The Persistence of Memory

In THE PERSISTENCE OF MEMORY, Meredith Etherington-Smith has written the first major biography of Salvador Dali since his death in 1989. As part of her preparation for this biography, Etherington-Smith sifted through unpublished letters and was given access to archives that had been previously unavailable. Dali was born in 1904 in Figueres, Catalonia, Spain. His father’s first name was Salvador; his older brother, also named Salvador, was not quite two years old when he died in 1903. This tragedy seemed to remain a deep wound that would not heal within the Dali household. It was a terrible burden for a second son to be given the same name as the dead first son.

In the years to come, Dali would speak of how his talent and eccentricities stemmed from the tragedy of his older brother’s death. He emerged as a flamboyant young man who closely associated himself with Surrealism. The author relates Dali’s close relationships with such major figures of the movement as Federico Garcia Lorca, Andre Breton, and Luis Bunuel. For all his artistic talent, it became Dali’s penchant for self-promotion that placed him in the forefront of the art world. Over the years, Dali’s flair for manipulation did not win him many admirers among numerous influential art critics. One of the most fascinating characters to emerge from this biography is his wife of more than fifty years, Gala. THE PERSISTENCE OF MEMORY may not turn out to be the definitive biography of Dali, but students of contemporary art would be well served to make it essential reading.