The Salvador Dali story

Statutes of elephants pose in the grounds of Púbol castle. They are not the elephants of Africa or Asia; these have the long, spindly legs of giraffes. But in this corner of north-east Spain, you grow accustomed to surprises. A castle has stood at Púbol, a small, Catalan village inland from Spain's Costa Brava, since the 11th century. Its exterior is a mixture of Renaissance and Gothic, covered with roses and softened by plantings of lavender in the courtyard. But over time it fell into disrepair, and in 1969 it acquired an owner with modern tastes. Salvador Dalí bought it as a bolt-hole for his wife Gala.

Dalí did not exactly restore the castle; he remodelled it in his own style – even the radiators are trompes l'oeil, and many pieces of furniture have been given a Dalíesque twist. One of the upstairs rooms is painted black, a backdrop to a collection of Gala's clothes, some in fabrics designed by Dalí. Gala made regular visits to the castle to entertain her friends and lovers; during her lifetime her husband visited only by invitation. But after she died and was buried in the crypt, Salvador moved into so that she wouldn't be alone, abandoning his home on the picturesque creek of Port Lligat, a mile north of Cadaqués.

Dalí had been attracted to Port Lligat by its remoteness and the quality of the light. He lived first in a tiny fisherman's cottage, which he gradually expanded. The result is an appealing muddle, containing the Dalís' private quarters; his studio with huge windows looking out to the beach, plus an adjoining room used by his models; and an outdoor area for entertaining. This consisted of an open-air dining room; a large whitewashed patio with trees and an empty telephone kiosk; and a swimming pool lined with swan-fountains.

The Dalí family had a long association with Cadaqués. Salvador's father was born there, he and Gala met in the town, and he lived close to it for most of his adult life. There are echoes of Dalí everywhere: a statue in the middle of the seafront, several of his works in the local museum, and the art collection belonging to his British agent on display in another part of town.

But Dalí's story begins and ends in Figueres, the capital of the Alt Emporada region of Catalonia, where the artist was born, and where he spent the last years of his life. A fire at the castle in Púbol left him so badly burned that he was driven to Figueres for an operation that saved his life, and he never returned to the castle. During the 1970s, a museum dedicated to Dalí had been established in the town's former theatre, in whose lobby he had had his first exhibition. It is a fitting venue for the work of an artist for whom theatricality was paramount. Although many of his best paintings are elsewhere, his influ- ence is clear: there is a taxi in the open courtyard where the theatre stalls once were, a naked model of Gala on its bonnet; other rooms contain works by Dalí's friends, as well as paintings and installations from his own collection.

Dalí spent the last five years of his life at the Torre Galatea, a tower that is now part of the theatre-museum. He had planned to be buried in Púbol next to Gala, but demanded on his deathbe to be buried in Figueras. His tomb is now an exhibit in his own museum, under the stage of the theatre.

 

Gala Dalí Castle House-Museum, Púbol (00 34 972 48 86 55), open 15 March until 1 November. Casa-Museu Salvador Dalí, Port Lligat (00 34 972 25 10 15), open 15 March-6 January; book in advance. Teatre-Museu Dalí, Plaça Gala-Salvador Dalí 5, Figueres (00 34 972 67 75 00), open daily except Monday

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