Summary of Gala Dalí
Although not a practicing artist or poet, Gala was nevertheless a force of such personality she became for many the female face of the Surrealist movement. A muse to no fewer than three of is key members - Paul Éluard, Max Ernst, and Salvador Dalí - Gala grew into an astute, and severe critic and, particularly in the case of her bashful second husband, Dalí, an uncompromising businesswoman and go-between. Indeed, Gala is usually given credit for propelling Dalí to international superstardom. As a direct (and indirect) result of her driving ambition she attracted many enemies, but the Dalís made an exotic celebrity couple, mixing with the cream of international high society. Gala herself later emerged as an icon of haute couture, appearing at public events and in magazines bedecked in her husband's fashion collaborations with the likes of Christian Dior and Elsa Schiaparelli.
- Arguably the most unique feature of Dalí's body of work is that he only ever used one female model. More than a muse, Gala is nothing short of a motif in his art. But as the critic Nina Sophia Miralles points out, Gala's "work wasn't restricted to sitting still long enough to be immortalized in oil [she] acted as agent, dealer, promoter, and jailer; she channelled all her ruthlessness into her promotion of him".
- Though many art critics and avant-gardists saw Gala's eagerness to court publicity and embrace the world of celebrity as calculated and vulgar, it was she who spotted the potential for this shy Spanish peasant boy to become the international face of Surrealism. Indeed, it was only through her tenacity and verve that the couple triumphed in America. As Miralles suggests, "without Gala, the great artist might never have been".
- It was only through her unwavering faith and reassurance that her first love, the sickly adolescent, Paul Éluard, found the courage and desire to pursue a career as a poet at all. Indeed, by the time André Breton had published his Surrealist Manifesto (in 1924) Éluard, had already, with Max Ernst, published Les Malheurs des immortels, a landmark book that anticipated the non-sequiturs and dream-like imagery that would become the hallmark of the Surrealist movement.
The Life of Gala Dalí
Acknowledging his debt to her as the powerhouse behind his rise to global icon, Dalí stated "I polished Gala to make her shine, to make her as happy as possible, I took care of her better than myself, because without her it was all over".
Gala Dalí and Important Artists and Artworks
Au rendez-vous des amis (The Friends' Rendezvous) (1922)
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.
Oil on canvas - Collection of Museum Ludwig, Cologne, Germany
Gala Éluard (1924)
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.
Oil on canvas - Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New York
The Bleeding Roses (1930)
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 ".
Oil on canvas - Private Collection
Miralles said of Gala: "At her best [she] was difficult and intense. At her worst, she was nothing short of monstrous. She had no friends and maintained a malevolent distance from her family. Described as 'cruel, fierce and small' [...] she collected stuffed toys but once cooked her own pet rabbit. Her 'demonic temper' asserted itself often; if she didn't like someone's face, she spat at them, and if she wanted to silence someone, she would stub cigarettes out on their arm. Not surprisingly, she was hugely unpopular. Women particularly disliked her. Gala was sexually voracious and had no respect for other people's relationships. Dealers in Paris nicknamed her Gala la Gale - gale means both 'a spiteful person' and 'scabies.' The filmmaker Luis Buñuel, who, with Dalí, made the seminal short film Un chien Andalou, got so sick of Gala's insults that he once tried to throttle her". All that having been said, Miralles added that "Gala performed some special quasi-alchemical function" over her husband. "She sparked Dalí's imagination like nothing else could".
The intimacy of this portrait is in part reflected in the title: Galarina being Dalí's nickname for his beloved wife. Simple in composition, and while lacking many of the Surrealist elements for which he became best known, the work still makes a strong statement. As McGirk explains, "in one of the more remarkable portraits of Gala [...] her shirt is opened, revealing one breast [...] Her arms are crossed, not in modesty but in defiance; her lips are closed and firm. She has all the self-conviction of a Joan of Arc, but none of her religious humanity. Gala's determined sensuality is all the more sinister because she is wearing a bracelet of an emerald dragon with ruby eyes. She looks dangerous, as indeed she must have seemed to Dalí with his raging sexual insecurity ". In the knowledge that he was happier to be the voyeur than engage in the act of coitus with this poisonous "spider woman", the painting reads as the work a submissive observer of his wife's overpowering sexuality.
