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Salvador Dali (1904-1989)

Mysteries of the Surreal—Questionable Art, Thieves and Outrageous Claims

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It should be no surprise to Dali fans and art critics alike that Dali himself swindled in his own name, and quite often at that. He would make outrageous claims in order to sell paintings—in one instance telling the Lady Beaverbrook that he had used the poison of a thousand wasps to dilute his oil paint...therefore making the million-dollar asking price a little more reasonable. This, of course, was not so, and is only a small illustration of how Dali could be a con-artist in his own right. It was Dali's nature to be grandiose and tell exaggerations, which can be seen early on in his own fictional autobiography "The Secret Life of Salvador Dali" published in 1942.

Dali loved money and the finer things in life...this was no secret to anyone. However, it was said that during his later years, Dali created interesting ways to keep his excessive lifestyle afloat. One clever way that Dali avoided paying for things was by scribbling on restaurant checks. He was known to take huge parties of friends and students out for dinner and then when the bill came, he would write a check for the entire meal. However, as the waiter watched, Dali would quickly sketch something on the back of his check. Knowing that the restaurant owner would never cash such a valuable piece of art, Dali basically wrote his own money, and cleverly avoided a large dinner bill. Whatever became of these checks? They remain one of Dali's many mysteries.

Dali's paintings have also caught the eye of thieves throughout the years—some which have been recovered, and some which have not. In 2003, an ink drawing of Christ on the cross hanging in the lobby of notorious Rikers Island jail disappeared. The thieves replaced the three by four foot sketch with a fake, and the original, valued at $175,000 has yet to be found.

Other paintings by Dali have been stolen from museums all over the world. In February of 2005, sculptures and other works by Dali were stolen from a museum in Belgium. In February of 2006, a piece by Dali entitled "The Two Balconies" was stolen from a museum in Brazil.

Also, in 1984, 18 paintings by Dali were stolen from the Signature Gallery, one of which was his famous 1941 painting "Adolescence." Where are these paintings and stolen works today? Certainly some would have been too notable to have been sold at auction, but perhaps they are owned in private collections, hanging in someone's living room.

While many critics claim that there are literally no genuine pieces of work by Dali created after the 1940s, these works created by Dali's imitators are still considered valid on some level. Some art historians will tell you that genuine work by Dali was only created up until 1940. They will also say that genuine fake Dali's were created in the 1950s and 60s, and that anything created by "Dali" after 1972 is a fake. These critics and art scholars will also tell you that any and all genuine Dali pieces, created solely by his hand, are housed in museums. However, with all of the buzz around the late artist and questions of authenticity, that remains to be seen.