If one goal of modern biography is to lay bare secrets and perversions, then Salvador Dalí must necessarily make a disappointing subject, for he spent a lucrative lifetime laying them all bare himself. Few are the Dalí paintings that make no reference to masturbation, castration or father-hatred. As for vanity, which biographers usually pounce on, one of Dalí’s earliest diary entries reads: ‘I am madly in love with myself.’ That love affair continued throughout his life, which may have brought the artist solace, as he successively alienated friends and family.
Dalí claimed not to have ‘the slightest problem in making public my most shameful desires’. He talked freely of his difficulty in achieving an erection and his horror of female genitalia. Yet, one of the aims of Ian Gibson’s thorough and beautifully written book is to show that the artist was also motivated by fears he chose not to express. There is some evidence to support this. Dalí never confessed to the homosexual instincts which seem powerfully expressed in some of his paintings. In later life he is known to have resorted to anti-depressants.
In his autobiography, The Secret Life of Salvador Dalí, the artist claimed to have been profoundly affected by two traumatic childhood events. The first concerns his father arriving home late from a business trip and dashing past the family to the bathroom with the vulgar announcement, ‘I’ve crapped.’ In the