Gala Dalí

Summary

Gala Éluard Dalí († June 10, 1982 in Portlligat, Spain) was a well-known muse of the 20th century. She inspired numerous artists – especially of surrealism. Among them are her two husbands, the poet Paul Éluard and the painter and sculptor Salvador Dalí, and the painter Max Ernst, with whom she had a love affair. In their almost fifty-year marriage, she made Dalí the most financially successful artist of his generation.

Her year of birth is variously given in biographies as 1893, although 1894 is considered the most likely. The reason for this is that Gala always concealed her origin and childhood, as well as her age in later years. “The personal myth she cultivated herself, never expressed herself extensively and explicitly about her life Gala did not tell about herself, but staged herself and let herself be staged.”

Gala”s Russian birth name was Yelena Dmitriyevna Dyakonova (Russian Елена Дмитриевна Дьяконова).

The origin of her pseudonym Gala is not conclusively clear. It is probably a diminutive of Galina, a common given name in Ukraine, but more commonly used in the cose form as Galya. The name Galina was probably given to her by her mother, while her father pleaded for the given name Yelena and managed to get it at least in the official documents. Other versions say that it was a fantasy name that she gave herself in 1912 or that was given to her by her later husband Paul Éluard.

Childhood and youth

Gala, as she called herself exclusively, grew up with her mother Antonina Djakonowa, who was married in second marriage to the wealthy lawyer Dimitri Iljitsch Gomberg. According to Gala”s account, her biological father, Ivan Dyakonov, had died in Siberia in 1905 as an impoverished gold miner. In fact, he was an official of the Ministry of Agriculture who died in Kazan when Gala was ten years old. Besides her, there were two older brothers, Nikolai and Vadim, and a younger sister, Lidiya. Financially secure, thanks to the good relations that her stepfather maintained with both revolutionary circles and the nobility, she spent a well-off childhood in Moscow. “Gala”s stepfather, as a liberal, gave the Dyakonov children not only progressive ideas, but also a sense of culture: his friends are lawyers like him, professors, writers, studied people who can exchange views on history and literature.” And he provided them with a comprehensive education. Gala attended the private girls” gymnasium Bryukhanyanko; university studies, on the other hand, were out of the question for women in tsarist Russia, despite good grades at school. Usually, the only way for women of her age and background to break away from the family was through a so-called marriage of status. Gala, however, repeatedly resisted her parents” matchmaking attempts and categorically rejected the suitors.

In 1912, Gala was sent to Davos, Switzerland, an exclusive climatic health resort, to recuperate at the Clavadel Lung Sanatorium. She had been diagnosed with tuberculosis at a young age, and after various stays in Moscow sanatoriums, doctors advised a change of climate. For Gala, this stay at a health resort in Switzerland offered a welcome opportunity to leave Moscow, which she saw as backward. A few days before her, seventeen-year-old Eugène-Émile-Paul Grindel, alias Paul Éluard, from Paris, had arrived there. Éluard, also certified lung-sick, was in turn fleeing a future as a businessman, a profession his father had intended for him.

Marriage with Paul Éluard

Éluard became aware of Gala at an early age in Clavadel. In her biographies, Gala is described as tall and very slender, yet not of classical but of unusual beauty: “her dark look and Russian accent are exotic and fascinating.” The interest was mutual, though on her part less rooted in appearances. Éluard, as a seventeen-year-old, was also still very childlike physically and inexperienced in dealing with women, but he captivated her with his literary qualities: “For her, poetic talent is a gift from heaven, which she admires even more than beauty.” And his tales – Gala spoke fluent French, which she had learned from her Swiss nanny – of Paris and the Parisian avant-garde fascinated her. He read his poems to her, and Gala “assured him in writing, “You will be a very great poet one day.”” Éluard”s first poems Premiers poèmes were published as early as 1913, financed by Éluard”s mother against his father”s opposition. Although she was also skeptical of her son”s poetry, she spoiled her only child beyond measure.

In 1914, Gala wrote the preface to his subsequent collection of poems Dialogues des Inutiles (Eng: Dialogues of the Useless). The fourteen minimal dialogues had been written jointly by the two, who were by then secretly engaged.

