Lonely and mysterious, Gala grew up in Russia, growing up to be a girl rebellious against conventions, loving a life free from all divisions and labeling, shimmering and brilliant. She was considered a femme fatale with insatiable appetites, at times ardent, at other times icy.
The book “Gala. Dangerous Muse”, the author of which is the French writer Dominique Bona, will be published on February 9 by Oficyna Literacka Noir sur Blanc. The translation is by Maria Żurowska.
Dominique Bona “Gala. Dangerous Muse” – excerpt:
Paul Éluard did not do well. His marriage was falling apart. His poetry lacked verve. His friends quarreled. In addition, the work irritated him more and more: on the rue Ordener, where he was still an employee of his father (Clément Grindel used this term when he wrote his son’s authorization), he was bored with the transactions, and even more, depressed because he had to solve human problems related to purchase and lease of land, decided against himself on tenders, lifting confiscations or rejecting poor clients. His profession disgusted him: he found no consolation in his worries.
His parents were disturbed by a German painter who settled down with his son and, according to Paul, had great talent, but lived at his expense, inviting himself for meals, and in addition remaining in scandalous proximity to Gala. Clément Grindel was doing better every day, so he bought a beautiful mansion in Montlignon, in the Montmorency forest. He wanted his son to live in the pavilion adjacent to the house, in the lower part of the park. The son, fearing too much closeness, refused, so the pampering daddy bought him a villa in the town of Eaubonne with two thousand square meters of land, only a quarter of an hour from his property. This place, cut off from the rest of the world, was famous for its fresh forest air. There was no train station from which you could reach Paris by train. Paul and Gala, who were not yet able to drive, would therefore be dependent on Clément Grindel, who drove one of the cars himself and entrusted the other to the chauffeur. The spouses agreed: at the age of twenty-nine, Paul Éluard became the owner of the property. Clément Grindel was quickly disappointed, however: if he imagined that he would subjugate his son and daughter-in-law, offering them a beautiful house close to him, and that he would manage to drive away the intruder, his hopes were in vain.
The “doll’s house” in Eaubonne, as Éluard was to call it, was hidden behind a brick wall in a garden planted with chestnut trees and redwoods. This pretty villa at number 4 on avenue Hennocque (phone number 45 in Eaubonne could be read in Breton’s notebook under the date : January 1924) combined elements of modernity with a fake Louis XVI style. It had a slate roof and a bright facade decorated with a ceramic frieze depicting lotus flowers. The high ground floor consisted of a kitchen, living room and dining room. Cécile’s room and bathroom. Parents thought that on the second floor their son could set up an office for himself or a playroom for Cécile, unless he left the attic there … a roof on the north side and to the great surprise of his parents he put in there large windows. The second floor was to be a studio. For whom? For Max Ernst, of course. Paul Élua the rd promised him this. Painters, which Clément Grindel may not have known, prefer to work in the northern light.
The Éluards celebrated their move to their new home for three years, continued to live under the same roof, sharing the torments of friendship and love.
Eaubonne was the house of the poet, where he immediately put together his books and items that evoked dreams in him and which he collected with expert knowledge, especially various fetishes, totems, dolls, tam-dams from Africa and Oceania, i.e. continents discovered by him in his imagination. But Eaubonne was also the painter’s home: Ernst took large canvases from the studio where he painted, and hung them up in the living room, in the dining room, or in the master bedroom. Submitting evidence of a truly creative madness, as if this place served him as a source of inspiration, he was not content with painting one picture after another, he also painted on walls, ceilings and doors. His art took over the whole house. It poured out into the Éluard area and raged everywhere with such force and eccentricity that you forgot about the rest of the decor. She had completely transformed this small villa.
Louis Aragon wrote in the hope that he would finally convince Doucet that Ernst had talent: his canvases are “apocalyptic landscapes, places never seen, deities. Man feels transported to other planets, to other eras, between great burning lianas, into great, coal-dust-covered, ravaged spaces. “The world of Max Ernst, with his dreams, strange and terrifying, with his bitter humor, at first glance of the eye was not such that everyone wanted to decorate their living room with his works. “Who is Max Ernst?” Breton asked the medium: the sleeping Desnos. “A suit diver and Spanish grammar,” Desnos replied.
A gentle and peaceful artist with azure eyes, whose restraint immediately made people trust him, “a charming young man”, as his doctor called him, painted nightmares in which it was difficult to see the boundary between the real world and madness, and where with all the power was dominated by the omnipotent: absurdity, mockery and fear. “At the sight of his paintings one would like to howl …” – said the doctor. “You could really say it was a madman painting …” Ernst, who did not have a penny, paid him for this diagnosis with a painting.
While Gala – like Éluard, and completely unlike the good doctor – admired everything painted by Max Ernst, his world must have surprised or disturbed her more than once. Besides, there was nothing more alien to her husband’s work. This poetry evoked with the greatest possible simplicity, with perfect moderation and purity human feelings from everyday life, everything that men, women and children on the planet Earth can feel or perceive. There was nothing more alien to the gentleness and nostalgia of Éluard’s world than the painting of Max Ernst with his visions transporting the viewer to other planets (as Aragon put it). Although Max Ernst was a “charming” companion, cheerful, amused, joking, paradoxically he was also an artist with a disturbing imagination. Éluard never described Gala otherwise than a woman, more or less sensual, coquettish, ethereal, despotic and changeable depending on color and color. Ernst, on the other hand, transformed her, presenting her differently, of course, as a female being freed from the laws of gravity that could fall from another galaxy: he showed her wrapped around a line or suspended in the air, with her belly open, red hair, no eyes or covered with insects … from under his brush came unreal or supernatural. Surprise combined with anxiety was for Gala a new experience in love, very far from the sense of security that Éluard’s adoration and his inherent compliments gave her.
