Demon bride. Nymphomaniac. Muse. Business manager.
Few women have left behind such a complicated legacy as Gala Dali.
Who was Gala Dali?
Born Elena Ivanovna Diakonova, Gala was a married mother when she met the infamous surrealist painter, Salvador Dali, and would go on to become Dali’s greatest muse, fiercest defender, and most prolific antagonist.
Despite being such a well-known figure, little is known about Gala Dali’s true personality and thoughts, though many people have expressed their own opinions (always either extremely positive or extremely negative) about her.
What we do know about Gala Dali is this: at a time when women were supposed to be quiet, chaste, and obedient, Gala Dali was none of those things. Her fierce independence and give-no-fucks attitude more than earned her the title of badass bitch.
Gala Dali and Paul Eluard: A love story
Gala was born in Russia to a family of “intellectuals,” which meant that she spent a lot of time around artists and poets and received a really good education growing up, which was rare for girls at the time.
In 1912, at age seventeen, Gala was sent to a sanatorium in Switzerland because she had contracted tuberculosis. During her stint at the hospital, Gala not only regained use of her lungs, but also met and fell deeply in love with a fellow patient named Paul Eluard.
Gala and Paul bonded over their mutual love for reading and over being the only two 17-year-olds at the sanatorium. The couple spent two years side-by-side, coughing and writing poetry. In 1914, after they were cured, Gala returned home to Russia and Paul left for the front of World War I, but not before proposing marriage to Gala.
In 1916, sick of waiting for the war to end, Gala went to Paris on her own to find Paul. The lovebirds were officially married in 1917, and Gala gave birth to a daughter in 1918.
That Gala Dali was a really, really terrible mother is perhaps the only uncontested fact about her. Gala absolutely despised being a mom, and would often ignore and abuse her child. She soon grew bored with monogamy, too, and began a series of affairs with the men around her.
During the pair’s time in Paris, Paul Eluard had established himself as a talented poet, and he and Gala frequented the surrealist circles. Gala had an absolutely insatiable sexual appetite, and had affairs with many artists, including Louis Aragon, Andre Breton, and Max Ernst. Paul and Gala actually entered into a menage-a-trois with Max Ernst, which lasted for three years.
Gala Dali and Salvador Dali: Love at first sight
In 1929, Gala and Paul met Salvador Dali. At that time, Dali was still largely unknown but beginning to make his name as a painter.
For Dali, meeting Gala was love at first sight. In his work, Secret Life, Dali writes: “She was destined to be my Gradiva, the one who moves forward, my victory, my wife.”
Dali saw Gala as both his ultimate challenge and his ultimate muse. Dali, whose only major sexual relationships at that point had been with his own twisted fantasies, was bewitched by Gala’s ravenous sexual appetite. The two immediately began a passionate love affair, pitting Dali, the blushing virgin, with Gala, the noted nymphomaniac.
Less than four months later, Gala left her husband and moved in with Dali. Several years later, Gala and Dali married.
Gala Dali as Salvador’s muse
Before Gala became Salvador Dali’s wife, she became his muse. Almost immediately after they met, Dali began featuring Gala in his paintings, such as in the image below where Gala, completely unironically, is depicted as the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Beginning in the early 1930s, Dali began to sign his paintings with both of their names. Gala also began to act as Dali’s agent, aggressively pushing his paintings to buyers with deep pockets and reigning him back in when he was in need of refocusing.
Gala and Dali’s sex life remained unorthodox. Dali, though enraptured by his wife, was very afraid of vaginas. Seriously. And Dali’s fear often meant he was impotent. Gala, on the other hand, rarely met a young, red-blooded man she didn’t want to screw. Dali, who was something of a voyeur, encouraged Gala’s affairs, happy that his wife could get the sexual satisfaction she craved.
Domestic and professional bliss didn’t last forever for Gala and Dali, however.
As time went on, Gala began to push Dali to prioritize money over artistic integrity. Gala’s motives were pretty selfish: she liked to give expensive gifts to her myriad of lovers, and she had no way of buying those gifts without money from her talented husband.
Many in the surrealist movement hated Gala and saw her as wielding undue influence over Dali. The pair began to fight more and more, and the love and passion that had initially brought them together faded away.
In 1968, Salvador Dali bought Gala a castle in Girona. Gala, to show her appreciation, told Dali he wasn’t to come visit without her express written permission.
Gala Dali and Jeff Fenholt: Things get complicated
Holed up in her castle, Gala carried on with her lascivious lifestyle. Some sources say she had weekly orgies and kept up the practice of bestowing lavish gifts on her lovers. Gala’s magnetic attraction continued into her late seventies, when she began a relationship with rocker Jeff Fenholt, who was multiple decades younger. (Go, girl.)
What didn’t continue, however, was Dali’s tolerance of Gala’s dalliances.
Gali Dala’s Death
As the painter grew older and sicker, he also grew more pissed off at his spendy wife. One day, while visiting Gala at the castle, Dali beat her so badly he broke two of her ribs. Gala, attempting to calm Dali down, gave him large quantities of Valium and other drugs which caused irreversible damage on the artist.
Despite their growing hatred for each other, Gala and Dali continued their relationship until Gala’s death in 1982. After Gala died, Dali became despondent, clawing at his face and refusing to eat. Dali lived another seven years, dying in 1989.
So who was Gala Dali?
A raging nymphomaniac with a volatile temper and penchant for young men?
Or a passionate muse whose tenacity inspired one of the world’s greatest artists?
Regardless of your opinion on Gala Dali, it’s almost certain that Salvador Dali never would have been the household name he is today without the help of this badass bitch.