‘Portrait of Gala’ Shown Fading from Dali’s Life?
By Paul Chimera
Salvador Dali Historian
Salvador Dali probably painted Gala more often than any other subject. She was virtually always painted in an exalted manner, often as a Madonna or angelic figure.
Consider her scrupulously noble and realistic image in “Assumpta Corpuscularia Lapislazulina.” Her reverent beauty in “Corpus Hypercubus.” Her Raphaelesque pose in “Virgin of Guadalupe.” Her conquering hero look on the banner in “Discovery of America by Christopher Columbus.” And her commanding maternal presence in “The Madonna of Port Lligat.”
So it’s an interesting and curious departure when we consider the 1965 “Portrait of Gala (Gala Against the Light).” Unlike most of the portraits that came before it, this is remarkable in its vacant, sketchy, and rather unflattering look.
Why did Dai paint his muse this way – an almost faceless, certainly faded depiction of her usual features? Was it a sign that the legendary love between Salvador and Gala was eroding? Was it a statement about what was already being viewed as an evolving loss for Dali?
After all, it was no secret that Madame Dali had a voracious sexual appetite and frequently found herself in the romantic company of young male lovers. Dali was aware of this and reportedly didn’t consider it a problem, but how do we really know that?
If there’s any other painting of Gala by Dali that captures her looking glum, if not nearly lifeless, it would be the image of her in the upper left of the large canvas, “The Hallucinogenic Toreador” (Salvador Dali Museum, St. Petersburg, Florida). She does not look happy in that unflattering pose. But we know the reason for her displeasure: she didn’t approve of bullfights! Dali knew this. That’s why he painted her looking so forlorn.
I can offer one additional – perhaps quite logical—theory regarding this 1965 portrait. The clue may be found in the title itself. If Gala posed for Dali in a backlit condition – against the light, as it were – it is conceivable that the details of her facial features would be darkened and less distinct.
Even so, there’s an undeniable grimness to the portrait, which hangs in the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid, Spain. Not a single feature of her face or hair or even her garment is distinct and clear. What’s more, do you sense a kind of anger in her look? Maybe a profound sadness? I do.
It’s clear that, unlike most depictions of the woman who ran his world, Salvador Dali’s “Portrait of Gala (Gala Against the Light)” captures a rather disquieting and, on some level, depressing view of the woman who was the power behind the throne. Gala died in 1982; Dali would never be the same. He died seven years later.