Lifelong Muse

Salvador Dalí painting The Madonna of Port Lligat, 1949

 
 

In August 1929, Dalí met his lifelong and primary muse, inspiration, and future wife Gala, born Elena Ivanovna Diakonova. She was a Russian immigrant ten years his senior, who at that time was married to surrealist poet Paul Éluard.

A mysterious and highly intuitive woman, she was able to recognise artistic and creative genius when she saw it, and had relations with a number of intellectuals and artists.

The truth is nevertheless that very little is known about this personality: she had two older brothers, Vadim and Nicolai, and a younger sister, Lidia; she spent her childhood in Moscow, and her father died when she was eleven years old. Her mother remarried later to a lawyer, with whom Gala related very well and thanks to whom she managed to acquire a good education. She was a brilliant student, completing her studies at the M.G. Brukhonenko academy for young ladies with a very high average mark; a decree from the tsar authorised her to become a primary school teacher and to give lessons in people’s homes. In 1912 she suffered a worsening of the tuberculosis that had afflicted her for some time, and her family decided to have her cared for at the Clavadel sanatorium in Switzerland, where she met Eugène Grindel (later to be known as Paul Eluard). Their similar ages and love of reading led the two to become firm friends. Both were discharged from the sanatorium in 1914. Gala returned to Russia and Eluard went to the war front, though not before the couple had proposed to each other. They married in 1917, and the following year saw the birth of the girl who was to be Gala’s only daughter, Cécile. Eluard, who had already been revealed as poet and had changed his surname, related with the leading figures of the surrealist movement, and particularly the creators of the Littérature magazine: André Breton, Philippe Soupault and Louis Aragon. Gala also attended some of their meetings. In 1922 she started a relationship with Max Ernst, which broke off in 1924. Max Ernst painted her in a number of portraits. Also worthy of note was her friendship with the poet René Char, and particularly with René Crevel.

It was in 1929 that she met Salvador Dalí. In April of that year Dalí went to Paris to present the film that he had made with Luis Buñuel, Un chien andalou, and it was there that Camille Goemans, a Belgian poet and gallery owner, introduced Dalí to Paul Eluard. Dalí invited them to spend the summer in Cadaqués. Goemans and a friend of his, as well as René Magritte and his wife, and Luis Buñuel, Paul Eluard and Gala, and the couple’s daughter Cécile, all spent some time there.

It is during this visit that Dalí falls in love with Gala. She considers him to be a genius. According to The Secret Life, Dalí’s autobiography, “She wanted something-something which would be the fulfillment of her own myth. And this thing that she wanted was something that she was beginning to think perhaps only I could give her.”

The courtship continues among the rocks and groves of Cadaqués to the end of September. On a particular walk along the surrounding precipices, Dalí asks Gala what she wants from him-she replies, “I want you to kill me.” This “secret,” Dalí claims, cures him of his madness. The laughing fits and hysteria he was experiencing prior to her arrival cease.

When the painter met Gala he fell in love with her. In his Secret Life, he wrote: “She was destined to be my Gradiva (the name 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 she who brought about the protagonist’s psychological healing), the one who moves forward, my victory, my wife”. And Gala was indeed to remain ever thereafter at the painter’s side, so that from that time on her biography was linked with that of Dalí.

In 1948 Dalí and Gala returned from the United States following eight years of exile there. Dalí had achieved recognition in his own country, and his father had come to accept his son’s relationship with a separated Russian woman. From that time onwards, the Dalís would spend the spring and summer in Portlligat and the autumn and winter between New York and Paris.

In 1958 Dalí and Gala married at the Àngels chapel, near Girona. In 1968 the painter bought Gala a castle in Púbol, Girona, and it was agreed that the painter could not go there without her prior permission in writing to do so. Between 1971 and 1980, Gala would spend periods of time at her castle, always in summer. It was there that Gala was buried, following her death in 1982. Since 1996 the castle has been open to the public as the Gala-Dalí Castle House Museum in Púbol.

 
 

Galarina, (1944-45)

 
 

My Wife, Naked Looking at her own Body,which is Transformed into Steps, Three Vertebrae of a Column, Sky and Architecture (1945)

 
 

Three Faces Of Gala On The Rocks, (1945)

 
 

Atomic Leda (1949)

 
 

The Madonna of Port Lligat (1949)

 
 

Galatea of the Spheres (1952)

 
 

The Discovery of America by Christopher Columbus (1959)

 
 

Ecumenical Council (1960)

 
 

Dali from the Back Painting Gala from the Back Eternalized by Six Virtual Corneas Provisionally Reflected (1972-73)

 
 

Gala Contemplating the Mediterranean Sea Which at Eighteen Metres Becomes the Portrait of Abraham Lincoln -Homage to Rotkho- (1976)

 
 

Dali Lifting the Skin of the Mediterranean Sea to Show Gala the Birth of Venus (1977)

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The Spilling Seed on Dali’s Kingdom

In that privileged place, reality and the sublime dimension almost come together. My mystical paradise begins in the plains of the Empordà, is surrounded by the Alberes hills, and reaches plenitude in the bay of Cadaqués. This land is my permanent inspiration. The only place in the world, too, where I feel loved. When I painted that rock that I entitled The Great Masturbator, I did nothing more than render homage to one of the promontories of my kingdom, and my painting was a hymn to one of the jewels of my crown.”