One can imagine the mood that the vision of dreams and the nightmares set against them could create on the walls of a house in Eaubonne, covered with frescoes like in an Italian Renaissance palace. The entire living room, with two adjoining walls at a height of more than two meters signed “Max Ernst”, gave the illusion of an enchanted garden, interspersed with blue and green lianas. Gala reigned in it. She dominated the landscape, with her arm raised, head bowed, slender and naked, belly gaping guts. Ernst painted what, more than harmonious proportions, more than long, shapely legs and girl’s breasts determined the beauty of her body: he showed above all her royal demeanor. Gala combined two, often irreconcilable advantages. which Max Ernst faithfully depicted in the fresco: strength and grace.
Ghosts played around her, disturbing and amusing, from Ernst’s paradise: the wonderful yellow canary; ducks riding bicycles (“hydrogen bikes”) in the pool; a trombone-shaped nose without a face to cling to; a strange figure whose foot rested on the brown sail of a stroller; many mantises of common gluttony; hands not belonging, likewise like night, to no one, as if protruding from the wall, hugging pairs in a sarcophagus … And everywhere blue and green lianas suggesting a naively painted jungle from where a female body still emerges obsessively.
Figures of Max Ernst’s imagination did not just decorate the living room. They climbed upstairs to the studio, where, using a simple frieze of flowers and strange animals, they transformed Cécile’s bedroom into a fairy-tale nursery, a room for the children of madmen. They entered the bathroom, where a huge strawberry, thick as a monster, reached all the way to the ceiling. Finally, they shone in full splendor in Paul and Gala’s bedroom: on the door, right next to the bed, Max Ernst painted a life-size Gala. Dressed in gym shorts, bare-breasted and blindfolded, she wrapped herself around the blue liana. She was holding a white spider in her hand.
The decor of the house in Eaubonne was so surprising that he tore out André Breton, who favored Max Ernst and fiercely defended him, a cry of terror when he and Simone came to dinner: “And to think that the suburbs and the countryside have such peculiarities. Without a doubt, Paul Éluard among the works of Max Ernst, his illusionist painting, which he did not fail to show (because he was proud of it) to each of the guests, he also gathered everything that he himself liked and that was pushed to the background by the incredible aggressiveness of the enchanted colors the garden may have been his own paradise: old books bought at sales, next to collections of poems with dedications written especially for him by his friends; paintings by Derain, Picabia, de Chirico, Picasso, Marie Laurencin; African masks and totems from Oceania, dishes and fetishes of the primal tribes; and finally the pueblos adored by Gala, originating in New Mexico. In Eaubonne, in a seemingly banal In my house in the suburbs, behind the gate there was a view of a wonderful storehouse of things. The two imaginary worlds of the poet and the painter coexisted and co-created the strange, one-of-a-kind atmosphere of what Breton called the “peculiarities” of Eaubonne, it was a lame full of creations of madness.
Gala loved this world. She hated the bourgeois design of the apartment on rue Ordener. However, she felt comfortable in this enchanted palace-style villa, where items from antique shops were once again housed. It was half Ali Baba’s cave, half house haunted by ghosts, where Gala walked among the remnants of lost civilizations and in the light of a reality that existed only in her sleep. Both men introduced her to the world of dreams, taking her very far from the everyday monotony. She liked such decor the most: it was intimate and fairy-tale-like to the highest degree, unconventional, bearing the traces of artists’ hands.
However, the division was unequal, one world dominated the other: in Eaubonne, Max’s genius overshadowed Paul’s talent, it was the painter who dominated the surroundings with his creative power. The impression was strong: from the very threshold, all the guests (which they agreed to admit), who thought they were entering Paul Éluard, were actually breaking into Max Ernst. The colors of his imagination marked the whole house. In the atmosphere he created, in his imaginations, displayed on every wall, on the door, up to the ceiling in the nursery, Paul Éluard lived, ate, slept, sometimes wrote, read, played with a child or made love with Gala. He allowed himself to be conquered and did not defend himself. He admired the artist, his friend. He helped him financially, not only by providing him with a roof over his head, but also by buying paintings from him. Despite suffering which ultimately prevailed over his enthusiasm for sharing everything, he always considered him a brother. To his parents who were furious and wishing their son would finally get rid of the parasite, he explained that he believed in Max Ernst’s genius, in his unrecognized talents.
The few poems Éluard wrote in Eaubonne, however, expressed an overwhelming sadness: for the first time, he felt excluded from Gala’s love. Against her and Max, he lost his strengths. He became a powerless spectator, a victim of his own generosity and gusts of friendship. “I know it well”, he wrote in the motto to the poem Nudité de la vérité (The Nudity of Truth):
Despair has no wings
So is love
I’m not moving
I don’t look at them
I’m not talking to them.
But I am as alive as my love and despair.