Born in Figueras, Spain, Dali first studied at the cole des Beaux Arts in Madrid and was influenced by Metaphysical painters de Chirico and Carra while there. Equally admiring the meticulous realism of the Pre-Raphaelites and French 19th century painters, he began to blend conceptual styles and technique. Beginning in 1927, Dali exhibited in Madrid and Barcelona, earning a reputation for being one of the most promising younger painters. A visit to Paris in 1928 brought him into contact with Picasso and the Surrealists Miro, Masson, Ernst, Tanguy and Andr, Breton; shortly thereafter, his first exhibition brought Dali firmly into the Surrealist movement where he was a leading figure during the next ten years.
Dali transformed the definition of Surrealism, which combined pure psychic automatism expressing the unconscious process of thought, dream and associated realities to include what he called "critical paranoia," a theory that embraced delusion while remaining aware that reason has been deliberately suspended. With his realistic detail, Dali's paintings describe a hallucinatory reality which is often contradicted by the vision and hallucinatory character his imagery describes; "The Persistence of Memory" (1931), depicting perfectly detailed clocks melting in a Catalan landscape, conveys that theory.
Although a collaborator with Surrealist filmmaker Luis Bunuel, Dali, whose work was identified with Surrealism more than any other artist by the public, was expelled from the movement by Breton in 1937. After visiting Italy the same year, he briefly changed his style of painting to reflect the academic influence of Raphael before returning to a more private mythology. By 1940 he left for 15 years in the United States. With his first retrospective at The Museum of Modern Art, New York in 1941, Dali devoted his energies towards publicity during those years before returning to Spain in 1955. Included in major museums worldwide, Dali's work continues to fascinate, most recently with a major exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1994 of the celebrated early Surrealist years.