Salvador Dalí

 
 

The Great Masturbator, Salvador Dalí, (1929). He painted it just before meeting Gala. His needs in Paris by that time became his grief. It’s a self-portrait where their sexual desires and fears are reflected. By then Dalí was still a virgin.

 
 

The center of the painting has a distorted human face in profile looking downwards, based on the shape of a natural rock formation at Cap de Creus along the sea-shore of Catalonia. A similar profile is seen in Dalí’s more famous painting of two years later, The Persistence of Memory and other works from that period.

 
 

Portrait of Paul Eluard (1929)

 
 

The Lugubrious Game (1929)

 
 

The Enigma of Desire (1929)

 
 

The Persistence of Memory (1931)

 
 

Section of Hieronymus Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights

 
 

Comparisons have been made to Hieronymus Bosch‘s The Garden of Earthly Delights. The Great Masturbator is similar to an image on the right side of the left panel of the The Garden of Earthly Delights composed of rocks, bushes and little animals resembling a face with a prominent nose and long eyelashes.

 
 

Section of The Great Masturbator

 
 

A nude female figure (resembling Dalí’s then new muse, Gala) rises from the back of the head; this may be the masturbatory fantasy suggested by the title. The woman’s mouth is near a thinly clad male crotch, a suggestion that fellatio may take place. The male figure seen only from the waist down has bleeding fresh cuts on his knees. Below the central profile head, on its mouth, is a locust, an insect of which Dalí had an irrational fear. (The insect has sometimes been misidentified as a grasshopper due to poor translations of Dalí’s early writings.) A swarm of ants (a popular motif in Dalí’s work) gather on the locust’s abdomen, as well as on the prone face. In the landscape below, three other figures are arranged, along with an egg (commonly used as a symbol of fertility) and sparse other features. Two of the characters in the landscape are arranged in such a way as to cast a long single shadow, while the other character is seen hurriedly walking into the distance on the peripheries of the canvas.

The painting represents Dalí’s severely conflicted attitudes towards sexual intercourse. In Dalí’s youth, his father had left out a book with explicit photos of people suffering from advanced untreated venereal diseases to “educate” the boy. The photos of grotesquely damaged diseased genitalia fascinated and horrified young Dalí, and he continued to associate sex with putrefaction and decay into his adulthood.

A Painted Consolation Prize

Portrait of Paul Eluard, Salvador Dalí,  1929.

 
 

This portrait dates from the same year as The Great Masturbator and shares the same themes of sexual frustration and fear. Although it is a portrait, the painting tells us more of Salvador Dalí’s emotional state at this time than that of the subject, Paul Eluard, who was a French poet of the Surrealist movement. Together with his wife Gala, Eluard visited Dalí at Cadaqués during the summer of 1929. When Dali started to paint Paul Eluard’s portrait he is still married with Gala. When Dali finished painting it she is not longer Eluard’s wife. Dalí wanted to perpetuate the poet’s physiognomy to whom he had taken away one of the Muses of his Mount Olympus.

The Artistic Side of Death

View of a Skull, Leonardo da Vinci, c. 1489

 
 

Saint Francis in Meditation, Caravaggio, 1605

 
 

Skull, Albrecht Dürer, 1521

 
 

La Calavera Catrina (Dapper Skeleton or Elegant Skull), José Guadalupe Posada, 1910-1913.

Much memento mori art is associated with the Mexican festival Day of the Dead, including skull-shaped candies and bread loaves adorned with bread “bones.”

 
 

Self-portrait With Death Playing the Fiddle, Arnold Böcklin, 1872

 
 

Engraving by M.C. Escher, 1919

 
 

Untitled-Death Outside the Head-Paul Eluard, Salvador Dalí, 1933

 
 

Head with Broken Pot, Georgia O’Keeffe, 1942

 
 

Sin esperanza (Without Hope), Frida Kahlo, 1945

 
 

Detail of Sueño de una tarde dominical en la Alameda Central, Diego Rivera, 1946-1947

 
 

Three Study Portraits of Lucian Freud, by Francis Bacon

 
 

Artwork by Sergio Toppi

 
 

Drawings by Edward Gorey

 
 

Knowledge of the Past Is the Key to the Future: Some Afterthoughts on Discovery, Robert Colescott, 1986

 
 

Riding with Death, Jean-Michel Basquiat, 1988

 
 

Black Kites, Gabriel Orozco, 1997

 
 

For the Love of God, Damien Hirst, 1997

 
 

The Orientalist, Walton Ford, 1999

 
 

Painting by Pascal Vilcollet

 
 

Confetti Death, Typoe, 2010