Girona in N.E. Catalonia is famous for its association with the surrealist painter Salvador Dali. From Barcelona there are day trips to important museums in Girona depicting his life and work. But the Gala-Dali Castle in Pubol is special, as it was a gift to Dali’s wife and muse Gala.
When Dali bought this mediocre castle in 1969, it was a dilapidated structure with walls cracked and crumbling. The garden was overrun by thorns and bramble. Dali turned it into a beautiful palace for his wife, decorating it with painted frescoes and costly antiques. It was mutually agreed that he would not visit her there without her prior permission. Gala spent her summers in this castle between the years 1971-1980.
Gala was of Russian origin. Born Elena Dmitriovna Diakonova, she was a highly intelligent and intuitive woman. She grew up in Moscow, and though she lost her father at the age of eleven, her stepfather saw that she received a good education. She graduated with honours from the Brukhonenka Academy. Though there were many restrictions on women, she was able to give private tuitions and teach at a primary school with a special decree from the Czar.
Unfortunately, Gala contracted Tuberculosis in 1912 and had to be shifted to Clavadel Sanatorium in Switzerland, where she became romantically involved with a fellow patient Paul Eluard, a French poet. They were married in Paris in 1916. Eluard introduced her to many literary personalities and some artists of the surreal movement. Gala was a woman with an incredible sex drive. Even while married, she had an affair with Max Ernst who painted her portrait.
Salvador Dali met Gala and her husband in 1929, when he went to Paris to present a film he had made. He soon became friends with the couple and invited them over to spend summer with him at Cadaques. This was when he fell deeply in love with Gala, a married woman ten years his senior. Dali was just 25 years old when they met. In his diary he wrote, “She is destined to be my Gradiva, the one who moves forward my victory.”
They started living together in 1934, and she became his muse and greatest inspiration all through his wildly eccentric life. Gala was the model for most of his portrait paintings, which are now in the Dali Museum at Figueres. Sometimes she was portrayed as a seductress, sometimes as a nun. Enigma of Desire, My Mother, Madonna of Port Lligat are some of the paintings that take one’s breath away.
Because of Dali’s eccentricities he was expelled from the surrealist movement in 1934. The couple spent eight years in the United States. But in 1948, they returned to Spain. They were married in 1958, in a Catholic ceremony at St. Angel’s Church in Girona, after living together for twenty four years. Spring and summer were spent in Spain, but in winter they shifted to Paris or the United States.
Theirs was a bizarre surreal relationship. Dali was aware of her many affairs. He even encouraged her flirtations as he was a practitioner of Candaulism – a sexual practice in which a man exposes his female partner or pictures of her to other people for their voyeuristic pleasure.
Even in her late 70s, she had a wild fling with a Rock Star Jeff Fenhoit. When she tired of him, she presented him with a Dali painting and a million-dollar house in Long Island.
Gala was aware of Dali’s weak character, his vacillating moods and his megalomania. She took control of his life and his business affairs. There were rumours that she even turned him into a Valium addict. Towards the end, Dali began to despise her. But neither was he able to function without her.
Gala died on June 10th 1982 at the age of 87. Dali outlived her by five years. But by then he was mentally unhinged. Gala is buried in the Pubol Castle grounds. The beautiful castle was opened to the public in 1996. It can be visited between March and December. It gives one an idea of the luxurious way she lived.
Despite all his eccentricities, Salvador Dali was one of the greatest surreal artists of the 20th century. He has immortalized Gala through his many paintings and Castle Pubol is his monument of love.