Gala and Salvador Dali

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Gala Dali

Gala Dali Biography


Salvador Dali’s wife name was Gala, but that was just a stage name. She was born Elena Ivanovna Diakonova (Kazan – Russian Empire, 1894, Cadaques – Spain, 1982). They spent 53 years together, never apart since they met in 1929. 

Arrogant, intelligent and ambitious, she saw the potential of the talent of the young Dali and devoted her life to help him become a master of modern art. She became his muse, his lover and his art dealer. And nothing would deter her from achieving her goals.

Gala, Dali's wife, during her youth

She was an independent woman that wouldn't apologize for her unconventional choices. She indulged in sex, fame, luxury and money pleasures, and knew how to secure them for herself. She laughed at people calling her cruel, despotic, scarlet woman or even a monster.

Gala: biography of a modern muse


Elena Ivanovna Diakonova

Gala Dalí is born in Kazan (Russian Empire) in 1894. Her real name was Elena Ivanovna Diakonova. Not much is known about her blood relatives. It seems like she had three siblings: Vadim, Nikolai and Lidia.

Their father died when she was just 11 years old, and her mother got together with a wealthy lawyer (it’s not clear if they really married or not, the sources conflict over this point). But that allowed her to get a good education growing up in Moscow, where she became a teacher at a young age.


Gala and Paul Éluard

In 1912 she contracted tuberculosis and was sent to a sanatorium in Switzerland to be treated. There she met a young French guy called Eugène Grindel that was her same age: 17 years old. They fell in love.

Despite he had to join the army, she soon joined him in Paris and they got married. The next year she gave birth to a baby girl that they named Cécile. It would be Gala’s only child since she never enjoyed maternity or family life.

By then Grindel had become a famous poet under the pen name of Paul Eluard. He had also inherited a small fortune from a dead relative, so they lived an easy and luxurious life. They frequented the Parisian bohemian circles, and were friends with many famous artists, philosophers and poets.

Eluard and Gala had an open relationship that was tolerant with extramarital affairs. They even lived a ménage-à-trois with the surrealist painter Max Ernst for three years (1924-1927).

FURTHER READING: Letters to Gala, by Paul Eluard.


How Salvador Dali and Gala met

In the Summer of 1929 Paul Eluard, Gala and some other artist friends went from Paris to Cadaques (Spain) to try and cheer up their colleague Salvador Dali. The artist was had been suffering episodes of hysteria and emotional breakdowns, and wasn't sending any artwork to his patrons.

Salvador Dali said to still be a virgin at 24yo, and Gala was 10 years her senior. However, it was love at first sight. And she proved to be the only one able to calm him down and put him back to work. 

Gala and Dali decided they will always be together from then on, so she quitted her husband and daughter to be with Dali. But it wasn’t easy: even if Eluard took it OK and he continued to be in close terms with Gala, Dalis’ family didn’t take it well at all.

Back in the early 1900’s it was outrageous that a man “lived in sin” with a married woman that was 10 years his senior. And a foreigner. And not even catholic. Dali was banned from the family house and disowned. Gala and Dali had to rent a fishermen shack in a bay near Cadaques with no electricity nor running water.


His muse and his everything

Gala had quitted a comfortable life in Paris for Dali to be with him, but she didn't mind. She took care of him like a mother, run the household, took decisions, posed for him and encouraged him to paint.

The couple stayed united and eventually were able to go back to Paris, where Gala helped Dali develop his talent and make connections. Soon Dali started signing his artwork with both his and her name. Not because she painted at all, but because he said that “It is mostly with your blood, Gala, that I paint my pictures“.

They married in a civil ceremony in 1934, and With WW2 about to break out, she managed to get funds for both to emigrate to the US. There she used her intuition, social and business skills to grow Salvador Dali’s fame… and fortune. 

She would be in charge of any responsibilities that would be a burden: from making plans to organizing events, from purchasing high quality painting materials to aggressively dealing with art dealers. Dali’s job was just to paint and appear in public.


Gala's lovers

Gala, though, had a tremendous sexual drive, while her husband was said to be impotent and preferred being a voyeur. She soon gathered her own male harem of young lovers (and she kept having affairs until the end of her days).

Dali was OK with that, and he sometimes would organize orgies where he’d seat in a throne and watch.


Gala and Dali Marriage

They returned to Europe in 1948, and ten years later they celebrated a religious wedding in the Santuari dels Angels near Girona (Spain). Gala arrived to the church on a Cadillac… that she was driving herself! A real statement of who she was.

It was a small intimate ceremony with only 5 testimonials, all of them local authorities. They needed a special permission from the Pope to celebrate it, since Gala wasn’t Catholic and she had been married before.


Pubol: Gala Dali Castle

When they were young, Dali used to tell Gala that she was his queen. And once she said that if she was his queen, she deserved to own a castle. Dali promised to get her one, but the years went by and he never did.

Until… she reminded him decades later! So in 1968 Salvador Dali fulfilled his youth promise and gifted her the Castell de Pubol, a medieval castle half way between Dali’s hometown of Figueres and their beach house in Portlligat (Cadaques). She accepted the gift with the condition that it would be off boundaries to Dali unless she sent him a written invitation.

They restored the castle and Dali painted the ceilings so she’d always remember him when she’ll look up… Of course he knew that’s where she was planning to continue meeting her young lovers… She spent the Summers of 1971-1980 there.

FURTHER READING: Gala Dali Castle Museum Guidebook.


Gala's last years, death and burial place

The relationship between Gala and Dali deteriorated as his jalousie increased. She was continueing to have affairs, now with the young actor Jeff Fenholt who was performing in Jesus Christ Superstar in London.

When Dali’s Parkinson disease become more obvious and he started having problems to hold a brush, Gala delegated her business responsibilities in unscrupulous managers. They made Dali sign on blank canvas and had others complete the paintings.

She wasn’t the young woman she had once been, and she hated getting old. She wanted Dali to continue painting her like a youthful girl. But her health wasn’t strong. She broke her hip and some ribs (some say caused by Dali in a rage outbreak). In revenge, she ministered him large doses of tranquilizers that might have affected his mental health.

Eventually she suffered a strong episode of influenza that might have triggered dementia on her. She passed away in 1982 at age 87, and was buried in the crypt of the Castle of Pubol.

Dali had had built two tombs, one for her and one for him, apparently connected by a hole that would allow them to hold hands beyond death. However, Dali ended up buried under the stage of the Theater Museum of Figueres when he passed away 6.5 years later.


BONUS: Gala Dalí bios and other related books


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Author Marta Laurent Veciana


Marta is the founder of ForeverBarcelona. She is a passionate tour guide that loves Barcelona and loves writing too. She is the main author of our Blog, and is committed to sharing her knowledge about Barcelona and her best tips with our readers.



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Last update on 2024-06-24 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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