Dali’s Realism Shines Through in ‘Geodesic Portrait of Gala’
By Paul Chimera
Salvador Dali Historian
If there was any other artist in human history who worshipped his wife in a more pervasive and dramatic way than Salvador Dali revered his Russian wife, Gala, this historian doesn’t know about him.
Salvador Dali without Gala would have been unimaginable. Impossible. She was truly his muse; his life and career manager; and his leading model, after his sister Ana Maria held that title in his early pre-Surrealist, pre-Gala years.
One of the greatest portraits Dali painted of Gala ironically doesn’t show her face, save for a hint of her left forehead and cheek. This rear view was a favorite vantage point for Dali, and one of his finest portraits of Gala is “Gala, Nude, Seen From Behind.”
“Geodesic Portrait of Gala” (1936) has, for me, always exuded a bit of mystery. For starters, it has a classical, non-surrealist look about it, despite it being painted in the 1930s – Dali’s most fertile Surrealist period. And the cap Gala wears is not a head piece I’ve ever seen in any other depiction of her.
And, like the previously mentioned “Gala, Nude, Seen from Behind,” we again only see a glimpse of Gala’s left forehead and cheek. Moreover, the title itself is a bit enigmatic, although the reference to architecture is clearly revealed in the pencil study Dali made for this work, which shows the same view of Gala peering at a building resembling the shape of Gala’s head. And the horse-shoe (which also appears on the building’s dome in the sketch) has never been seen before or since in any portrait of her. Dali was quoted thusly: “In the hat there is already the horse-shoe of our luck, figuring the distinctive crescent moon of the effigy of Helen.”
Salvador Dali clearly was not only history’s greatest Surrealist, but he was one of its greatest realists, too. The masterful handling of the quilted, embroidered jacket is exquisite. And Dali’s adroit handling of light and shadow is reminiscent of Renaissance masters’ work.
The jacket – a favorite of Gala’s – was seen in several other important Surrealist canvases by Dali, including “The Average Fine and Invisible Harp,” “Gala and the Angelus of Millet Preceding the Imminent Arrival of the Conical Anamorphoses,” and “The Angelus of Gala,” all shown here.
While the posture of Gala in “Geodesic Portrait” lends a sort of traditional classicism to the scene, we must also consider that Gala’s bare shoulder provokes a kind of vulnerability and sexuality in the work – an interesting dichotomy as Dali juxtaposed classicism with what would be at least a hint of eroticism or sensuality.
Just when people came to expect the more iconic surrealist images that populated the majority of Salvador Dali’s works during the decade of the ‘30s, along came the remarkable 8-1/4 inch x 10-5/8 inch oil on panel, “Geodesic Portrait of Gala.” It’s owned by the Yokohama Museum of Art in Japan.