Oil on canvas - Collection of Dalí Theatre and Museum, Figueres, Spain
The Madonna of Port Lligat (1949)
Drawing inspiration from the time-honored iconography of the Madonna and child theme, Dalí has depicted the duo in segments with open space between them. Even the throne on which Mary sits has been broken down into three sections. A tribute to Port Lligat where Dalí lived with Gala, there are references to the sea and mountains in the background and a large sea urchin on the left (something they ate almost every day when at their home). Where the dove, a symbol of the Holy Spirit, usually appears floating above the Madonna's head, Dalí has replaced with a giant sea shell thereby reinforcing the biographical theme.
This work marks the beginning of a move in focus both through artistic imagery and in Dalí's conversion to Catholicism. According McGirk, "slowly Dalí's mysticism took form, and the shape it assumed was Gala. He painted her as the Madonna of Port Lligat, in angelic levitation above the fishermen in their boats on the sea. There was no change in Gala's behaviour to warrant this idealization - she was still the prowling seductress of young men, the arrogant and ruthless keeper of Dalí. It was not as though Gala necessarily inspired his epiphany ".
Showing the impudence of Dalí, but also the reach of his reputation, McGirk adds, "[Dalí] wanted it blessed by the Pope. This was a gamble: the Vatican's head of protocol was likely to glance through Dalí's press cuttings and slam the door on him. But Dalí managed to arrange a private interview with Pope Pius XII. The pontiff was reportedly impressed by the [painting] and perhaps a bit bemused by the extravagant claims that this surrealist, with his moustache twisted into horns stiffened by date-sugar, would be the twentieth century's unlikely saviour of Christian art ".
Oil on canvas - Collection of Haggerty Museum of Art, Marquette University, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Galatea of the Spheres (1952)
In this painting, Dalí depicts Gala as a bust portrait broken down into round spheres of color. Surrealist in style, when the spheres are viewed as a whole, the image of his wife becomes clear. Gala seems to float unanchored in a blue sky above a body of water. Dalí's fragmenting of this image, marks an interesting development in his work and displays his growing fascination with nuclear physics and the idea (a revelation to Dalí) that matter was made up of atoms. Dalí investigated these ideas, though never at the expense of his religious beliefs, in several paintings. He referred to works produced during this time as his "nuclear mysticism" period .
Once again, whenever Dalí tested new ideas in his art he turned to Gala for inspiration, using her image here as the vehicle on which to experiment with fragmentation. Miralles writes: "Certainly, it would be fair to say that Gala is the most recurring motif in Dalí's work". But, she then asked, "How, one might wonder, was Dalí able to love her, in his own words, 'more than my mother, more than my father, more than Picasso, and even more than money'?" Accepting she couldn't provide an answer to her own question, Miralles did acknowledge the one "indisputable fact" that "Gala was not just his wife; she was his muse". To help qualify her comments, Miralles cited the activist and author Germaine Greer who wrote: "A muse is anything but a paid model. The muse in her purest aspect is the feminine part of the male artist [...] She is the anima to his animus, the yin to his yang, except that, in a reversal of gender roles, she penetrates or inspires him and he gestates and brings forth, from the womb of the mind".
Oil on canvas - Collection of Dalí Theatre and Museum, Figueres, Spain
Gala Nude from Behind Looking in an Invisible Mirror (1960)
In his analysis of Dalí's numerous post- World War II female portraits, the Rev. Robert Keffer wrote "Women offered Dalí́ the eternal feminine and all the mysteries it contained. Certainly, a beautiful gown and glowing jewelry, the later perhaps designed by the master himself, convey more surface interest than a grey flannel suit, no matter how accomplished the male subject might be". Although this image of Gala may be ranked as the best of post-war female portraits, Dalí clearly distinguishes her by dispensing with any such surface distractions or surrealist embellishments. As the title reflects, here Dalí has painted a portrait of Gala seated naked on a bed, her bare back is turned to the viewer as she looks out over her right shoulder. Her flesh and brown hair contrast with the white of the wall in front of her and the sheet entangled around her legs.