That same year, Éluard left Davos and was drafted into military service before the end of December. Gala, meanwhile, returned to Russia. The military alliance between France and Russia allowed for correspondence, but the delivery of letters dragged on for months. As a hospital aide, Éluard did not come under fire, but he was stationed on the Somme, a major theater of the First World War. Therefore, Gala was constantly worried about him. In August 1916, the now adult traveled to his family in Paris, but her disappointment was great, for the city was scarred by war and little resembled Éluard”s tales. The cityscape was dominated by empty stores, war invalids and single women. In addition, she had to live for the time being with his parents, who rejected a Russian woman as a daughter-in-law. The petty-bourgeois conditions in which Éluard”s mother reigned as the undisputed head of the family depressed her. Gala had left her parental home to lead a self-determined life and now had to put up with Jeanne-Marie Grindel”s constant interference. Éluard volunteered for the infantry in November 1916, against her will and despite his continued fragile health. “Perhaps it has escaped you, but I have done much for you and still do. All my life, all my soul, all my blood I have consecrated to You. Not all women would do this, if you leave, this is as if you reject me, yes, spurn my life,” she wrote him. To pass the time, she translated Russian books into French and spent her days mainly reading instead of doing imposed chores. According to her letters to Éluard, she preferred the authors Dostoevsky and Gustave Kahn, as well as the poet Guillaume Apollinaire, whose poems Éluard had already read to her in Davos.Her image of Éluard, whom she had glorified as a rebel and poet in Davos, changed, because Éluard, who due to his asthma continued to do most of his service behind the front, did not return to Paris and in his letters avoided conflicts with his family. However, Gala ruled out dissolving the union and thus returning to Russia. On February 21, 1917, while on leave from the front, they were married in Paris, and only her wedding dress set the nuptials apart from the numerous wartime weddings. “But her extravagant green wedding dress caused all the stir among the well-behaved bourgeois and gave the first inkling of Gala”s future career not as a housewife and mother, but as an enfant terrible of Surrealist circles.” On May 10, 1918, their daughter Cécile was born, whom Gala immediately placed in the care of her parents-in-law. Her relationship with her child remained cool throughout her life, and despite Éluard”s admonitions, Gala was unable or even unwilling to fulfill her role as mother.

After the end of the war, they moved into their own apartment in Paris. In March 1919, through the mediation of Jean Paulhans, Éluard had joined forces with the Dadaists around André Breton, Philippe Soupault and Louis Aragon. For Gala, this was an opportunity to stage herself in this circle of artists with elaborate wardrobes, which did not win over all of Éluard”s friends, however, but rather angered them. André Thirion, who belonged to the circle around Breton, judged “Even better than Elsa Triolet, Gala knew what she wanted: Pleasures of the heart and senses, money, and the company of a genius. She will have been the reincarnation of a Bettina von Arnim, only with more sense for the practical. She was not interested in politics or philosophy, judged people by what they accomplished in the real world, and dismissed those who were mediocre.” Her unpredictable “star performances” were a thorn in Breton”s side. Nevertheless, he cast her in 1920 in a stage play co-directed with Soupault. In it, she confidently declaimed Dadaist texts. In a dedication dated December 14, 1923, he wrote: “For Gala, on whose breasts melts the hail of a certain dream of damnation” – an ironic allusion to Éluard”s adoration of his wife. Indeed, Éluard openly extolled Gala”s erotic virtues in the presence of his friends and engaged in a veritable cult of her. Together, they formed a publicized collaboration from which both derived their benefits. Gala lived out her eccentricity and thus brought Éluard attention. Her special status is also evident in the fact that she is often the only woman to be seen in photographs of Breton”s group of artists. “She exploited the fascination of the feminine myth by allowing herself to be celebrated extensively by the men who gave her the utmost in devotion.”

In November 1921, the Éluard couple visited the aspiring painter Max Ernst and his then-wife Luise Straus in Cologne. Together with Gala, they selected eleven of Ernst”s collages to illustrate Éluard”s next book of poetry. Éluard and Ernst quickly became friends. “I wonder if the two women can keep up with this male friendship, when the two artists fraternized on the spot and fell straight into each other”s arms. A little confused and uncertain, they stand by.” But Ernst, who had long been attracted to Gala, painted her in 1921 with her breast exposed and ambiguously titled the picture Unruhe meine Schwester.

A year later, Ernst made a return visit to the Éluards in Saint-Brice-sous-Forêt, a suburb of Paris. During this time, Gala and Ernst became closer, which Éluard initially tolerated. Together they moved into a house in Eaubonne, a small town in the canton of Montmorency, which Ernst painted with surreal frescoes. On the door to Gala and Éluard”s bedroom, he painted Gala dressed only in tight pants, life-size. But this openly lived triangular relationship, which at the same time meant the end of Ernst”s marriage, increasingly became a burden for all involved. Nevertheless, the affair did not end until 1924. Ernst immortalized Gala in further paintings, the group portrait The Rendezvous of Friends from 1922 (in which she is again depicted as the only woman) and as The Beautiful Gardener in a nude portrait from 1924. Gala returned to Éluard. The close friendship between Ernst and Éluard continued until 1927.

