Surrealism is by its definition oblique, peculiar and open to interpretation. One of the stars of this movement Salvador Dali’s muse, wife and object of fascination Gala, was a controversial yet secretive enigma.
Born Elena Ivanovna Diakanova in 1894, in Kazan, Russia. Her family were comfortable until her father disappeared when Elena was ten. Her mother was a resourceful woman and took up with a wealthy lawyer so that her family would be taken care of. She accrued the nickname Gala some years later. Her first marriage was to poet Paul Eluard. They had a daughter Cecile, even though Gala was a far from maternal. Preferring to take a menagerie of lovers; even allowing Eluard to watch.
Gala and Salvador’s marriage was far from typical, Dali admired her ‘absolute lack of pity’ and her cruelty. Safe to say that Dali was probably a masochist; Gala’s sadism would have excited him. When Dali first met Gala he was a virgin and borderline terrified of intercourse, so maybe for someone who was averse to full sex and had a taste for being tormented. Gala would be an ideal mate. Gala definitely enjoyed toying with her husband (by taking younger lovers and only allowed her husband to visit her by written invitation). When Dali and Gala were not teasing and torturing each other, artist and muse actually conspired to make art, Gala posed for her husband a dozen times. Famous examples include ‘ The Madonna of Port Lligat’ and ‘Galatea’. More than just his wife and inspiration, Gala tripled as his manager. If anyone wanted Dali’s art, they had to pay colossal prices; of which she got a generous slice for herself.
In 1980, it was rumoured that Gala was even poisoning Dali with a variety of sedatives. While there is no proof that this took place, it further adds to the image of Gala as a heartless harridan. Despite the rumoured attempted murder, Dali actually outlived his muse by seven years. Gala died on 10th June 1982, she was buried in her favourite Christian Dior dress. As per her order she was buried alone.
There have been many names attributed to Gala; Harpy, Tiger, Matyr, Banker, The Tower (due to her secretive nature) and Witch. She could not be described as a likeable character nor an easy person to deal with. Non the less, she was a fascinating woman who inspired one of the 20th century’s most famed artist. As a friend of Dali once described their partnership ” Gala is a sterile woman of salt who fertilises and sweetens the art of Dali”