While the argument can easily be made that Gala was Dalí's favorite subject, here we see a depiction of her unlike most others in which she featured. The preference for realism was not typical of Dalí, especially in paintings created this late into his career. There is an intimacy and softness to Gala here that jars with the public persona of the women who was known to be ruthless and uncompromising in the furtherance of her husband's career. Speaking of the importance of this painting, McGirk states, "in his erotic writings Dalí would have us believe that he found Gala to be a sexual, desirable woman - as did Eluard and a great many other surrealists - but Dalí could not paint this aspect of her nature, at least not by showing her face. His most erotic portrait of Gala is a nude study of her back. She sits with her legs crossed as if she were waiting on a rumpled bed for another session with her lover ". It might be added that Dalí's painterly treatment of Gala give us the clearest evidence of the artist's stated ambition to see his work placed in the canon that leads back to the great Renaissance masters.
Oil on canvas - Collection of Dalí Theatre and Museum, Figueres, Spain
Biography of Gala Dalí
Childhood and Education
Gala Dalí was born Elena Ivanovna Diakonova to parents Antonine and Ivan Diakonov. She experienced early family disruption when her father abandoned his wife and four children to search for gold in Siberia. She was just ten when they learned of his death, leaving the family in dire financial straits. Shortly after his passing, however, Gala's mother set up home with a wealthy lawyer. This was considered a scandalous act according to the Russian Orthodox Church which forbade remarriage and barred her from attending all future services.
While Gala's domestic situation improved financially, the new family arrangement was not to the children's liking and the new home was filled with friction. Gala was the only one of the siblings to get along with their de-facto stepfather, although later in life she would claim that both he and her older brother sexually abused her. In fact, Gala did not get along with her brothers and sisters and, according to her biographer, Tim McGirk, "was ridiculed by her siblings because she was so clumsy in the many lessons of tennis, riding, ice-skating, ballet, and rowing" that their new domestic set-up gave them.
Gala received a good early education which included attending a finishing school for young ladies in St. Petersburg. However, her frail health prevented advanced study and in 1912 she developed tuberculous and was sent to the Clavadel Sanatorium in Switzerland to recuperate. It was there she met a fellow patient named Paul Éluard (then Paul-Eugène Grindel). The pair fell madly in love and she introduced the besotted Frenchman to the works of the great Russian authors Leo Tolstoy and Fyodor Dostoyevsky. It was in fact Éluard who gave Elena the nickname Gala and described her, as the budding poet he was, as "the woman whose gaze pierces walls". Éluard's love for Gala merely whetted his ambition to become a famous poet and she encouraged and inspired this fragile youth to pursue his dream. By April 1914, however, Gala and Paul were well enough to return to their respective homes in Moscow and Paris, and though they considered themselves betrothed, the young lovers were temporarily parted.
In 1916 Gala bid her family goodbye and moved to Paris where she lived with Éluard and his parents. World War I was raging and Éluard had already been drafted into the army as a medic and infantryman. Following a near fatal gas attack, however, he had spent most of 1915 in hospital suffering from a range of ailments, including bronchitis, cerebral anaemia, and even a chronic appendicitis. Éluard pined for Gala and was determined to marry her. His mother gradually warmed to Gala although his father was not so easily won over by this sophisticated young Russian. Éluard and Gala, who had by now convinced her mother's husband to cover her fees to study French at the Sorbonne, married while he was on leave from the army in February 1917. To everyone's dismay Éluard immediately announced his intention to go back to the front line just two days after the ceremony. A month later he was hospitalized once more, this time with incipient pleurisy. Good news soon followed, however, when Gala gave birth to their only child, Cécile, in May 1918.
