Salvador Dalí, Gala, and Surrealism

“I name my wife: Gala, Galushka, Gradiva; Oliva, for the oval shape of her face and the colour of her skin; Oliveta, diminutive for Olive; and its delirious derivatives Oliueta, Oriueta, Buribeta, Buriueteta, Suliueta, Solibubuleta, Oliburibuleta, Ciueta, Liueta. I also call her Lionette, because when she gets angry she roars like the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer lion.” (Salvador Dalí)

Elena Ivanovna Diakonova (Gala’s real name) was born in 1894 in Kazan, Russia in a family with four kids, two girls and two boys. After her father’s death, her mother remarried a lawyer and Gala was lucky to get a good education at the prestigious M.G. Brukhonenko Academy. She had tuberculosis and her parents took her to a sanatorium in Switzerland, where she met Eugène Grindel (who later changed his name to Paul Eluard, the poet). Their love for literature made them good friends and they married in 1917; Cecile, their daughter was born one year later. Paul Eluard was friend with a lot of famous “surrealist movement leading figures”: André Breton, Philippe Somersault and Louis Aragon. Gala had a love affair with the painter Max Ernst and after that with the poets René Char, and René Crevel. In 1929, she met Salvador Dalí in Paris, where he was promoting his film, Un Chien Andalou, that he had created with Luis Buñuel. Dalí had invited Paul Eluard, Gala, and their daughter to spend their summer in Cadaqués, at his estate. When he met Gala, “it was love at first sight”. Although Gal was 10 years older, he considered her the lover he waited for his entire life. Gala could smell his potential and she was too smart not to take the chance to become Mrs Salvador Dalí. After her divorce from Eluard, she had become Dalí’s muse, friend and a business woman who knew how to fight with art collectors and gallery owners for Dalí’s rights. 

Salvador Dalí and Gala

In his Secret Life, Dalí wrote: “She was destined to be my Gradiva, the one who moves forward, my victory, my wife.” (the name Gradiva comes from the title of a novel by W. Jensen, the main character of which was Sigmund Freud; Gradiva was the book’s heroine and it was her who brought psychological healing to the main character. Gala remained by Dalí side until later on, in their senior years. She was his inspiration and he painted her in a lot of his artworks as: “The Madonna of Port Lligat” (1949), “Imperial Monument to the Child-Woman, Gala” (1930), “Memory of the Child-Woman” (1932), “The Angelus of Gala” (1935), “William Tell and Gradiva” (1931), “The Old Age of William Tell” (1931), “The Discovery of America by Christopher Columbus” (1958-1959), “The Ecumenical Council” (1960), “Corpus Hypercubus” (1954), “Galatea of the Spheres” (1952).

Salvador Dalí, “La Madonna de Port Lligat”

Courtesy of Haggerty Museum of Art © Salvador Dalí, Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí, VEGAP, Barcelona, 2018


When she left Paul Eluard for Dalí, she traded a chic Parisian apartment for a primitive stone hut in the Catalonian fishing village of Portlligat. “Dalí later claimed she could see he was a genius. But beyond that, he acknowledged, she wanted “something which would be the fulfilment of her own myth.” Seen as a “money grabber” by the Dalí‘s friends who despised her (Luis Buñuel wanted to strangle Gala), it was not any reason why she gave up all the comfort for somebody financially broke. But after Dalí’s success, she spent money on gambling and lovers. Sometimes she was out of control making Dalí sign “thousands of blank sheets on which forgers created fake Dalí‘s which she then sold for huge profits”. (cf.

Salvador Dalí, “Galatea of the Spheres”, 1952

Photo Credits: © Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí, Figueres, 2018

When he was 76 years old, Dalí couldn’t paint anymore, due to a “motor disorder” named palsy, and his medical situation got worse. Gala was having affairs with young artists, spending money on her lovers and leaving Dalí alone for days. He got angry and “beat her badly” breaking her ribs. To calm him down she gave him Valium and another kind of substance which caused irreversible neuronal damage to his brain. A couple of his friends managed to save him and took him to a clinic for treatment, but already he was in a deplorable state and he was obsessed that Gala would leave him for the millionaire multi-platinum rock singer Jeff Fenholt, the star of Jesus Christ Superstar. Jeff Fenholt was her lover at that time and acted as a business representative for the  Dalís in the United States.

In 1982 Gala died and got buried in Pubol, Gironda, province of Catalonia, Spain, in the castle’s crypt Dalí had bought for her. The castle is a museum now, and has been open to the public as the Gala-Dalí Castle House Museum in Púbol.

And is how the biggest love story of contemporary art, surrealist painter and his muse came to an end after up and downs, happiness and disappointments. But what is real is his masterpieces he had created with her involvement in his projects. Gala contributed tremendously to his fame, and we can say that she created Dalí.

Salvador Dalí, Gala’s Portrait





Author: Rozalia Mos






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