Gala was in fact born Elena Ivanovna Diakonova. Gala was a nickname which her husband Dalí gave her. He also used to call her other diminutives such as Galuchka, Gradiva, Oliva, Oliveta, Oliueta, Oriueta and more.
Gala is associated with both France, Spain and even America – places where she lived during her adult life, but she was actually from Russia. She was born in Kazán, Russia in 1894.
Gala was first married to the French poet and one of the founders of the surrealist movement – Paul Éluard. She met Éluard in Switzerland, where she was sent in 1912 to be treated for tuberculosis. Later on in 1916 she went to live with him in Paris and married him a year later. Gala and Éluard were just 17 when they first met and he was not even a writer yet, in fact it was Gala who encouraged his artistic abilities.
There are many pictures of Gala and Éluard and Gala and Dalí together, but you hardly ever see Gala with a child, so it surprises many to find out that she did have one. Cécile Éluard is the daughter of Gala and Éluard, but Gala abandoned them both to move in with Dalí when Cécile was just 11 years old. After that, Cécile went to stay with her paternal grandmother in Paris, and saw her mother just once or twice a year.
Gala and Éluard both met the artist Max Ernst at an event and he became a very close friend of the couple. Soon after, Gala and Ernst began a love affair. Later, Ernst even came to live with the couple in a kind of marriage à trois, which lasted for three years.
Gala also inspired many other surrealists artists such as René Char and René Crevel. She also became a model for Man Ray.
Gala was not simply Dalí’s muse, as many sources cite, she was more than just a model or an inspiration, she was a collaborator. She would discuss each piece of work with Dalí, giving him advice, ideas and encouragement.
Yes OK, Salvador Dalí would still have existed, but he would not be the famous surrealist icon that we know today without Gala. Dalí acknowledged this and even signed many of his paintings Gala Salvador Dalí, with the word Gala being bigger and more significant even than his own name.
Púbol was Gala’s castle – a gift from her husband. Gala and Dalí designed everything inside the castle themselves and chose all the elements – including the busts of Richard Wagner around the pool. However, the castle remained Gala’s domain and Dalí even had to request permission to visit her there. When she died Gala was buried at the castle, and Dalí made it into a kind of mausoleum for her.
The exhibition Gala Salvador Dalí. Una habitación propria en Púbol is on at Barcelona’s Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya on until October 14, 2018 – for more information, visit the website.