Salvador Dali’s Razor-Sharp Technique Made His Portraits Pop!


By Paul Chimera

Dali Society Historian & Writer


I want to look at two things in today’s blog post: Dali’s portraiture, and Dali’s technical brilliance.

Let me address the technique question first. It’s pretty much a cliché by now, but it still means as much as when it was first articulated: Dali paintings, Dali drawings, Dali prints – virtually everything about the surrealism and post-surrealist works of Dali – reveals superb draftsmanship.

Dali possessed a technical virtuosity reminiscent of the Old Masters. There’s no denying it, and even his most ardent detractors concede that the crazy mustachioed Catalan could paint! And paint magnificently.

Simply put, Salvador Dali never could have pulled off the illusions he did, had he not had the ability to produce “hand-painted color photography,” to use his own description. He was a brilliant technician, pure and simple.

I think I’ve made my point. But why is it important?

For at least two reasons, one already stated: his spectacular technical skill was so photographic in quality that Dali made the unreal seem real! Things just don’t float like that in mid-air. And yet there they are – knife, leaf, glass of wine, giant cauliflower – in a remarkable work like “Nature Morte Vivante” (1957, Dali Museum, St. Petersburg, Florida).


Secondly, great craftsmanship is always admired and appreciated, no matter how it’s demonstrated.

Which brings me to a Dali portrait of great craftsmanship – the portrait seen here of Madame Ortiz de Linares, painted in 1942 (private collection).

Can you say stunning!


Look how Dali handled the lacy transparent veil, the lush clouds, really everything in this exquisite portrait. It is one of many society portraits Salvador Dali painted, which typically featured a faithful likeness of the sitter within an often wildly surrealist background.

Of course, not everyone was thrilled with what became a somewhat commercial turn on the road Dali began to travel around this time. It’s not that he didn’t continue to produce important art for the ages – he certainly did – but some (jealous?) contemporaries and others felt Dali was becoming too seduced by dollars and less guided by inspired ideas.

Not surprisingly, Dali had a brilliant explanation. He reasoned that most people work to get money. But, in his case, he earned money in order to work! He meant, of course, that the hefty paychecks that poured in from society portraits – and all manner of other lucrative commercial projects – meant he now had the financial freedom to devote more time to what he loved best: creating great art!

It worked beautifully. Dali became a wealthy man. And, yes, he flaunted it. The stereotype of the brooding, starving, bohemian artist, dressed in tattered clothing and enduring the millstone of poverty never visited Dali’s lifestyle.

Instead, he was effusive; dined generously; dressed flamboyantly in brocade vests and classic capes, brandishing an assortment of walking sticks and watching that iconic mustache twitch all the way to the bank! “Bravo! Bravo!” he’d surely exclaim.

Dali knew that being a great artist, while also attaining great wealth in his chosen profession, were not mutually exclusive paths!

PSSSST! Love Dali?

Sign up to join The Salvador Dali "Secret" Society®

Stay updated on offerings, events, and more!