Dali Portrait of Gala Completely Devoid of ‘Shenanigans’
By Paul Chimera
Salvador Dali Historian
Salvador Dali’s unpredictability was an undeniable part of his appeal.
What would the “divine Dali” do next, we often wondered? What astonishment would emerge from his easel? What controversial new work was going to make worldwide headlines tomorrow? How would he shock us today?
So it must have come as a surprise to much of the art world when the splendid “Gala Nude, Seen From Behind” emerged from the studio of the eccentric, surrealist master and “clown prince of art” in 1960. This superb painting is possibly the single most straight-forward work of Dali’s career. Not a flicker of funny business here. Not a shard of shenanigans. Not a sliver of Surrealism.
Instead, the then-56-year-old Dali gave us a remarkable portrait of his wife Gala – one that demonstrates his astounding technical skill. From his subject’s detailed coiffure to the tactile quality of her skin to the exactitude of the sheeting, with its realistic folds and shadows, this is without doubt one of the most striking portraits by any artist of the 20th century.
It’s further evidence that Salvador Dali was a brilliant draftsman/technician while advancing some of the most mind-boggling and innovative ideas the art world had ever seen.
So what was the idea behind Gala’s pose in this work, which is owned by the Teatro-Museo Dali in Figheres, Spain? She seems clearly to have her gaze purposely fixed on…something. Something unseen. Something out of our view. Something invisible, yet clearly commanding her attention.
Alas, while the title is generally noted as “Gala Nude, Seen From Behind,” the Fundacio Gala-Salvador Dali in Figueres, Spain, proffers a far more intriguing and perhaps more fitting title: “Gala From Behind, Looking in an Invisible Mirror.”
It’s certainly more fitting from the point of view of how Dali titled so many of his works – in a manner that often left us nonplussed. The “Invisible Mirror” title certainly changes things up some!
And there’s that unpredictability thing again. Is it a mirror Gala is looking up at, which simply is out of view to us? Was there ever a mirror in the first place?
In any case, it appears to account for the fixed gaze Gala adopted here, almost as if she was anticipating something that’s about to command her attention, as she posed for her artist husband.
How interesting that most of the early portraits Salvador Dali painted of his sister, Ana Maria, were rear views – and in this iconic portrait of Gala, Dali again paints his subject from behind.
One thing is certain. When people not especially familiar with Salvador Dali ask, “Isn’t he the artist who painted those droopy clocks?”, we can reply with assurance: “Oh, he was that guy, all right – and so much more.”