While Éluard wrote his most important works during this phase of strengthening Surrealism and continued to adore Gala unconditionally, she increasingly began to doubt her marriage. Moreover, her position in the Parisian avant-garde had suffered from the episode with Ernst. In 1927, Éluard”s father died, leaving her a large fortune, but even the luxurious life Éluard willingly financed for her with it could not permanently save her marriage. “Gala inevitably had to separate from Éluard as soon as she had outgrown the role of the great poet”s little wife, who needed her to poetically sketch the archetype of his first love over and over again.” From November 1927 to March 1929, Éluard cured the effects of a pneumothorax in Arosa. Meanwhile, Gala traveled through Europe and visited Russia for the last time. She had changing lovers accompany her on her travels, and Éluard also had several affairs in Arosa, as his letters to Gala openly revealed. “If I let her go away to join you, how long would I be able to hold you. Soon after, I would be alone again, have even more time to be bored and feel terribly abandoned. You have B. or others to come, but I don”t want to grow bitter in loneliness.”

Marriage with Salvador Dalí

In 1929, Gala traveled with Éluard and René Magritte to visit the young painter Salvador Dalí in Cadaqués. Éluard had become acquainted with his paintings in Paris and was interested in an artistic collaboration. Dalí immediately fell in love with Gala, who was ten years his senior, and she too became increasingly interested in the eccentric loner. “This couple embodied for me, the little provincial, the spirit of Paris. and Gala almost put me in a trance with her suitcases after the latest fashion, which, taken apart, turned into wardrobes overflowing with clothes and fine linen.”

Éluard also approved of this affair – convinced that it would not last long – and traveled back to Paris without Gala. His collection of poems L”amour la Poésie (Engl. Poetry the Poetic), published the same year, is dedicated to her. The affair continued, however. With countless letters he tried to persuade her to return, but Gala stayed with Dalí. In the spring of 1930, she returned to Paris at Dalí”s side and moved with him into the apartment Éluard had furnished for himself and Gala. Gala had long since decided on a future with Dalí, which Éluard never accepted as final. He continued to write her love letters until his death.

While the poet Éluard always sought solitude for his work, the painter Dalí now demanded Gala”s constant presence. “Gala became the salt of my life, the hardening bath of my personality, my beacon, my double – ME. Henceforth, Dalí and Gala were linked for all eternity.” In Paris, they shunned bohemia and did not attend any parties. Dalí was anxious in Paris and missed his homeland, but a return to Spain was out of the question for the time being due to lack of money. While Dalí painted, Gala tried to sell his paintings.

In 1932 she divorced Éluard. Custody of Cécile was awarded to Éluard by mutual agreement. Gala and Dalí married in October 1934 at the Spanish consulate in Paris. While Dalí showed no interest in business matters, Gala gradually succeeded in marketing him and his art. Breton”s biting 1942 anagram “Avida Dollars” (Eng: Hungry for Dollars) on Salvador Dalí”s name testifies to their business acumen. With the first sales proceeds, they expanded their house in Portlligat, a compound of several former fishermen”s cottages in a secluded bay near Dalí”s hometown, which they had bought in 1930. From then on, they left Portlligat only to patronize his paintings and for the winter months, which they spent in Paris. The residence was rededicated as the Casa-Museu Salvador Dalí after Dalí”s death.

Dalí was expelled from the circle of Parisian Surrealists in 1934 because, in Breton”s words, he was guilty of “repeated acts of anti-revolution with a tendency to glorify fascism à la Hitler.” Whether Dalí, who described himself as apolitical, actually sympathized with Hitler or only wanted to provoke is questionable. Instead of moving in the Surrealist circle, they now moved among financially strong art lovers and gallery owners. But unlike in her marriage to Éluard, Gala left the limelight to Dalí. If she staged herself in pompous getups, it was for him, and to pose for his paintings. In public, she contented herself with a simple Chanel costume and hair bow, which made her look like his governess next to the flashily dressed Dalí. In her private life, Gala had energetically taken the lead. Her dominance went unchallenged by Dalí. In his autobiography The Secret Life of Salvador Dalí, published in 1942, he glorified Gala”s role in his life. “Instead of making me hard, as life had actually planned, Gala managed, with the petrifying saliva of her fanatical self-sacrifice, to build me a snail shell that protected the delicate nakedness of the reclusive Bernhard I was

With the invasion of the German troops in Paris, Dalí and Gala decided to leave Europe. They embarked for New York in August 1940, where Dalí had already enjoyed minor success since 1934. In 1941, the Museum of Modern Art held a retrospective of his work, and Gala was by then selling his artworks at astronomical prices. They now no longer had a permanent residence, but lived in luxurious hotel suites and ate in the most expensive restaurants. Dalí”s dependence on Gala grew even greater as he persistently refused to learn English and she had to interpret for him. Despite her lavish lifestyle, Gala amassed a large fortune during her self-imposed exile. She regularly sent parcels to Paris, occupied by German troops, where Éluard and daughter Cécile lived in great need. In 1945 her mother died in Leningrad, but she and Dalí did not return to Europe until July 1948. Her first route, however, took Gala, who had by then become a grandmother, not to her family but to Dalí”s family in Cadaqués and on to their house in neighboring Portlligat.

