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Gala Dalí and Important Artists and Artworks
An eclectic gathering of people are featured in Max Ernst's painting which the Museum Ludwig describes as, "individuals from various eras gather together on a craggy massif. Ernst himself, wearing a green suit, sits on Dostoyevsky's lap. Standing further back is the Renaissance artist Raphael, whose balanced compositions served as a model for the [Surrealist] group. From the right the group's spokesperson, Andre Breton, wearing a red cape, rushes by, announcing the new ideas. In the front row the individuals communicate through sign language. Behind them appear a band of adherents, who follow the new art movement. The gathering takes place during a solar eclipse, a symbol of impending change, which the Surrealists desired in art, politics, and social life ".
Within its tribute to the burgeoning Surrealist movement, Ernst acknowledges the presence of Gala, the only woman to, as it were, "make the cut". According to author Tim McGirk, "Ernst also honoured his debt to Gala's influence by painting her in the corner [...] She stands apart from Eluard, next to a bust of Giorgio de Chirico and Robert Desnos, the writer. Her neck is long and milky white; she seems imbued with all the sensuality and composure of a cat. Her eyebrows are arched over big dark eyes, and she manages to signal her attractiveness and independence at the same time ". Gala's placement subtly, but clearly, says a great deal about the woman herself. While Gala never attempted to make a name for herself as a painter or writer, she was, none the less, a driving force among the men of that circle. That she was placed a distance from her husband, not only perhaps showed Ernst's desire to have her to himself, but also can be seen as a foreshadowing for her leaving both of them behind for an unknown Spanish peasant boy named Salvador Dalí.
Here the face of a woman is seen from the middle of the bridge of her nose to the start of her forward. The top of her head has begun to be peeled away revealing a greenish-white sky filled with three round circular floating objects. For Ernst, Gala was not only a model and muse, she was also the wife of his friend, the poet Paul Éluard, and with whom he completed two book collaborations, including Les Malheurs des immortels (1922) which had introduced the strange, dream-like, imagery that would become the seal of the Surrealist movement. Shortly after meeting Gala, Ernst left his wife and young son to move to Paris to live with the couple. A ménage à trois relationship soon developed.
According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, "this evocative portrait reveals the deeply intertwined personal and artistic lives of members of the Surrealist circle and depicts the movement's fascination with dreamlike states. [Ernst] painted this work based on Man Ray's photograph of [Gala] Éluard's eyes. With curious forms rising from her unfurling forehead, Éluard becomes an imagined embodiment of Surrealism's wide-eyed interest in art's power to explore the mysterious territories of the unconscious mind ". I ndeed, for the Surrealist the eyes were a window to the interior and thus took on almost mystical qualities. It is easy to see here how Gala's hypnotic stare - "the woman whose gaze piece walls" as Paul Éluard once described her - would have entranced the Surrealists who fell under her spell.
The critic Nina Sophia Miralles wrote: "Dalí's imagination is often seen as a force of its own, but in reality, it was a fragile construct, unable to flourish without Gala, whom he used as a shield. Behind her, he would be safe to create; without her, he would be swept away. Dalí honored this coauthorship of his life. As early as the thirties [when this piece was produced] he began to sign his canvases with both their names even though she'd never so much as lifted a brush. 'It is mostly with your blood, Gala, that I paint my pictures', he told her".
In this painting, a naked woman with long flowing blonde hair, head arched back, and breasts exposed, stands with her left arm wrapped around a pole. In the direct center of the painting her midsection has been replaced with a cluster of red roses which seem to be dripping with her blood. A year after this work was painted, Gala underwent two surgeries. The first was to remove a tumour in her lung and a second to remove a tumour in her uterus. According to author Tim McGirk, this painting, "was oddly prescient of Gala's surgery" and notes that, despite her not being named in the work's title, the figure's "lean body is obviously Gala's ".
While he may or may not have known of his wife's need for surgery, Dalí would have certainly been aware of her history of poor health. At the same time, the painting providing visual proof of Dalí's obsession with Gala's body and his own sexual anxiety and impotence. This aspect is echoed here by the shadow of the figure who is barely visible on the right side of the canvas but which represents the artist as voyeur. The surgery (the hysterectomy) itself had a profound impact on Gala. She had never fostered a nurturing relationship with her only child, Cecile, a daughter with first husband Paul Éluard, and the surgery left her unable to bear children with Dalí. McGirk states how the tumour's "removal was an especially barbarous procedure, and when Gala described the operation to a friend nearly forty years later the experience was still so painful in her mind that she cried. The doctors, she said had 'emptied' her ".