René and Georgette Magritte: A Love Story
You’ve heard of René Magritte—the Surrealist icon behind the famous pipe and bowler hat. But who was the muse who inspired much of his oeuvre?...
Natalia Iacobelli 29 May 2023
min Read11 May 2023
Today, we present the story of Salvador Dalí and Gala – his wife, without whom Dalí would have never become an icon of modern art.
Gala’s real name was Helena Ivanovna Diakonova. She was 10 years older than Dalí and, when they met in 1929, she was married to the poet Paul Éluard and mother to a little girl. She also had a lover, Max Ernst, who painted her in a number of portraits.
It was love at first sight. In his Secret Life, Dalí wrote:
She was destined to be my Gradiva, the one who moves forward, my victory, my wife.
The name Gradiva comes from the title of a novel by W. Jensen, the main character of which was Sigmund Freud. Gradiva was the book’s heroine and it was her who brought psychological healing to the main character.
She immediately became his muse. 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.
In the early 1930s, Dalí started to sign his paintings with his and her name as “it is mostly with your blood, Gala, that I paint my pictures”. Gala acted as his agent, very aggressively fighting for his rights with gallery owners and buyers. She was also using tarot cards to influence Dalí’s career decisions.
According to most accounts, Gala had a strong sex drive and, throughout her life, had numerous extramarital affairs (among them with her former husband Paul Éluard), which Dalí encouraged, since he was a practitioner of candaulism. Also, Salvador Dalí claims to be a virgin and completely impotent as he was afraid of women’s anatomy and Gala publicly assumes her affairs with other men. Still, it seems that their relationship was quite harmonic and lucrative for both sides. He wrote:
I would polish Gala to make her shine, make her the happiest possible, caring for her more than myself, because without her, it would all end.
But nothing lasts forever. At the end of the 1960s, their relationship started to fade away, and for the rest of their lives, it was just smoldering pieces of their bygone passion.
In 1968, the painter bought Gala a castle in Púbol, Girona, and it was agreed that the painter could not go there without her prior permission. Gala spent much of her time there in the company of young men, for whom she spent a fortune. In his turn, Dalí saved himself for the company of attractive young ladies, although he didn’t want anything from them but their beauty. It was said that they held weekly orgies, though, by all accounts, the artist himself didn’t participate except to watch.
In 1980, at the age of 76, Dalí was forced to retire due to palsy. The motor disorder left him unable to hold a brush, and as his condition worsened, he became less tolerant of Gala’s continued affairs. Gala was also using income from Dalí’s art to lavish money and gifts on her lovers, who were mostly young male artists. One day, the artist had enough. He beat Gala so badly, he broke two of her ribs. To calm him down, Gala gave him large doses of Valium and other sedatives, which made him lethargic. She then allegedly gave him “unknown quantities of one or more types of amphetamine,” which caused “irreversible neural damage.”
Gala Dalí died in Port Lligat, Spain, on June 10, 1982, following a severe case of the flu. She was buried in Púbol, Spain, on the grounds of a castle that was a gift from her husband. At the time of her death, she was involved in an affair with a 22-year-old Jesus Christ Superstar actor named Jeff Fenholt for whom she left Dalí. But when Gala died, Dalí’s life became dull. He stopped eating and scratched his face. He was constantly shouting and crying. He outlived his wife by seven years.
They lived together for 53 years.
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