Book Review: The Essential Salvador Dalí (Robert Goff)

Book Review: The Essential Salvador Dalí (Robert Goff)

Salvador Dalí

The name elicits a lot of mental imagery, the mustachioed man, the melting clocks, surrealism defined, etc. For most people you have this immediate mental image of him or his works. He is an iconic name in this age, or at least for those who know or have enjoyed artwork from the past century or so.

As I’ve stated on the blog here before, I’m not the most knowledgeable person when it comes to art; my knowledge of art is more confined to the world of comic books than it is to the world of ‘high art’. So thats partly why quick books like this one and the Essential Pablo Picasso are great little entry books for an art neophyte like myself.



But first, let’s talk about Savador Dalí; who he was, when he was born, when he died, what made him tick, etc.

Salvador Dalí from 1939 (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

As per the opening paragraphs of Wikipedia on Salvador Dali (quick biography):

Salvador Domingo Felipe Jacinto Dalí i Domènech, Marquess of Dalí of Púbol gcYC (/ˈdɑːli, dɑːˈliː/;[1] Catalan: [səlβəˈðo dəˈli]; Spanish: [salβaˈðoɾ daˈli];[2] 11 May 1904 – 23 January 1989) was a Spanish surrealist artist renowned for his technical skill, precise draftsmanship, and the striking and bizarre images in his work.

Born in Figueres, Catalonia, Spain, Dalí received his formal education in fine arts in Madrid. Influenced by Impressionism and the Renaissance masters from a young age he became increasingly attracted to Cubism and avant-garde movements.[3] He moved closer to Surrealism in the late 1920s and joined the Surrealist group in 1929, soon becoming one of its leading exponents. His best-known work, The Persistence of Memory, was completed in August 1931, and is one of the most famous Surrealist paintings. Dalí lived in France throughout the Spanish Civil War (1936 to 1939) before leaving for the United States in 1940 where he achieved commercial success. He returned to Spain in 1948 where he announced his return to the Catholic faith and developed his “nuclear mysticism” style, based on his interest in classicism, mysticism, and recent scientific developments.[4]

Dalí’s artistic repertoire included painting, graphic arts, film, sculpture, design and photography, at times in collaboration with other artists. He also wrote fiction, poetry, autobiography, essays and criticism. Major themes in his work include dreams, the subconscious, sexuality, religion, science and his closest personal relationships. To the dismay of those who held his work in high regard, and to the irritation of his critics, his eccentric and ostentatious public behavior often drew more attention than his artwork.[5][6] His public support for the Francoist regime, his commercial activities and the quality and authenticity of some of his late works have also been controversial.[7] His life and work were an important influence on other Surrealists, pop art and contemporary artists such as Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst.[8][9]

There are two major museums devoted to Salvador Dalí’s work: the Dalí Theatre-Museum in Figueres, Spain, and the Salvador Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Wikipedia: Salvador Dali

He was born on May 11 1904 and died on January 23 1989. He is best known for his piece ‘The Persistence of Memory’. Dali was heavily influenced by Sigmund Freud and his ideas of dreams, father hood, castration, masturbation, and how the themes all interlink and interlock. He also became influenced by Frederick Nietzsche, and later became interested in and influenced by Catholicism and even nuclear physics and how that applies to art and life and time.

The Persistence of Memory

“The famous soft watches are nothing else but the tender, extravagant, solitary, paranoic-critical Camembert of time and space.”

Robert Goff – The Essential Salvador Dali

As mentioned, some of the central themes to Dali’s life was stuff touched upon by Sigmund Freud. Ideas, themes, illusions, dream meanings, etc are the ‘stuff’ of Freud that he lifted and used for his artwork. Using his own symbols and terminology that he and his friends crafted in surrealism (and from before), he incorporated them into his artwork. The putrefaction of items and ideas is one of the many symbols that he incorporated in his earlier works especially. Grasshoppers (which he had a phobia of), portraits of his own face / head, portraits of his father, excrement (feces on shorts, on buttocks, etc.), symbolism of masturbation, castration, clocks in states of disrepair showing the effects of time, ants and other such that lead to the putrefaction of items and symbols,

The Elephants by Salvador Dali

In a piece of work which might both scare and make my mother (a huge Elephant fan) happy, this is Salvador Dali’s “The Elephants”, created in 1948. The elephants are shown as a symbol of strength and are meant to represent the future.

The Face of War by Salvador Dali

The Face of War was drawn by Salvador Dali in the years of 1940 and 1941. A symbol of the Spanish Civil War and the looming threat of World War II. It shows the horrors, the trauma, the death, decay, and wickedness that is war personified.

