1894 Gala (Helena Deluvina Diakonoff) was born in Kazan, Russia, a university town on the Volga River. Gala was the second of four children born to Ivan and Antonine Diakonoff. According to three different sources Gala’s correct date of birth has been given as 1892 and 1895; with her daughter, Cécile, stating that it was August 18, 1894. Her maiden name has also appeared as Helena Dimitrievna Diakonova.
1900 It is believed that Antonine’s first husband, Ivan, disappeared while prospecting for gold in Siberia. Gala was only ten years old when the final news of her father’s death reached the family. This left the family, her sister Lidia and her two brothers, Nikola and Vadim, destitute. According to the law of the Russian Orthodox Church, Gala’s mother could not remarry; she defied normal practice by choosing to live with the wealthy lawyer called “Kola” in Kazan. This arrangement provided a more comfortable life for the family although there was tension among the children towards the stepfather.
1910 Gala is not able to attend college because higher education was prohibited to women in this provincial region at that time. However, she is able to take some university courses in literature during her years at finishing school in St. Petersburg.
1912 Slender, fragile and weak in health, Gala is admitted to Clavadel Sanatorium in Switzerland after being diagnosed with tuberculosis. It is here she meets a young French boy named Paul-Eugène Grindel. He later changes his name to Éluard, taking his mother’s maiden name. The couple’s love flourishes in the isolated atmosphere of the hospital away from the influence of family or friends.
1914 Gala’s health improves, and she becomes unofficially engaged to Paul Éluard before her departure to Russia.
World War I. Éluard is drafted into the French Army.
1916 In the summer, Gala is given permission by her parents to leave Kazan and join Éluard in Paris.
1917 Gala and Éluard marry in February. Gala becomes pregnant with their only child, Cécile. They live with the Grindels while Paul works at his father’s construction company by day, writing poetry at night.
1919 Éluard’s unit is demobilized. He returns home to Gala, and they move into a flat. Éluard joins the Dadaists and submits his poetry to the publication Littérature.
1922 Gala and Éluard meet the painter Max Ernst, and an affair develops between Gala and the latter. Ernst begins living with them in their villa in Eaubonne. He honors Gala by painting her, the only woman, into a group portrait entitled At the Rendezvous of Friends.
1924 Éluard disappears on a self-imposed exile to the Orient. Gala travels to Saigon to persuade him to return. The relationship between Ernst and Gala ends.
1927 Surrealism is in full swing with Éluard as its poet. Gala is often present in the Café Cyrano in Paris. Gala, as André Thirion remembers, was always elegantly dressed and haughty at these gatherings. “Gala knew what she wanted, the pleasures of the heart and the senses, and the companionship of genius.”
1929 Éluard, Gala and their daughter Cécile make a trip to Cadaqués in August. They are joined by René and Georgette Magritte and Camille Goemans on a visit to the artist, Salvador Dalí.
It is during this visit that Dalí falls in love with Gala. She considers him to be a genius. According to The Secret Life, Dalí’s autobiography, “She wanted something-something which would be the fulfillment of her own myth. And this thing that she wanted was something that she was beginning to think perhaps only I could give her.”
The courtship continues among the rocks and groves of Cadaqués to the end of September. On a particular walk along the surrounding precipices, Dalí asks Gala what she wants from him-she replies, “I want you to kill me.” This “secret,” Dalí claims, cures him of his madness. The laughing fits and hysteria he was experiencing prior to her arrival cease.
Gala remains in Cadaqués several weeks after Éluard’s departure. She returns to Paris with Dalí and some of his paintings which will be exhibited at the Galerie Goemans. Gala, using Dalí’s lengthy notes on the paranoiac-critical method, convinces Breton that Dalí’s originality could be an important boost for the Surrealist Movement.
Dalí returns to Figueres to announce his love for Gala. Dalí’s father violently opposes his son’s relationship and banishes him from the family home. Before leaving for Paris to join Gala, Dalí shaves his head and buries his hair on the beach of Cadaqués.
1934 Dalí and Gala are married on January 30.
1935 The wealthy British collector, Edward James, writes to a friend, “What a wonderful thing it is for an artist to find exactly the right wife for him. This must only happen once in a hundred times only. It has happened to Dalí and I think it is going to make the entire difference to his career-in fact all the difference between him remaining an interesting phenomenon of a distorted decade or in him becoming one of the two or three leading figures of the coming age.”
1936 Gala participates, along with her husband, in the International Surrealist Exhibition in London. Gala’s contribution is a maquette for a surrealist apartment, the central feature of which is a staircase leading to a blown-up photograph of a sculpture of Cupid and Psyche.
Dali’s maturity as an artist develops, and they too evolve as a couple. Dalí had gained the patronage of Edward James, who subsidizes his career in the late thirties. The Dalís have become an extremely fashionable and formidable pair able to wield power and influence.
