Dali’s Wife Gala Probably Most Enduring Theme in His Long Career
By Paul Chimera
Salvador Dali Historian
It was only very recently that your humble Dali historian/blogger for The Salvador Dali Society, Inc. considered the parallel between “The Angelus of Gala,” painted in 1935, and “Dali from Behind Painting Gala from Behind Immortalized by Six Virtual Corneas Momentarily Reflected in Six Real Mirrors,” c. 1972-’73.
Although there’s no mirror in the earlier work, it’s pretty obvious how the two depictions of Gala share a similarity, notwithstanding their being created nearly 40 years apart.
Dali’s apotheosis of his wife is perhaps the most consistent and enduring theme throughout his long career. She was not only the leading inspiration and motivator for Dali, but of course also played a starring role in so many of his paintings, drawings, and watercolors.
Never has such a private woman been so famous.
One of Gala’s favorite jackets is meticulously portrayed in “The Angelus of Gala.” Dali painted a host of works in which his wife and muse was seen wearing the same decorative top. The “Angelus” refers of course to Jean-Francois Millet’s “The Angelus,” an extremely popular, ubiquitous image in its time and one with which Dali was truly obsessed. Thus, Gala is seen in this portrait seated on a wheelbarrow in the mirror image that faces us, while the foreground rear-view image sort of underscores, well, the rear view!
What I’m referring to here is not just the perspective of Gala from behind – but also to her behind itself! The reason is that some have suggested that the folds in Gala’s skirt simultaneously appear to be a large human hand. And the many images Dali painted of women from behind, with sometimes exaggeratedly curvaceous buttocks, suggests he very much favored that part of the female anatomy (as for breasts, he humorously proposed that the bosoms should best be found on the back of a woman – thus becoming like the wings of an angel!).
The variation on Millet’s “The Angelus” painting in the picture hanging on the wall of “The Angelus of Gala” completes this intriguing painting that exudes a calm, almost classical feeling – while at the same time citing the Millet work that was actually the basis of a very controversial obsession throughout most of Dali’s career.
Dali believed that Millet original painted not a basket lying on the ground beneath the praying couple’s canvas – but a small casket holding the couple’s deceased child. What’s more, Dali equated the look of the praying woman with that of a praying mantis, opening up all manner of disquieting implications, since the female praying mantis actually devours its mate after copulation.
What’s so extraordinary, then, about so many of Dali’s surrealist paintings is how they lay open the pages of his evolving life story, sharing with us various clues as to what this man thought, felt, obsessed over, cared about, was inspired by, and was driven to create for the ages.