The Paris Review

When Your Muse Is Also a Demonic Dominatrix

On Salvador Dalí’s wife, Gala.

When Salvador Dalí’s wife, Gala, died in 1982, the first person outside of his household to hear the news was Juan Carlos, the king of Spain. Dalí telephoned the reigning monarch himself, and for once, this was not an act of posturing or presumption on his behalf. By then, the once-destitute artist had become a surrealist superstar, a multimillionaire, a man whose supreme genius landed him the nickname el maestro, the title of marquess, endless fawning fans, and an equally endless litany of clingers-on, copycats, and sycophants. Dalí had met Gala, born Elena Ivanovna Diakonova, when he was the tender age of twenty-four (and, the story goes, still a virgin). She was ten years his senior, and they lived together for the next fifty-three years, until her death. How would he fare without her?

Not well. Following her funeral, Dalí locked himself away in his surrealist tower in Púbol, Spain, drew the curtains, and refused to eat or drink. He denied entry to his friends and aides and forbade anyone to speak Gala’s name. As he writes in in 1973, the castle itself was a testament to his love

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