The Enigma of Desire

The Enigma of Desire was drawn by Salvador Dali in 1929 and was his first piece of work sold by the Goeman’s Gallery. As in many of his works, you can find his own face in the artwork. The Enigma of Desire is meant to be a symbol of the mortality of humankind, of ourselves, of our loved ones (as in his mother, who had recently passed away, which this piece of artwork has the subtitle of ‘My Mother! My Mother! My Mother!).

Archaeological Reminiscence of “The Angelus” by Millet

Archaeological Reminiscence of “The Angelus” by Millet was painted by Salvador Dali from 1933 – 1935. It is currently housed (or lives at) The Dali Museum in America.

The Disintegration of The Persistence of Memory

The Disintegration of The Persistence of Memory was Salvador Dali’s reworking of his original The Persistence of Memory. He created it in the years of 1952 – 1954.

Book Review

The Essential Salvador Dali by Robert Goff was published in 1998 to detail the history and life of both Salvador Dali and his work. The GoodReads back blurb on the book is:

For readers who have little time to spare and are averse to art-world jargon, this series aims to provide an entertaining guide to individual artists and pop culture. Each volume presents an account of the artist’s life, personal and professional anecdotes, concise definitions of cultural and social movements that shaped the artist’s work, and colour reproductions.

The Essential Salvador Dali (Robert Goff) – GoodReads

As I said earlier, and as I said in my review for The Essential Pablo Picasso (which you can read here: Book Review: The Essential Pablo Picasso by Ingrid Schaffner), I am not a huge ‘artsy fartsy smartsy’ kinda guy. I know some art, and I have seen my share of artwork (I know it when I see it), but I’m not the most intelligent about it. I took an Art Class in college (at HACC), and Amy and I did go to the Van Gogh Interactive Experience in Philadelphia this year – but still, my knowledge and understanding of art is pretty limited. I can understand (or guess) some symbols and meaning, but a lot will go over my head. I will freely admit all of this.

So books like this and The Essential Pablo Picasso and other art themed books I’ve been reading this year and the past two or three years, have been my attempts to educate myself a bit more on the subject. This is a great little, quick, easy read that helped me better understand Salvador Dali himself, and his artwork. It gives a run down of his life, as well as little off topic – but related – subject interests like his friendship with Lorca, his wife Gala, his homelife growing up, his place of birth, the Surrealism movement itself, etc. There is also artwork on nearly every other page with descriptions of the piece of work as well, which also helps get a better understanding of Dali and his works.

This was written (by Robert Goff) by someone who loves / loved and enjoys / enjoyed Salvador Dali and his works. Its not biased though, and doesn’t come off as a fanboy gushing; but as a descriptive look back over his life and works, but the ending shows why the author thinks that Dali is still worth considering, looking at, and appreciating; versus how some like Breton say he’s not worth looking into (and thats most likely due to personal reasons from Dali’s falling out with the Surrealism group).

Hardcore Dali fans and art enthusiasts might not get a ton of out this work, but I did, and I appreciated its thoroughness in a brief and quick and concise fashion. If you are interested in learning more about Salvador Dali than it is definitely worth picking up and reading (won’t take you more than an hour or two to read it).

My GoodReads Rating: ****
My LibraryThing Rating: ****
Global GoodReads Rating (as of 12.11.22): 4.00 ( **** )

For Other Book Reviews

For other recent book reviews, you can check out:

By myself – B. Kline:


By Paul R. Kan:

Thanks For Reading

Thank you everyone for reading the book review. Felt like it was time to do another book review, since its been a little spell since I’ve written some. Paul R. Kan messaged me the other day, and he too will be getting another book review for the blog, so be on the lookout for that – just as a heads up.

We had a big trip yesterday. Amy, Scarlet, and I traveled down to Virginia – to Fairfax Virginia for Chubby Squirrel Brewing, then to Sterling Virginia for Rocket Frog Brewing Company’s close out bash, then to Ashburn Virginia for both Lost Rhino Brewing and Old Ox Brewery. Look for a write – up on that either tonight or tomorrow (most likely tomorrow). You can check out our Instagram to see some of the pictures of that. It was a fun day with us getting to hit up four breweries (three of which were new to us). Its sad to see Rocket Frog Brewing Company closing, but was good to see them have a huge turn out for their Close Out Bash. All four of the breweries we hit up were animal named (Chubby Squirrel, Rocket Frog, Lost Rhino, Old Ox). Thinking of maybe doing an article on the crazy animal themed / named breweries we’ve come across. Who knows, be on the lookout for it if I do.

Once again, thank you everyone for checking us out. We love doing beer reviews, brewery reviews, travelogues, hike reviews, and book reviews here on the blog. So if any of these interest you – be sure to like, follow, and subscribe. Comment as well to let us know your thoughts and opinions – we always love hearing from all of you!

Until next time,

Cheers All!

-B. Kline

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