Exhibition sketches influence of Salvador Dali's wife Gala

A visitor takes a picture with a smartphone of the painting Gala Placidia,1952, by artist Salvador Dali, in Barcelona on July 5, 2018.
A visitor takes a picture with a smartphone of the painting Gala Placidia,1952, by artist Salvador Dali, in Barcelona on July 5, 2018.PHOTO: AFP
Born Elena Ivanovna Diakonova in Russia in 1894, Gala met a budding artist, Salvador Dali, and joined him in his fisherman's house outside the town of Cadaques.
Born Elena Ivanovna Diakonova in Russia in 1894, Gala met a budding artist, Salvador Dali, and joined him in his fisherman's house outside the town of Cadaques. PHOTO: FACEBOOK/THE DALI MUSEUM

BARCELONA (NYTimes) - In 1969, Salvador Dali, the surrealist painter, gave a derelict castle to his wife Gala. She welcomed his generosity but also set rules for her new home in Pubol, a village in Catalonia.

She stipulated that he could visit the castle only if he received a written invitation.

That peculiar command is a well-known anecdote. But much else about Gala's life, ambitions and desires remains unclear or subject to conflicting accounts.

It probably explains why it has taken until this month for a museum to devote a full exhibition to her, even though she shared - and shaped - the lives of several key artists of the surrealist movement.

The exhibition, Gala Salvador Dali. A Room Of One's Own In Pubol, runs through Oct 14 at the National Art Museum of Catalonia, in Barcelona.

The show presents Gala as willing to play the secondary role of muse and model, but also eager to forge her own path as an artist.

Gala "always felt more comfortable in the shadows but, like Dali, she also wanted to become a legend one day", said Ms Montse Aguer, director of the museums of the Gala-Salvador Dali Foundation, which co-organised the show.

Gala, born Elena Ivanovna Diakonova in Russia, in 1894, had a stepfather who introduced her to great Russian writers. The family moved to Moscow, where they lived comfortably and moved in intellectual circles. When she became unwell with suspected tuberculosis at 17, she was sent to a sanitarium in Switzerland to recover.

There, she met and fell in love with a young Frenchman called Eugene Emile Paul Grindel, who was unsure about whether to become a writer.

Gala encouraged him, and he went on to publish poetry as Paul Eluard.

Today, he is remembered as one of the founders of the surrealist movement.

After returning to Russia, Gala persuaded her parents to let her cross war-torn Europe to Paris, and also got the parents of Eluard to allow her to move into their family home with their son. The couple married in 1917.

Alongside Eluard, Gala embraced the surrealist movement - in more ways than one.

She had a love affair with Max Ernst, who also painted her.

In 1929, the Eluards travelled to Spain and visited a budding artist named Salvador Dali.

A love-struck Gala left Eluard and their daughter to join Dali in his fisherman's house outside the town of Cadaques.

The two married in 1934. Over five decades, he made hundreds of drawings and paintings of her. But there is no evidence that Gala ever used a paint brush or told him how to compose his works.

But she knew how to attract gallerists while keeping Dali away from people she distrusted.

But she also provoked a mix of fear and fascination. In a male-dominated society, she also found few allies among women.

The Barcelona exhibition raises as many questions as it answers.

Several of the 315 displayed items come from the Pubol castle, including clothing that also made Gala a fashion icon, dressed by the likes of Christian Dior and Elsa Schiaparelli.

As the Dalis grew old, their relationship became more tense, and they struggled to confront death. Gala died in 1982 and was buried in Pubol, in a crypt designed by her husband to resemble a chess board.