1937 Gala’s role in their relationship becomes that of his business manager. She is accountable for the management of their money and handles all negotiations with patrons and galleries concerning Dalí’s work. Gala is also responsible for organizing the day-to-day details of life, allowing Dalí to paint. Her artistic chores range from selecting and researching the best paints, varnishes and brushes to finding fine old frames to exhibit his paintings. Gala always insisted that he pay careful attention to his technique.
1938 Cécile, Gala’s daughter, marries the poet Luc Decaunes, who does not meet with her mother’s approval. Gala and her daughter are estranged most of their lives.
1939 Dalí attempts to distance himself from the Surrealists. Gala and Dalí decide to leave for America in February. No sooner does Dalí arrive than his name makes front-page news. Dalí is arrested when he accidentally smashes Bonwit Teller’s window after a display he designed is rearranged. According to Julien Levy, Gala was “spitting mad, ready to scratch anyone’s eyes out.” Dalí is subsequently released, and all charges are dropped.
Returning from America, Gala and Dalí settle in Arcachon, France, to avoid the civil war in Spain. Leonor Fini, one of the many artists that resided there, describes Gala as “physically attractive, small but well proportioned, her skin olive in tone with very attentive black eyes.” Leonor was impressed by Gala’s idea of life that “every instant had to represent a revenge, a conquest, or an advantage.”
The war in Europe escalates, and France is about to be invaded. Before the Dalís leave for America, Gala must return to Paris alone to secure the paintings left behind. Two weeks after her visit, Paris falls.
1940 During World War II, Gala makes arrangements through their friend, Caresse Crosby, to stay at her estate in Virginia. Anaïs Nin, a guest also at the time, observes Gala’s organizational powers, “before we knew it, the household was functioning for the well-being of Dalí. Gala assumed we were all there to serve Dalí.”
1941 During the seven years that the Dalís reside in the United States, they travel to California during the summers and stay at the Del Monte Hotel in Pebble Beach or a studio in Monterey where Dalí could paint. Gala would often drive along the California coastline in a Cadillac to gain some solitude from Dalí’s demands. In the winter they would travel back to the St. Regis in New York to conduct business.
1943 Mr. and Mrs. A. Reynolds Morse purchase their first Dalí painting and meet Dalí and Gala for a drink at the King Cole Room at the St. Regis Hotel in New York.
1945 Dalí paints a classical portrait of Gala entitled Galarina. The painting takes over a year to paint. Gala is pictured partially bare breasted staring out of the canvas with dark, penetrating eyes that were, years earlier, described by Paul Éluard as having “a gaze that could pierce walls.”
1948 Dalí and Gala return to Cadaqués and a loving reunion with Dalí’s father. Ana María, Dalí’s sister, still resents Gala bitterly. She hates Gala for “stealing” her brother’s devotion and for, erroneously, believing that Gala informed on her during the Spanish Civil War. Ana María believes that Gala is to be blamed for her being tortured by the military police.
Gala begins to take a secondary role as Dalí becomes more prominent in important art and social circles. Her resentment seems only to enhance her coldness and disregard for others’ feelings. She dismisses Dalí’s admirers and sycophants as “monsters” and shuns their company.
1953 A new period in Dalí and Gala’s life together seems to be evolving just as a distancing between them is taking place. Gala has begun taking daily excursions with young male companions to the coves and inlets of Cape Creus while Dalí works. Dalí had been used to her presence in the studio where, years earlier, she would busy herself reading to him as he painted. Without her, Dalí experiences an ever increasing personal loneliness.
Gala begins to absent herself from Dalí’s company at the many social occasions he attends. These brief, if not non-existent, appearances by Gala do not go unnoticed by old friends. Leonor Fini remarked, “She had become a personage and she wore this like an armor, very closed up inside herself.”
1958 Dalí and Gala marry in a religious ceremony at la Capella de la Mare de Deu dels Angels in Girona, Spain
1960 Gala, now in her sixties, begins to relinquish some of her duties of travel and contract negotiations to various private secretaries over the next 30 years. However, she does retain the exclusive domain of selling Dalí’s paintings.
1963 Gala becomes infatuated with a young man in his twenties by the name of William Rotlein who reminded her of the Dalí she first met in 1929. Even though she swore complete fidelity to this young man, this promise is soon broken.
1969 Gala, now in her seventies, wants a separate life and is growing tired of looking after Dalí. She finds the perfect retreat, a small medieval castle located in Púbol near Girona. Dalí has the castle restored and paints beautiful ceiling murals and trompe l’oeil doorways for his wife. Dalí is only allowed to visit by written invitation from Gala.
1970 The seventies bring a downward turn in Gala’s life as she tries desperately to retain her hold on Dalí, if only as a means of making money. She also realizes that exotic oils, nutritive treatments or surgeries cannot bring back her youth.
1973 Gala begins a relationship with Jeff Fenholt, the singer-actor who played the lead role in the rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar.
1980 In February, Dalí and Gala become ill with the flu during their stay in New York City; neither fully recovers. Gala’s suffering takes the form of senile dementia that also affects her lucidity. Additionally, she has fractures of her ribs and pelvis on two separate occasions.
1982 Gala dies on June 10 in Port Lligat. She is interred in her castle in Púbol.