In 1969, Salvador Dalí, the Surrealist painter, gave a derelict castle to his Russian-born wife, Gala, as a present. She welcomed his generosity but also set rules for her new home in Púbol, a village in Catalonia.
Boat on a lake
Gala stipulated that her husband could visit the castle only if he had received a written invitation. “Sentimental rigor and distance — as demonstrated by the neurotic ceremony of courtly love — increase passion,” an acquiescent Dalí later wrote.
The peculiar visiting ritual ordered by Gala is a well-known anecdote. But else about Gala’s life, ambitions and desires remains unclear or subject to conflicting accounts, which 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 Dalí. A Room of One’s Own in Púbol,” runs through Oct. 14 at the National Art Museum of Catalonia, in Barcelona.
The show presents Gala as someone 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 Dalí, she also wanted to become a legend one day,” said Montse Aguer, the director of the museums of the Gala-Salvador Dalí foundation, which co-organized the show.
Gala, born Elena Ivanovna Diakonova in Kazan, Russia, in 1894, had a stepfather who read her the poetry of Mikhail Lermontov and introduced her to other great Russian writers. The family moved to Moscow, where they lived comfortably and moved in intellectual circles, but, when Gala became unwell with suspected tuberculosis at age 17, she was sent to a sanitarium in Switzerland to recover.
There she met and fell in love with a young Frenchman called Eugène Émile Paul Grindel, who was unsure about whether to become a writer. Gala encouraged him, and he went on to publish poetry as Paul Éluard. Today, Éluard is remembered as one of the founders of the Surrealist movement.
After returning to Russia, Gala again displayed her single-mindedness. She persuaded her parents to let her cross war-torn Europe to Paris, and also got the parents of Éluard to allow her to move into their family home with their son. The couple married in 1917.