Gala never fully bonded with her in-laws, and not at all with her daughter, who she left in the charge of her grandparents at any opportunity. Gala always knew she would never be a conventional wife and mother and told Éluard, "I'll never have the appearance of a housewife, I'll be a proper coquette (bright, perfumed and with manicured hands). I'll read a lot, a lot. I'll work in design or translation. I'll do everything but have the air of a woman who doesn't exert herself ".
After the war, Gala and Éluard struggled to make ends meet as he began his poetry career in earnest. Neither artist nor poet herself, Gala still followed Éluard as he joined the Dadaist and Surrealist movements. Included in this new circle of friends was the artist Max Ernst who met with the couple while vacationing at a Dadaist colony in 1922. Ernst became so taken with Gala that he left his wife and young son, moved in with the couple and their daughter in their French apartment when she became his muse and sexual partner. As theirs was an open marriage, Éluard joined in the tryst but eventually tired of their ménage à trois and was relieved when Ernst moved out of the apartment.
Gala's sway and influence over the men of the Surrealist circle was in fact so great that some started to perceive her as a threat. According to author Agnish Ray, the leader of the movement "[André] Breton himself is said to have seen [Gala] as a rival, resenting her and her relationship with the other artists of the collective ". Indeed, there was something about Gala that attracted the men in Éluard's circle including Ernst, Man Ray, and Giorgio de Chirico with whom she also had a brief affair and who, according to the art critic Raphael Minder, later "asked her to become his agent". While he never painted her, according to McGirk, de Chirico did, "give Gala two untitled canvases, which she valued among her favorites ". Pablo Picasso was also intrigued by Gala. McGirk wrote, "some say that Gala had an affair with Picasso, but there is no evidence to corroborate this. However, in a rare display of magnanimity, Picasso, who was as noted for his frugality as he was for his womanizing, once let Gala have her pick of any painting in his studio. Gala was canny enough to have understood Picasso's mean streak, and to the artist's great relief, she marched straight to the smallest canvas and said, 'This is the one I want.' They remained friends long after ".
The role of the artist's muse almost took on new meaning with Gala and Salvador Dalí. The pair first met in 1929, while Gala, then thirty-four years old, and ten years Dalí's senior, was vacationing with her husband and daughter at René Magritte's residence in Cadaqués, Spain. At first, she did not take to Dalí's strange ways and his nervous habit of breaking into long fits of laughter. However, the pair walked and spent time alone together and she discovered that his mannerisms stemmed more from social awkwardness than rudeness and both acknowledged their strong attraction. It is thought that Dalí's 1929 painting, The Accommodations of Desire (featuring seven enlarged shore pebbles), was directly inspired by the couple's first walk together.
Gala stayed on with Dalí in Spain while Éluard returned home with their daughter. While Éluard hoped this, like her previous relationship with Ernst, would be a passing phase, he soon realized it was something more lasting. The art historian Estrella de Diego (quoted by Minder) noted that Gala "found few allies among women" and that one, the American art collector Peggy Guggenheim, had dismissed her as no more than "a money-grabber". But if Gala was driven by money, Diego asked "why did she abandon the established Éluard and the glamour of Paris for Dalí, a young painter living in a village?". Indeed, Éluard had been left a significant inheritance by his father but Gala was, according to Miralles, "beginning to feel bored" by their relationship while at the same time being "genuinely struck by Dalí's talent".
Dalí had by now attracted a small following - especially considering his "automatic" collaboration with filmmaker Luis Buñuel on the scandalous short movie Un Chien Andalou (1929) - but he was yet to make any sort of meaningful commercial breakthrough. Miralles stressed the point that "One must not underestimate the sacrifices Gala made to be with Dalí. Despite her love of money, she left her wealthy family in Paris, swapping a luxury apartment for a shack on the beach. They had no running water, no electricity, no heat, and no stove. It was Gala's job to maintain Dalí's morale, to pose for him, to dress him, to soothe him and comfort him, and to barter for bruised fruit at the market, making their few pennies stretch".
