Open for inspection – Casa Salvador Dalí

Friday, May 8, 2015

Casa Dali Cadaques 1 Port Lligat

Are you one of those people who can’t resist looking at real estate ads? As an expat in France my heart skips a beat when I receive idyllic looking property offers in my email inbox – an old stone house by a river in the peaceful French countryside…  Even if I’m not interested in buying I love comparing, drooling, dreaming, imagining. We are voyeurs. The legendary Salvador Dalí’s beach side property is a house visit I am hugely looking forward to. No it’s not for sale, but it would be a real estate seller’s lucky day if it were. You can tell a lot about someone from their home, and Dalí is no ordinary person.

I have been meaning to visit the Dalí house for years and it’s pathetic (that’s the only word that fits) that it’s taken me so long to get here, seeing we so often travel along the freeway that runs from southern France to Barcelona, passing the turn off each time. Once you cross the Spanish border you’re pretty much there – it’s around twenty kilometres sideways. In theory anyway. We discover that it’s actually a slow, windy road to get there as this is where the Pyrenees mountains dive into the ocean. Cadaqués is actually quite isolated, by terrain more than by distance.

Port Lligat, where the Casa Dalí is located, is like a suburb at the outer edge of Cadaqués . Both are fishing villages although Cadaqués is the bigger and more gentrified of the two. The guide book calls Cadaqués Spain’s version of St Tropez, the jewel in the crown of the Costa Brava, and I guess that’s right. It’s white and gorgeous. Reading between the lines, this means it’s a place to avoid in the European summer, unless you want to join what seems like the entire population of Europe, all bumper to bumper, on the narrow coastal roads.

Cadaques Spain Costa Brava

Now, this is not a travel report as you can simply go to TripAdvisor and read the reviews, but in summary, if you have the chance to do it, you won’t be sorry. Just don’t turn up at the house without a ticket or you probably won’t get in. You need to book online well in advance. You enter in a group of eight, one group every ten minutes, so it’s actually quite crowded inside. There’s a ‘guide’ with you (making sure you don’t nick anything, and all handbags have to be checked in), but there’s no actual commentary, which is a bit steep seeing you pay eleven euros and only get to spend around three to five minutes in each room/area. It was like being a carriage in a train, getting shunted from station to station, pushed from either end. But still worth it. And then there’s the grounds at the end where you can wander for as long as you like.

A lot of successful creative people have suffered through weird childhoods, which served as rocket-fuel for their output. Maybe I am wrong but it seems that a dysfunctional childhood coupled with a sensitive nature is almost a pre-requisite for being a great artist. Dalí ticks this box, no problem: for a start he had a brother (also called Salvador Dalí) who died nine months before Dalí (number two) was born; he was told by his parents at the age of five when visiting his dead brother’s grave that he was his brother’s reincarnation… No wonder he started going off on mind adventures.

It’s curious that Salvador Dalí, the internationally famous artist, chose to work from home in a small studio in an isolated fishing village near where he was born. His studio was the size of an average bedroom in an average home. There were no assistants, unless you count Gala, his wife-muse. This may be the way most artists start off, but Dali could have easily afforded an enormous studio in a maison de maitre in Paris or penthouse in New York. Yes, he spent a lot of time self-promoting in NYC, but always returned home to Spain.

Can you imagine Jeff Koons choosing to work from his bedroom in Pennsylvania or Damien Hirst from his family living room in Leeds? Of course things were different in the days prior to Easyjet, Virgin Air and so on, however Franco’s Spain was not exactly a nurturing environment for artists and plenty of Dalí’s compatriots chose to leave.

After seeing Dalí’s studio it makes sense  – his  childhood haunts and the local landscape were an integral part of his dreams and the source of his inspiration. You can see it in his pictures.

As for the visit – here is what struck me the most:

  • Dali is a neat freak. No mess anywhere. Personal objects are arranged in surreal little groups to form ‘installations’.
Dali House Port Lligat view room
  • His studio (with amazing ocean views) is impeccably organised, with rulers and geometric templates hanging on the wall.
 
  •  He bragged that he was the first person in Spain to see the sunrise each morning (if you don’t count Mallorca etc), and set up a mirror so he could see it from his bed.
  • The weird rock shapes and barren landscapes in his paintings actually exist near his house.
  • To get to his front door means navigating a steep and quite slippery rocky slope. I have no idea how he did it at in his advancing years. Maybe there is a back entrance…?
  • The multi-level labyrinthine home started off as a tiny fisherman’s hut which he bought when his father kicked him out of the house for taking up with a married woman ten years older than he was (Gala). Dalí gradually bought more huts and land over the years and extended….
  • There is only one bedroom in the entire home, so it seems that overnight guests were not welcome. However there is a paying telephone booth by the pool, which looks like it’s for visitors to use to call out. I hear that Dalí was quite thrifty, even miserly, and was known for deliberately walking off with  other clients’ umbrellas or canes when leaving restaurants in New York.
  • He is Catalan, not Spanish, and this supposedly makes a big difference, although the Catalans (and the Surrealists) hated him for sucking up to Franco.
  • He loves stuffed animals – real and toy ones (or maybe the toys were put there by Gala). The three pet swans that he owned ended up stuffed and on display in the house. It goes without saying that kitsch never posed a problem for Salvador.
  • He modeled his moustache on his hero Velasquez and the paintings he made of the Spanish king.
  • Dalí always sat to paint and had a pulley system to move his works up and down to the right level.
  • He used Blockz brand oil paints.
  • The outdoor pool area looks like it is inspired by the Alhambra palace, with fountains incorporating old Tio Pepe sherry bottles, a white Michelin man, and delicious kitsch galore.
Dali House Pool tio pepe
  • I actually felt perfectly at home in Dalí’s house and was ready to move in. Who wouldn’t – a premium beach side property? This being said, today Port Lligat is not as gorgeous or developed as central Cadaqués and overlooks some unsightly power cables.

There’s plenty written on the life and times of Dalí, so I am not going to repeat it, however here is a great BBC documentary that sums it up nicely.

 

 

COMMENTS

  • Louis R. Velasquez

    Dear Chris, What an excellent set of photos ( professional grade) and text…intriguing, exciting, certainly educational. My wife Lilia and I visited Dali’s home in Port Lligat ( and the enormous Dali Museum in Figueres) in about 1995?. You cleverly, with humor, describe the home well, accurately, but much changed from the day I was there. I loved his studio with his movable easel….perhaps there was a basement below?..as the huge painting could be lowered all the way down. ALSO Chris, I love your paintings and I see Dali’s influence on yoyr subject matter…I think…but only you know for sure. Thank you, your amigo in San Diego, California USA..Louis Velasquez

  • Chris

    Thanks for the lovely comment, Louis! Wonderful to hear from you.

    Yes, I loved the movable lowering easel too. Supposedly it went down into the kitchen below, or I think that’s what the guide said, It’s interesting that you see Dali in my work and yes, I am sure he has been an influence. Maybe one difference is that Dali was interested in portraying a fantasy/dream world and I am more focused on translating real life and the inner emotional life into images using metaphors. But maybe there’s not much difference in the end…

    All the best with your own fabulous projects, Louis, and warm wishes from France.

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