the campaign intended to punish those who had revolted against their legitimate leader. The work echoes back to traditions of equestrian portraits in the Holy Roman Empire.

Joachim Patinir – Charon crossing the Styx

Drawing together biblical images and classical sources this powerful piece uses light, colour and contrast to illustrate the moment in which the human soul must decide upon its ultimate destination when the moment of death arrives. On the left is earthly paradise and on the right is purgatory with the blue riving running through the centre.


Practical information

The permanent collection of the Prado Museum is open between 10am and 8pm Monday to Saturday and 10am to 7pm Sunday’s and bank holidays.

Tickets cost €15 or €7.50 for concessions (Over 65, those with large family cards or youth cards). Under 18s and students aged 18-25 with ID can go for free.

Entrance is also free for everyone for the last two hours before closing every single day.

Tickets can be bought in advance HERE.

By Alice Huseyinoglu

READ ALSO: Off the beaten track: Eight Madrid museums you’ve probably never heard of