Gala Dalí

Gala Dalí (7 September, 189410 June, 1982), usually known simply as Gala, was the wife of first Paul Éluard, then Salvador Dalí, and an inspiration for them and many other writers and artists.

Early years

Gala was born Elena Ivanovna Diakonova in Kazan, Tatarstan, Russia, to a family of intellectuals. Among her childhood friends was the poet Marina Tsvetaeva. As a young woman, living in Moscow, she graduated as a schoolteacher in 1915.

Marriage to Éluard

In 1913 she was sent to a sanatorium in Clavadel, Switzerland for the treatment of tuberculosis. She met Paul Éluard while in Switzerland and fell in love with him. In 1916, during WWI she travelled from Russia to Paris to reunite herself with him; they were married one year later. Their daughter, Cécile, was born in 1918. Gala detested being a mother, mistreating and ignoring her child all of her life.

With Éluard, Gala became involved in the Surrealist movement. Gala was an inspiration for many artists including Éluard, Louis Aragon, Max Ernst and André Breton. Breton, the "ideologue of surrealisme" later despised her, claiming she was a destructive influence on the artists she befriended. With Max Ernst, she and Éluard - who took Ernst under his wing and promoted his career - spent three years in a fascinating if bizarre ménage à trois, from 1924-27.

In early August 1929, Éluard and Gala with some friends visited a young Surrealist painter in Spain, the emerging Salvador Dalí. An affair quickly developed between Gala and Dalí, who was about 10 years younger than Gala. Nevertheless, even after the breakup of their marriage, Éluard and Gala continued to be close.

Marriage to Dalí

After living together since 1929, Dalí and Gala married in a civil ceremony in 1934, and remarried in a Catholic ceremony in 1958 in Montrejic. They needed to receive a special dispensation by the Pope because Gala had been previously married to Éluard. Dalí, because of his phobia of female genitalia was said to be a virgin when they met at Costa Brava, Spain in 1929. Around that time she was found to have uterine fibroids for which she underwent a hysterectomy in 1936.

She was a muse for Dalí, who said that she was the one who saved him from madness and an early death. In the early 1930s, Dalí started to sign his paintings with his and her name as "(i)t is mostly with your blood, Gala, that I paint my pictures" Behind his artistic genius Dalí was a troubled, insecure, and disorganised man, and it was Gala who acted as his ruthless agent, the interface between the genius and the real world. In doing so she hurt many sensitivities, and was accused of being materialistic and a megaera.

Before Dalí met Gala, the Spanish poet Federico García Lorca had been strongly infatuated with Dalí, with whom he twice tried physical intimacy. However, their friendship ended when Dalí and filmmaker Luis Buñuel released the surrealist film Un Chien Andalou (1929), which Lorca interpreted as a personal attack on him. Dalí recognized that his future as an artist would be greatly enhanced if he were married to a woman such as Gala who could promote him and manage his business affairs.

Dalí's attachment to Gala was sexually poor and she, according to the accounts, had an above average sexual urge and throughout her life had numerous extramarital affairs (among them with her former husband Paul Éluard), to which Dalí did not object, but encouraged, since he was a practitioner of candaulism. She had a fondness for young artists, and in her old age she often gave expensive gifts to those who associated with her.

In her late seventies, Gala developed a passion for Jeff Fenholt whom she invited to Castle Pubol. She lavished him with gifts including Dalí's paintings and a million dollar home on Long Island. Fenholt, who later became a televangelist, denied that he ever had a sexual relationship with Gala.

Gala died in Port Lligat in the early morning of 10 June 1982 and was buried in the Castle of Púbol in Girona which Dalí had bought for her.

Gala as model

Gala is a frequent model in Dalí's work, often in religious roles such as the Blessed Virgin Mary in the painting The Madonna of Port Lligat. Dalí's numerous paintings of her show his great love for her, and some are perhaps the most affectionate and sensual depictions of a middle-aged woman in Western art. Among the paintings she served as a model for are: Imperial Monument to the Child-Woman, Gala; Memory of the Child-Woman; The Angelus of Gala; Gala and "The Angelus" of Millet before the Imminent Arrival of the Conical Anamorphoses; William Tell and Gradiva; The Old Age of William Tell; The Discovery of America by Christopher Columbus; The Ecumenical Council; Corpus Hypercubus; and more.

In Portrait of Galerina (1940-45) Gala's face is shown severe and confrontational, her bared breast meant to depict bread, and the snake on the arm a gift of Dalí's sponsor Edward James.


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