Almost from the first moment they met, Dalí pursued Gala and she happily assumed the role of his muse and agent. As McGirk explains, "Gala threw herself into the promotion of Dalí. Through her writer friend, René Crevel, she arranged an introduction with a rich young art collector, the Prince de Faucigny-Lucinge " who became one of his early patrons and encouraged other young buyers to collect his work. In 1930, Dalí painted the first of hundreds of paintings and drawings featuring Gala. Before long, he even started signing works with the joint signature "Gala Salvador Dalí". Gala also knew how to encourage Dalí in his work and did not shy away from delivering harsh criticism when needed. As McGirk put it, "her criticism could be devastating, her praise lucid and from the heart ".
It was during this period that Gala and Dalí first made the acquaintance of the fashion designer Christian Dior. Gala was becoming instrumental in raising her husband's profile in Paris and between 1931 and 1933 she helped her husband exhibit in Pierre Colle's small gallery which was part owned by Dior. By now Gala had devoted herself completely to Dalí and his career. She divorced Éluard in 1932 and become Mrs. Gala Dalí in a civil ceremony in 1934. She also abandoned her daughter completely, leaving her in the sole care of Éluard. The newlyweds became co-dependents and she even allowed herself to be dressed by her husband. Gala also participated in his Surrealist performances including their "rebirth as a couple" from a giant egg. Not everyone was happy about this relationship, however. Dalí's father and sister disowned him and while he was reconciled with his father in later years, his sister never accepted their relationship.
Even though Gala and Dalí were inseparable, her libido was not fulfilled as Salvador did not take to the physical sexual act: "I tried sex once with a woman and it was Gala. It was overrated" he said later. Throughout their relationship she would have several extramarital relationships with younger men, often leaving her husband at home in Port Lligat while she sailed off in a boat to cavort with her lovers.
In 1934 Dalí's painted Portrait of Gala with Two Lamb Chops in Equilibrium Upon Her Shoulder in which his wife is shown against a surrealist landscape with her eyes closed and two lamb chops placed on her shoulders. This was one of the numerous portraits Dalí painted of Gala over his career though here Dalí's thinking is at its most oblique. McGirk's reading of the painting seems highly plausible, however, when he suggested it might have "represented his misplaced desire to cannibalise Gala "; that is, to be able to completely "consume" his wife. Certainly, Gala was exerting a hypnotic-like influence over her husband.
It was Gala who saw the financial opportunities in raising Dalí's profile overseas. When the couple arrived in America for the first time in 1934 the US press was immediately captivated by the flamboyant European couple who were cultivating the art of self-promotion by staging public appearances and causing a scandal by attending a masquerade ball in New York dressed as the Lindbergh baby and his kidnapper. (The Lindbergh baby kidnapping was a crime involving the kidnap and murder of Charles Lindbergh, Jr., the 20-month-old son of aviator Charles Lindbergh. It was an act for which Dalí later apologized.)
The Italian fashion designer and couturier (and great rival to Coco Chanel) Elsa Schiaparelli was one of the most prominent figures in fashion between the wars. She and Dalí were introduced by Man Ray around the mid-1930s in Paris and the pair started to collaborate, designing a perfume in the shape of a telephone dial, an actual telephone with a fake lobster as its receiver and the so-called Tears Dress based on Dalí's painting Three Young Surrealist Women Holding in Their Arms Skins of an Orchestra (1936). In 1937 Schiaparelli produced the Shoe Hat which was made famous by Gala. The inspiration for the hat was based on her 1933 photograph of Dalí balancing her slippers on his head and shoulder. The hat was captured for posterity in a photograph by Georges Saad (published in the October 1937 "L'Officiel de la Mode et de la Couture") and Gala herself was shown modeling the hat in a photograph taken by André Maillet the following year.
