How Dali transformed dough into a surreal slice of life

Why was the artist so inspired by a humble loaf, Alex Leith asks

The first things you notice about the Dali Theatre-Museum in Figueres are the enormous eggs on the top of the tower. Then you see a thousand yellow protrusions on the maroon walls. Initially, they seem to be flowers, but up close they reveal themselves to be life-sized casts of loaves of bread.

Bread? Why would this painter of the fantastic, the sophisticated and the elaborate cover the building – his eventual tomb – with bread? Why does this most basic food appear regularly in his work? I hope to find the answer in the Dalian triangle, formed by his three homes in Catalonia, all now open to the public.

First stop, Port Lligat, a little fishing cove on the last peninsula before France. The bus from Barcelona coils round a Daliesque range of barren drystone-stepped hills before dropping down into Cadaques. Half an hour's walk over a hill to Port Lligat and the first you see of Dali's house are more eggs on the roof.

The interior gives you a good idea of what Dali was like – a stuffed bear, a dome-shaped room with strange echoes, a mirror in the wall to see the sunrise from his bed and a phallic swimming pool. It's homely, albeit in an eccentric way. In the hallway is a photo of Gala, his wife-model-secretary-muse, and it's clearly the basis for his painting La Galarina. Just a hint of patisserie here. "Her arms are cradled like a bread basket," he said of his work. "The cup of her revealed breast is like the heel of a loaf of bread".

Back into Cadaques, and another hour on the bus back to Figueres, where the Theatre-Museum, redesigned by Dali in 1974, houses his favourite works. Above the entrance four life-sized, veiled statues, their stomachs hollowed out, hold aloft double-sized baguettes. The Bread Basket was painted in 1945 in the week the atomic bombs fell on Japan. "Here we have a picture about which we have nothing to say..." said its creator. "A total enigma!" Then, a contradiction. "My objective was to arrive at the immobility of the pre-explosive object."

I stand back from the painting. Am I getting any closer to an understanding? In the foreground is a real half-loaf in a real bread basket, both painted gold, laid on a plinth. "The basket," the artist later explained, "has become a crown, and the bread represents the unity of the tail and horn of the rhinoceros." I'm none the wiser.

Up in the Galatea Tower the Gala-Dali Foundation's Jordi Fargas speaks more prosaically. "For Dali, as for all Catalans, bread was the fundamental basis of the diet. At the same time it had a religious significance and thus represented the spiritual as well as the tangible." Dali was more offbeat. "Bread," he said, "has always been one of the most fetishistic and obsessive themes of my work." There are loaves of Pan Dali on sale in the bakery near to the museum. They are like the ones on the wall. I buy some for later.

On to the Castello de Pubol, the third corner of the triangle. A train to Flacá, another bus and a mile-long hike in the midday sun to the medieval castle which Dali redesigned for his wife in 1970 when she had sickened of him. They spoke once a day on the telephone but he had to make an appointment to see her.

It's a sad place, evocative of the death of their relationship. In one corner of the kitchen is a bread basket. It holds no bread; there is no need.

Outside the castle, with a long walk ahead, I'm feeling a pang of hunger, and the Pan Dali is still in its bag. But is it a sexual symbol? A religious icon? A portent of death? The last pre-explosive object? I don't want to bite off more than I can chew here. I pull off a hunk, and take a bite. It's slightly stale. I wash it down with water. It hits the spot. I set off down the road.

The Facts

Getting there

Returns from Gatwick and Luton to Barcelona by easyJet from around £90 (0870 6000 000; easyjet.com).

Being there

Casa Dali,closed Mon, €8, booking essential on 0034 972 251015. Dali Theatre Museum, €6.5. Castello de Pubol,€5.5, after 1 Nov group bookings only on 0034 972 488655. More information at www.salvador-dali.org

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Sport
Ojo Onaolapo celebrates winning the bronze medal
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
Rock band Led Zeppelin in the early 1970s
musicLed Zeppelin to release alternative Stairway To Heaven after 43 years
Arts and Entertainment
Tracey Emin's 'My Bed' is returning to the Tate more than 15 years after it first caused shockwaves at the gallery
artTracey Emin's bed returns to the Tate after record sale
Environment
Neil Young performing at Hyde Park, London, earlier this month
environment
News
i100
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
News
Prince Harry is clearing enjoying the Commonwealth Games judging by this photo
people(a real one this time)
Sport
Lionel Messi looks on at the end of the final
football
Extras
indybest
News
Richard Norris in GQ
mediaGQ features photo shoot with man who underwent full face transplant
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Sales and Office Administrator – Sports Media

    £23,000: Sauce Recruitment: A global leader in sports and entertainment is now...

    C++ Software Engineer - Hounslow, West London - C++ - to £60K +

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + Pension, Healthcare : Deerfoot IT Resources Limite...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Visitor Experience volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary role: Old Royal Naval College: To assist the Visitor Experien...

    Day In a Page

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

    Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

    The Guest List 2014

    Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on