Salvador Dalí Was the Master of His Image—But These Woman Photographers Captured Him Like You’ve Never Seen Before

From established photojournalists like Martha Holmes to Dalí's wife and muse Gala, it wasn't just men who captured the Surrealist painter.

26th April 1955: Salvador Dali (1904 - 1989) and his wife Gala (1894 - 1982) in a car while on a visit to London. Photo by Barham/Express/Getty Images.

Few artists cultivated their image and persona as carefully as Salvador Dalí. Archives are filled with images of the artist in elaborate get-ups, enacting strange rituals like taking his pet anteater for a walk in Paris, hugging a clock, or wearing an animal skull as a hat. His infamous mustache (which, it was revealed last year, remained intact even through death) was, of course, omnipresent.

Over his long career, the Surrealist was photographed by acclaimed Spanish photographers Juan Gyenes, Xavier Miserachs, and Francesc Català-Roca, as well as by 20th century giants such as Man Ray, Cecil Beaton, Erich Schaal, and Philippe Halsman.

What is less known is that Halsman’s wife Yvonne, as well as many other female photographers, also captured the painter. An ongoing exhibition at the Gala–Salvador Dalí Foundation’s Púbol Castle in Catalonia, Spain, includes work by French artist Valentine Hugo and Dalí’s wife and muse, Gala. A number of the works in “Women Photograph Dalí” are being shown publicly for the first time. 

Although some of the artists included in the show are well-known photojournalists, just as many were better known as patrons, art dealers, or supporters of their better-known husbands.

Curators Bea Crespo and Rosa M. Maurell from the Centre for Dalinian Studies pored over archives and newspaper clippings to identify works and surface new biographical information about the women behind the camera. The exhibition’s stated aim is to “increase the visibility of the work of 14 modern, well-traveled, and free-spirited women who chose photography as their form of expression and whose common denominator was Salvador Dalí.”

All told, the show brings together 48 photographs from the Dalí Foundation’s collection, accompanied by documentation and ephemera. 

Below, we take a closer look at a few of the women who captured the Surrealist painter in ways we’ve never seen him before.

 

Gala

Gala, Salvador Dalí in Carry-le-Rouet (1930). Image rights of Salvador Dalí reserved.

Although Gala, who married Dalí in 1934, is best known as his wife and muse, she was also a talented artist in her own right. The photos she took of her husband show a muse staking a claim to her own point of view from behind the camera. Her images present Dalí in softer and more intimate moments. Highlights include intimate portraits taken while the artist was napping or wandering the streets in the early years of their relationship in Portlligat. 

The images offer some clues about their shared private life, but the true context remains a mystery, as Gala never spoke publicly about their relationship or formally exhibited her photography. Audiences may get more clues about her elusive story in a show dedicated to Gala organized by Estrella de Diegoat the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, which opens on July 6.

 

Anna Laetitia Pecci-Blunt

Anna Laetitia Pecci-Blunt, Portrait of Salvador Dalí at Villa Reale di Marlia (1936). Image rights of Salvador Dalí reserved.

Pecci-Blunt, whose father was a member of the papal guard and whose mother was a Spanish noblewoman from Cuba, was a well-known patron of the arts during her life—but practically unknown for her photography. After she married the New York banker and French painting collector Cécil Blunt, she and her new husband opened their Paris salon to leading artists and intellectuals, including Georges Braque and Jean Cocteau. Another frequent guest who ended up on the opposite side of her lens: Dalí. In addition to photography, Pecci-Blunt had an eye for collecting and dealing art. She ran Rome’s Galleria della Cometa from 1935 until it was forced to close amid political tensions in 1938, and opened the Cometa Art Gallery in 1937 in New York, where she lived during World War II.

 

Martha Holmes

Martha Holmes, Salvador Dalí with the oil painting “The Servant of the Disciples of Emmaus” and studio material, (ca. 1960). Image rights of Salvador Dalí reserved.

Of the women featured in the show, the American photographer Martha Holmes is one of the more established. Initially hired as an assistant to photojournalists at the local Louisville Courier-Journal and The Louisville Times, Holmes began her career as an independent photographer and photojournalist after many of the male photographers were called to service in World War II. She later worked at Life magazine and photographed a number of boldface names alongside Dalí, including Jackson Pollock, Humphrey Bogart, and Lauren Bacall. 

 

Denise Bellon

Denise Bellon, Salvador Dalí and his mannequin at the Exposition Internationale du Surréalisme, Paris (1938). Image rights of Salvador Dalí reserved.

Denise Bellon was part of the team of photographers at the Alliance-Photo between 1934 and 1940, and later worked at the Midi Libre newspaper. She captured Dalí for the 1938 Exposition Internationale du Surréalisme in Paris, one of the most important exhibitions of the era. Her images stand out for their historical value, documenting a turning point in art history, but also as haunting works of art in their own right. Bellon herself was associated with the Surrealist movement in France and took portraits of other artists active during the period, including Joan Miró, Marcel Duchamp, and Yves Tanguy.

Women Photograph Dalí,” is on view through January 6, 2019, at the Gala–Salvador Dalí Foundation’s Púbol Castle in Catalonia, Spain.


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