When the couple returned to America in August 1940 - this time staying for eight years - it was Gala who suggested they head for Hollywood where Dalí was sought out by many celebrities seeking portraits. His own celebrity would rise further by working with the likes of Walt Disney and Alfred Hitchcock towards the middle of the decade. However, the historian Dan Enos noted that for several months during 1940-41, the Dalís joined writers Henry Miller and Anais Nin at Hampton Manor in Caroline County in rural Virginia. They were guests of Caresse Crosby (she had patented the first modern bra, published first editions by T.S. Eliot and James Joyce, and was heir to a fortune left by a husband who killed himself and his mistress on the realization of their affair had been uncovered) who had dreams of establishing an artist's colony in the grounds of her estate. Enos writes that Dalí "did little to endear himself to his creative colleagues during his stay [and that] Fortunately, both Miller and Nin documented their disdain for Dalí, giving history voyeurs a glimpse into a very unusual scene from the annals of rural Virginia".
Dalí produced several paintings during this time but he also caused outrage locally by designing the sexually suggestive costumes for a Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo production of Bacchanale at a local Mosque, and through his design (thankfully never realized) for a statute of Captain Sally Louisa Tompkins, a Civil War nurse and the only female officer commissioned in the Confederate Army, who would be shown "slaying a dragon on a base supported by a 20-foot replica of Dalí's index finger [...] rendered in pink aluminum supplied by [the local] Reynolds Metals, the corporate logo of which was an image of St. George slaying a dragon". But as Nin recounted in her famous diary, it was not the artist so much as Gala that caused most discontent at the Manor. She wrote:
"[Nobody had] counted on Mrs. Dalí's talent for organization. Before anyone realized what was happening, the entire household was there for the sole purpose of making the Dalís happy. No one was allowed to set foot in the library because he wanted to work there. Would [artist John] Dudley be so kind and drive to Richmond to pick up something or other that Dalí needed for painting? Would she [Nin] mind translating an article for him? Was Caresse going to invite LIFE magazine for a visit? In other words, everyone performed the tasks assigned to them. All the while, Mrs. Dalí never raised her voice, never tried to seduce or flatter them: it was implicitly assumed that all were there to serve Dalí, the great, indisputable artist".
In 1947 Dior effectively revolutionized female fashion with the presentation of his "New Look" collection. Gala, who had by now fully earned her reputation as the most influential muse of the 20th century, seized on Dior's style as a way of further cultivating her public image. Indeed, she was instrumental in promoting the "New Look" through her many public appearances with her husband. On September 3, 1951, for instance, one of the most extravagant events of the twentieth century - the "Tiepolo Ball", or "The Ball of Century", as it became better known - took place at the Palazzo Labia, Venice. It was organized by the multimillionaire art collector Carlos de Beistegui who brought together the cream of high society and many great public figures. One of the events main attractions were "the giants" (figures on stilts) who welcomed visitors (following a grand parade) into the entrance hall. The giants' costumes were designed by Dior, Dalí and Pierre Cardin with Gala acting as the mediator between the three men.
Years later, having almost single-handedly engineered her husband's fame, Gala wanted to ensure that no one could gain access to their fortune. When the couple returned to Spain in 1958, they remarried in a religious ceremony because, having been married previously in a civil ceremony, the law dictated that if Gala were to divorce Dalí, or the painter were to die, his family would be legal heirs to his fortune.
It was around this time that Dalí found religion. As he started to explore religious and mystical themes in his work, he once more turned to Gala for inspiration using her image in a Madonna-like pose in several paintings. Yet, contrary to this image of virginal piety, Gala was finding it increasingly difficult to form any kind of friendships, especially with women. She was also losing huge sums of money in underground casinos in New York and kept an unremitting stream of young lovers. The Dalís' relationship grew more strained. Gala was eager for her husband to increase his output of work and when, in the 1980s a great volume of prints began to be available for sale, some suspected that Gala was signing his name to blank sheets of paper so that they could then be turned into prints without the artist's knowledge. As Miralles observes, to this day "dealers are often suspicious of any of the artist's works created from the mid sixties onward ".
