By Paul Chimera
Salvador Dali Historian
It’s Gala’s turn.
At least that’s how most are viewing the newly opened Gala Salvador Dali exhibition at the National Art Museum of Catalonia in Barcelona, which runs through the rest of the summer and into the fall until the 14th of October. After all, the show – featuring upwards of 300 paintings and a spate of related memorabilia, including letters, photos, apparel, and other “Galinian” artifacts and ephemera – is all about Elena Diakonova, better known as Gala.
She was the power behind the throne. A Russian muse who influenced several early 20th century artists, most especially, of course, Salvador Dali.
So it seems fitting that, 36 years after Gala’s death, the world is drawn to the first-ever exhibition dedicated entirely to her influence and importance as a powerful force in the direction of some of the unique creative minds of the last century.
But Gala’s turn to shine actually occurred for some 50 years – throughout the long arc of Salvador Dali’s prodigious and prolific career. It’s an extraordinary phenomenon, in a sense: Gala appeared in more than 80 major works by the Master. Sometimes as the singular subject of the canvas, sometimes as a small detail, and sometimes twice in the same painting.
Of the multitude of Dali’s depictions of his wife, here are a few that are especially notable . . .
The first appearance of Gala in a Dali painting, so far as I’m aware, was titled, appropriately enough, First Portrait of Gala (1931), which actually was a photocollage.
Then, ironically, a year later Dali painted Automatic Beginning of a Portrait of Gala – albeit the highly realistic portrait went unfinished.
Speaking of realism, Dali executed a near-photographic likeness of his wife in an otherwise more ethereal masterpiece when, in 1952, the awe-inspiring Nuclear-Mystical masterwork, Assumpta Corpuscularia Lapislazulina emerged from his easel.
One of Dali’s smallest paintings, if not the smallest, is his Portrait of Gala of 1933, in the Dali Museum in Florida. It may be diminutive in size, but its impact on museum visitors is huge, due to the wonderful detail Dali achieved on such a tiny panel.
If ever there were an unusual pairing of Gala’s portrait and something else, it would be hard to top his Portrait of Gala with Two Lamb Chops Balanced on her Shoulder (1933). “I love my wife,” Dali reasoned, “and I love chops. Why not paint them together?” Then again, maybe this one tops it: Portrait of Gala with a Lobster (Portrait of Gala with Aeroplane Nose), 1934.
Of the few paintings Dali did that included not one but two portraits of his wife, one of the most realistic is The Angelus of Gala (1935), correlating the double portrait with Dali’s obsession over Millet’s The Angelus, a version of which appears as a framed picture on the wall. The other is The Battle of Tetuan, in which we see Gala both at top center and turbaned on a horse next to Dali in the middle foreground.
Perhaps the piece d’ resistance when it comes to the portraits Dali painted of Gala is Galarina of 1944-’45, his Mona Lisa of the modern era.
And one of his highest priced works at auction showed Gala nude from behind in My Wife, Nude, Contemplating her own Flesh Becoming Stairs, Three Vertebra of a Column, Sky and Architecture (1945).
Gala appeared straight out of a Murillo painting in Discovery of America by Christopher Columbus (1959); sullen looking in Hallucinogenic Toreador (1970) (she didn’t care for the bullfights); flirty and barefoot in the stereoscopic work, Gala’s Foot (1974); unabashedly and classically naked in Leda Atomica (1949); spiritually revered in The Madonna of Port Lligat (1950); atomically composed in Galatea of the Spheres; reflected in a mirror in Dali from the Back Painting Gala from the Back Eternalized by Six Virtual Corneas Provisionally Reflected in Six Real Mirrors (1973); and Raphalesque in The Virgin of Guadalupe (1958).
I know of no other artist who made the love of his life more ubiquitous in his work than how Salvador Dali immortalized Gala, now the subject of her own internationally important exhibition.
(Images used under Fair Use provisions for journalistic purposes only)