The former fishermen”s hut in Portlligat was expanded in the following years under Gala”s direction, but it still offered hardly any comfort. The rooms were small, dark and difficult to heat. They now spent the winter months alternately in Paris and New York. Most of the year, however, they spent in seclusion in their cove, which Dalí preferred to all other places. In the meantime, the “Dalí Company” had developed into a multi-million dollar commercial enterprise, the value of which was estimated at ten million dollars in 1970. Dalí earned vast sums from book illustrations, advertising and merchandising products alone. Gala managed the assets and negotiated more and more contracts. Her fear of poverty and illness increasingly developed into an obsession. On November 18, 1952, Éluard died, which Gala did not mourn for long, because nothing stood in the way of a church wedding between the devout Gala and Dalí. They were quietly married in a small church in the province of Girona on August 8, 1958.

Until the end of the 1950s, only a few people were allowed a glimpse into her private life. Gala ran the household and managed business affairs almost alone. It was only when she was over sixty that she allowed outside help and hired secretaries, advisors and accountants, over whom she kept a suspicious watch. Her seclusion in Portlligat was then over, for they were followed by a troop of admirers whom Dalí received regularly from then on. Even more than her dwindling energy, she suffered from the outwardly visible signs of aging, which she tried to combat with rejuvenating treatments at the Swiss clinic La Prairie. She continued to pose for Dalí, but out of vanity only allowed herself to be photographed from a distance. For Dalí, she remained his center of life, to which he added another highlight in 1961 in the musical Gala.

In 1965, Dalí met the young Amanda Lear in Paris, whose beauty he deeply admired, and whom he portrayed in the painting Saint George and the Girl in 1974. Gala”s initial jealousy quickly changed to acceptance of Dalí”s new muse, who also accompanied him to social appearances for over ten years. Gala had long since become unable to cope with his frequent ventures and parties, and now willingly allowed Lear to stand in for her. She herself withdrew completely from the public eye, and even in Portlligat she was rarely present. As a retreat, Dalí bought her a castle in Púbol, 80 kilometers from Cadaqués, in 1968. Gala furnished it according to her own ideas and only had Dalí do some painting. With sparse furnishings and torch lighting, she created a “ghost castle” for herself, which Dalí was also only allowed to enter upon written invitation. She continued to receive regular reports from him, but increasingly she lacked the strength to manage his affairs. Lear did not fulfill the deputy role assigned to her by Gala and, from 1976, devoted herself to her music career. Dalí painted only rarely and no longer fulfilled his contracts. He was plagued by insomnia and loneliness, his fame and sources of money dried up. Gala”s wish for a quiet retirement was not fulfilled, as Dalí fell seriously ill in 1975. She returned to him and nursed him until she herself became a nursing case after several falls. She died – already bedridden for days – on the afternoon of June 10, 1982, next to the sleeping Dalí in Portlligat. Dalí fulfilled her wish to be buried in Púbol and secretly transferred the body to her castle. Gala was buried in the vault the day after her death.

Gala had appointed Dalí as sole heir. Cécile Éluard contested the will and received part of the inheritance as compensation. After Gala”s death in 1982, Salvador Dalí set up a foundation based in Figueres to preserve the continuity of his work. He gave it the name Foundation Gala-Salvador Dalí. Gala”s Castell in Púbol and Gala and Dalí”s residence in Portlligat can be visited as museums in their original state.

The selection listed here is limited to literature demonstrably dedicated to her or performing art depicting her. In the more than fifty years of their relationship, Dalí immortalized her in numerous paintings and sculptures. The above-mentioned are among his better-known works.

Literature

Éluard”s daughter Cécile has posthumously published his love letters to Gala from the years 1924-1948 (see Literature). Éluard had destroyed Gala”s reply letters shortly before his death. His letters were part of Gala”s inheritance.

The autobiography was extensively illustrated by Dalí. It contains 89 photographs of life and work, as well as 130 drawings. The dedication reads “For Gala-Gradiva-The Forward.” From 1961 to 1963, he produced a new edition of The Secret Life of Salvador Dali. Ballet de Gala.

Music

Sources

  1. Gala Éluard Dalí
  2. Gala Dalí
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