Andrew Stephens delivers a long essay in Australia’s The Age exploring the role of Salvador Dali’s wife in his work and success as well as the long critical attack by Clement Greenberg and Robert Hughes on both artist and muse:
Gala, nee Diakonova, 10 years Dali’s senior, was the love of his life, with whom he spent 53 of his 84 years. She was the canny Russian emigre who managed his lucrative finances; who would read to him while he painted, sometimes telling him (according to some accounts) what to paint; the feisty woman who, when she was 87, gave him a black eye after he whacked her with his cane; the liberated woman who took much younger lovers, well into her 70s.
Her name appears alongside Dali’s on most of the paintings, signed Gala-Salvador Dali, a fact glossed over by many critics. But while she largely remains an enigma, there seems little doubt she played a pivotal role in Dali’s extensive output: she didn’t help make the work, but she was his constant source of inspiration.
“I have put my greatest treasure, Gala, in front of the imperialist structure of my genius,” wrote Dali in a 1970 autobiography. The aficionados agree: somehow, Gala energised Dali at a deep level. “There is a great mystery around her,” says Elliott King, art historian and Dali scholar, from Denver, Colorado. “She let Dali be the showman — but she was the person behind the screen, making a lot of the decisions.”
Ted Gott, senior curator of international art at the National Gallery of Victoria, who has been closely involved with the new retrospective, is equally fascinated by her role. “Whatever (Dali) found in Gala, it was his strength in life and she was his muse,” he says. “It’s important to come back and look at the work — and there we find her again!”
Indeed, visitors to the Dali retrospective will be surprised at how frequently Gala turns up in the paintings and drawings — and by the richness of the post-1940 paintings (43 years’ worth) made after Dali abandoned surrealism: it’s not all melting clocks, dreamscapes with baked beans, enlarged masturbatory hands and sagging Freudian archetypes. Such surrealist fare forms but an eight-year window in an incredibly rich 60-year career.
For the Love of Gala (The Age)