Gala also grew tired of living with her husband's eccentricities who, to appease her, bought Gala a castle in Púbol, Spain. It was a space that was Gala's alone; even her husband was not allowed to visit unless he was formally invited. Citing the co-ordinator of the Gala-Salvador Dalí Foundation, Jordi Artigas i Cadena, Minder describes how Gala wanted the castle to be "a place of silence and nostalgia, designed for a lady looking for her lost Russian youth" and that Dalí "decorated the interior specifically for his wife, encrusting some ceilings with a 'G' coat of arms in her honor". Dalí himself wrote in his Unspeakable Confessions in 1973: "I gave her a mansion [...] where she would reign like an absolute sovereign, right up to the point that I could visit her only by hand-written invitation from her. I limited myself to the pleasure of decorating her ceilings so that when she raised her eyes, she would always find me in her sky".
Gala engaged in several trysts and enjoyed a long-term relationship with a young actor, Jeff Fenholt whom she first saw in a theater version of Jesus Christ Superstar in 1973. Gala lavished exorbitant amounts of money on Fenholt (a recovering alcoholic and drug addict, and born again Christian) flying him from America to Spain, buying him a million-dollar-plus home in Long Island, and giving him several of Dalí's paintings as gifts. According to McGirk, when Fenholt sold the paintings at an auction in New York it "was the first that Dalí had heard about Gala's presents to Fenholt and this provoked a terrible fight between the couple ". It was the only one of Gala's affairs that threatened Dalí who, perhaps because of his own advancing age (and remembering Gala was some ten years his senior) became even more dependent on her and could not stand the thought of losing her to a man with whom she might have even fallen in love.
Miralles contends that by now "Gala was almost certainly senile" and that she was "medicating Dalí with concoctions of unidentified drugs and may well have been the cause of a nervous disorder that brought on Parkinson's disease and definitively terminated his career". In February 1982 Gala was hospitalized but Salvador refused to believe that she was ill, even when she was brought home from hospital in a frail state. She died on June 10, 1982. After her funeral - Gala was buried in Púbol, in a crypt designed by Dalí to resemble a chess board - Dalí, according to Miralles, "locked himself away in his surrealist tower in Púbol, Spain, drew the curtains, and refused to eat or drink. He denied entry to his friends and aides and forbade anyone to speak Gala's name. In 1984, two years after her death, a fire broke out in his bedroom under suspicious circumstances, and Dalí was horribly burned. In the hospital, they discovered he was suffering from severe malnutrition, and his staff was accused of negligence. But the truth [...] is that 'after Gala's death, Dalí lost his will to paint or even live'".
The Legacy of Gala Dalí
Gala played a vital role in raising the profile of one of the most important movements of the twentieth century. Having gained access to the art world through her first husband, Paul Éluard, who she inspired and encouraged in his writing, she became the muse for other Surrealist group members, notably Max Ernst. However, it was when she began her relationship with Salvador Dalí that she made her greatest impact on the art world. She herself recognized this, once stating, "See, didn't I do well to spurn Ernst? He won't amount to much, while Dalí, after I got my hands on him - what a success! ".
To her husband she was critic, patron, dealer, promoter, and muse. Her influence over him can be seen in many of his paintings, produced consistently throughout his long career and she was instrumental in creating his legend, especially in America. As the critic Nina-Sophia Miralles put it: "If she was his muse, she was also his mother, a symbolic role that she made real by adding a sinister dimension: Gala abandoned her own child to take care of Dalí instead [...] it was Gala who peddled his canvases from gallery to gallery, who convinced a wealthy art patron to subsidize the lease on their shack, and who, in the wake of Europe's bankruptcy at the end of World War I, conjured up the scheme of defecting to wealthy America and selling his work there [...] Whatever people saw as her spitefulness, she never had any artistic pretensions of her own , and she never spoke about herself or her past, lest it should take away from the Dalí aura".
Influences and Connections
- Salvador Dalí
- Leo Tolstoy
- Fyodor Dostoyevsky
- Elsa Schiaparelli
- André Maillet
- Caresse Crosby
- René Crevel
- Christian Dior
- Pierre Cardin
- Julien Levy
- Prince de Faucigny-Lucinge
- Reynolds Morse
Useful Resources on Gala Dalí
- Behind Every Great Man: The Forgotten Women Behind the World's Famous and InfamousBy Marlene Wagman-Geller
- Wicked Lady: Salvador Dalí's MuseOur PickBy Tim McGirk