May 11 marks the 112th birthday of one of the twentieth century’s most important artists, Salvador Dalí. What does the great Spanish Surrealist painter Dalí have to do with Edgar Allan Poe? More than you might think.
Dalí mentions Poe at the beginning and the end of his autobiography, The Secret Life of Salvador Dalí. In the first anecdote, Dalí describes the cultural climate in Paris in the 1930s and how everyone was reading Poe and Marie Bonaparte’s new psychoanalytical take of Poe’s work. Bonaparte’s search for hidden Freudian meanings in Poe’s work appealed to Dalí and the Surrealists, who were trying to tap into the powers of the subconscious.
At the end of Dalí’s autobiography, he describes the process of writing the book. By that time he has fled the war in Europe and is living with friends in Virginia, about an hour north of Richmond. While there, he began Daddy Long Legs of Evening—Hope! (1940), his first picture painted entirely in America, and Slave Market with Disappearing Bust of Voltaire (1940).
During his stay, newspaper accounts say Dalí visited Richmond movie theaters and museums. One of his housemates, the author Henry Miller, signed the Poe Museum’s guest book. Dalí likely also visited the Poe Museum at that time, but his signature has not been located in the guest book. After either hearing Miller’s description of the Poe Museum’s Enchanted Garden or after seeing it for himself, Dalí decorated the garden at the house at which he was staying and entitled his work “The Enchanted Garden.”
Whether or not Poe influenced Dalí’s landscaping, he apparently inspired the painter’s writing. In fact, Dalí claimed Poe helped him write his autobiography. According to Dalí, “on certain nights the spectre of Edgar Allan Poe would come from Richmond to see me, in a very pretty convertible car all spattered with ink. One night he made me a present of a black telephone truffled with black pieces of black noses of black dogs, inside which he had fastened with black strings a dead black rat and a black sock, the whole soaked in India ink.”
After leaving Virginia, Dalí took America by storm, producing some of his best paintings, painting celebrity portraits, and collaborating with Hollywood directors Alfred Hitchcock and Walt Disney. Click here to read more about Dalí’s stay in Virginia.