Dalí was born May 11, 1904 in the town of Figueres, Spain, the son of comfortable middle-class notary. Dalí attended Municipal Drawing School, where he first received formal art training. In 1916 he discovered modern painting on a summer vacation to Cadaqués with the family of Ramon Pichot, a local artist.
The next year Dalí's father organized an exhibition of his charcoal drawings in their family home. He had his first public exhibition at the Municipal Theater in Figueres in 1919. In 1921 his mother died of cancer, and his father married the sister of his deceased wife, which the young Salvador somewhat resented.
In 1922 Dalí moved to Madrid, where he studied at the Academy of Arts. Dalí already drew attention due to his eccentric style of clothing. But what got him the most attention from his fellow students were his paintings where he experimented with Cubism. Dalí also experimented with Dadaism, which arguably influenced his work throughout his life. Dalí was expelled from the Academy in 1926 shortly before his final exams when he stated that no one on the faculty was competent to examine him.
That same year he made his first visit to Paris, where he met with Pablo Picasso, whom young Dalí revered; the older artist had already heard favorable things about Dalí from Joan Miró. Dalí did a number of works heavily influenced by Picasso and Miró over the next few years, as he groped towards developing his own style.
Some trends in Dalí's work that would continue throughout his life were already evident in the 1920s, however: Dalí omnivorously devoured influences of all styles of art he could find and then produced works ranging from the most academic classicism to the most cutting edge avant garde, sometimes in separate works, and sometimes combined. Exhibitions of his works in Barcelona attracted much attention, and mixtures of praise and puzzled debate from critics.
1929 was an important year for Dalí. He collaborated with Spanish filmmaker Luis Buñuel on the short film Un Chien Andalou and met his muse and future wife, Gala, a Russian immigrant who was then married to the surrealist poet Paul Eluard. In the same year, Dalí had important professional exhibitions and officially joined the Surrealist group in the Montparnasse quarter of Paris.
In 1934 Dalí and Gala, having lived together since 1929, married.
Upon Francisco Franco's coming to power in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War, Dalí came into conflict with his fellow Surrealists over political beliefs. As such Dalí was officially expelled from the predominantly Marxist Surrealist group. Dalí's response to his expulsion was "Surrealism is me."
As war started in Europe, Dalí and Gala moved to the United States in 1940, where they lived for eight years. In 1942 he published his entertaining autobiography, The Secret Life of Salvador Dalí.
He spent his remaining years back in his beloved Catalonia. The fact that he chose to live in Spain while it was ruled by Franco drew criticism from progressives and many other artists.
Late in his career Dalí experimented with many unusual or novel media and processes; for example, he made bulletist works and claimed to have been the first to employ holography in an artistic manner. Several of his works incorporate optical illusions.
Dalí's flamboyant moustache became well known. It was influenced by that of 17th century Spanish master painter Diego Velázquez.
In 1960 Dalí began work on the Teatro-Museo Gala Salvador Dalí in his home town of Figueres; it was his largest single project and the main focus of his energy through 1974. He continued to make additions through the mid 1980s. He found time, however, to design the Chupa Chups logo in 1969.
Gala died in 1982. After Gala's death, Dalí lost much of his will to live. He moved from Figueres to the castle in Pubol which he had bought for Gala and was the site of her death. In 1984 a fire broke out in his bedroom under unclear circumstances, but Dalí was rescued and returned to Figueres where a group of his friends, patrons, and fellow artists saw to it that he was comfortable living in his Theater-Museum for his final years.
Salvador Dalí died of heart failure on January 23, 1989 at Figueres, Spain. He is buried in the crypt of his Teatro Museo in Figueres.