When you first come upon the sleek Espace Dalí in a quiet corner of Montmartre, the setting and museum may look like a strange pair. The street is cobblestoned, ivy-covered and calm. The museum is modern and coloured in shades of red and gold. Dalí’s Parisian space seems to clash with its surroundings. Yet Montmartre and Dalí have not one thing in common, but several.
Firstly, the moustache-twirling surrealist and the erstwhile home of starving painters have both become global household names. You are almost as likely to find a black and white picture of Sacré Coeur hanging in your motel room as you are a print of melting clocks. Dalí is the face of surrealism, while Montmartre is the home of impressionism. Accordingly, tourists flock to both. And in this massive fame, the original roughness, weirdness and darkness of Dalí and Montmartre have been partially lost.
But the painter and the quartier do not just have excessive fame in common. They also share a history of avant garde innovation, of artistic brilliance. A few years before Salvador Dalí was beginning to embrace art in his native Spain, Montmartre was becoming the neighbourhood of choice for artists ranging from Van Gogh to Picasso to Toulouse Lautrec to Degas. Dalí even lived in Paris for several years, though he favoured the surrealist community in Montparnasse.
Despite the soft beauty of Impressionism and the rainbow whimsy of Dalí’s symbolic images, both hid a darkness that has been glossed over: Dalí was prone to narcissism and depression, and Montmartre was often the site of poverty and addiction. You might not think it when first approaching the Espace Dalí down the quaint rue Poulbot, but when you consider their histories, their origins and their shared dark strangeness, the museum and Montmartre are in fact the perfect pair.