Great works: Portrait of My Father, 1925, by Salvador Dali

Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya, Barcelona

It is often extremely difficult to like the idea of Salvador Dali, to rid oneself of that ridiculous image of the extravagantly moustachioed wildman. His near hysterical showmanship gets in the way of our careful appreciation of his gifts as a painter. What is more, his plagiarism of himself seems a shoddy trick.

But wait. There was a time in his life when his great talents were beginning to be exercised to the full. Here is one of the fruits of that moment, a stern portrait of his father, painted when he had just been kicked out of the Academy in Madrid for insubordination – he had told his examiners that they were unfit to judge him.

His father, understandably, was furious, but he continued to believe in him, lovingly maintaining a scrapbook of cuttings about his son's achievements. Later on, it would all turn terribly sour, and Dali's images of the father figure would be transformed into monsters.

Here the young painter is absorbing influences from past and present like a sponge. This painting, for example, is one of many examples that we could cite of the new Classicism of the period immediately following the First World War. We think of Picasso and de Chirico, for example. Classicism represented a type of reaching back, grasping for some security. The world had been shaken to its foundations by conflict, and experimentation became too risky. Some artists felt a need to be tethered to the past.

Here we have an almost sculptural solidity of form. The figure, in its bulk and its heft, embodies the idea of authority. It is not easily budged. It reminds us of Ingres' majestic portrait of the newspaper proprietor Monsieur Bertin in its sobriety – it almost edges towards the monochromatic. Both men possess a tremendous sense of physical presence. And yet there is at least one significant difference.

Monsieur Bertin faces us directly. We see Dali's father in a three-quarters view. His eyes swivel to the left, apprehensive, nervous. The young man he is looking back at is untameable. Both sitters almost overbrim their chairs, from which they pronounce upon the world that is at their feet. Dali's father was the notary of his home town of Figueres, a man who could call the shots.

And yet there is intimacy and more than a touch of domesticity in this portrait, too. There is a drawing of Dali's father, dated the same year, with his daughter Ana Maria standing at his back. The poses he strikes in painting and drawing are remarkably similar to each other. And yet, there are also important differences. In the drawing, Dali's father is wearing a three-piece suit. He is smoking a cigar. He wears a buttonhole. It is a portrait of a successful public man at rest. The portrait on this page is less so. This is a portrait of a slightly troubled father cradling a favourite pipe.

The painting was shown in Dali's first solo exhibition in Barcelona, which took place in November 1925. He felt highly of it. He told his friend, the poet Federico Garcia Lorca, that the exhibition had been a success in every way, critically and financially. Dali was never one to hold back when it came to trumpeting his own achievements. That arrogance would part-poison the well of his talent.

About the artist: Salvador Dalí (1904-1989)

International celebrity, Catalan artist Salvador Domingo Felipe Jacinto Dalí i Domènech, 1st Marqués de Dalí de Pubol, provoked furious reactions from the start in the mid-1920s. His free-thinking lawyer and federalist father, was a strict disciplinarian; his mother, who died when he was 16, encouraged him to indulge his passion for painting. At college in Madrid, he began as he would go on, as an English dandy in knee breeches, voluminous moustaches, long hair and sideburns.

Arts and Entertainment
The starship in Star Wars: The Force Awakens
filmsThe first glimpse of JJ Abrams' new film has been released online
The Speaker of the House will takes his turn as guest editor of the Today programme
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey in the 2014 Christmas special
Arts and Entertainment
Jude Law in Black Sea


In Black Seahe is as audiences have never seen him before

Arts and Entertainment
Johnny Depp no longer cares if people criticise his movie flops


Arts and Entertainment
Scare tactics: Michael Palin and Jodie Comer in ‘Remember Me’

TVReview: Remember Me, BBC1
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Image has been released by the BBC
Arts and Entertainment
Will there ever be a Friends reunion?
Harry Hill plays the Professor in the show and hopes it will help boost interest in science among young people
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
A Van Gogh sold at Sotheby’s earlier this month
Arts and Entertainment

MusicThe band accidentally called Londoners the C-word

Arts and Entertainment
It would 'mean a great deal' to Angelina Jolie if she won the best director Oscar for Unbroken

Film 'I've never been comfortable on-screen', she says

Arts and Entertainment
Winnie the Pooh has been branded 'inappropriate' in Poland
Arts and Entertainment
Lee Evans is quitting comedy to spend more time with his wife and daughter

Arts and Entertainment
American singer, acclaimed actor of stage and screen, political activist and civil rights campaigner Paul Robeson (1898 - 1976), rehearses in relaxed mood at the piano.
filmSinger, actor, activist, athlete: Paul Robeson was a cultural giant. But prejudice and intolerance drove him to a miserable death. Now his story is to be told in film...
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is dominating album and singles charts worldwide

Arts and Entertainment
Kieron Richardson plays gay character Ste Hay in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks

Arts and Entertainment
Midge Ure and Sir Bob Geldof outside the Notting Hill recording studios for Band Aid 30

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

    Christmas Appeal

    Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
    Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

    Is it always right to try to prolong life?

    Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

    What does it take for women to get to the top?

    Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
    Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

    Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

    Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
    French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

    French chefs campaign against bullying

    A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

    Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

    Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
    Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

    Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

    Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
    Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

    Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

    Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
    Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

    Paul Scholes column

    I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
    Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

    So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game