Did 1933 Dali Painting Anticipate Lady Gaga’s ‘Meat Dress’?
By Paul Chimera
Salvador Dali Historian
Did Dali think Gala was good enough to eat? Were her alluring beauty and inspiring presence as savory and seductively tempting as a sumptuously prepared meal? One would certainly think so, after contemplating “Portrait of Gala Balancing Two Lamb Chops on Her Shoulder,” painted when the artists was 29 years old.
Salvador Dali, for most of his adult life, had an almost impossible reverence for his Russian-born wife. Gala was the single most important thing to him, and the leading source of inspiration to his boundless creativity. To say he worshipped the woman – 10 years his senior – is an understatement.
I don’t know if anyone’s ever taken a count of the number of Dali paintings, Dali drawings, Dali watercolors and Dali prints that feature Gala, either as their primary subject or as an element in the composition. Of course, some of his most famous and important works – just a few examples include “Corpus Hypercbus,” “Galarina,” “The Madonna of Port Lligat,” and “The Virgin of Guadalupe” – saw Gala occupy exceptionally key roles in these masterpieces.
Only rarely did Dali choose to paint Gala in a manner that was patently amusing or even downright silly. Today’s work – “Portrait of Gala Balancing Two Lamb Chops on Her Shoulder” – tips us right off from its title that a bit of Daliesque hijinks is in store. Or at least something unconventional and, well, deliciously surrealistic.
The small canvas, in the collection of the Teatro-Museo Dali (Dali Theatre-Museum) in Figueres, Spain, features a lovely, dreamy portrait of a sleeping Gala (or perhaps of her just relaxing under the sun at Port Lligat), with background scenery that has been photographically documented as a real view near the couple’s villa on the Costa Brava.
But what do we find resting on Gala’s right shoulder but a pair of raw lamb chops! Is this to suggest something prurient? Even cannibalistic? Or was it intended as a milder metaphor? Dali spiced the matter up one time with a charming explanation, when asked about it: “I love my wife and I love chops. Why not paint them together?”
You’ve gotta love Dalinian logic!
In any case, the presence of the shoulder meat (did this anticipate Lady Gaga’s meat dress many decades later?) lends undeniable humor to the painting, and Dali’s sense of humor was never to be denied. He could be quite fun-loving – at the easel as well as away from it.
One of the truly outlandish examples of this taste for humor, again relating directly to Gala, was Dali’s “Portrait of Gala with Airplane Nose,” which he painted a year later. And which is privately owned, after having once been in the collection of Gala’s first husband, the poet Paul Eluard. And, yes, that’s a lobster on her head.