Salvador Dali’s remains exhumed for paternity test, his moustache is in perfect shape

The Spanish artist’s remains were exhumed from his tomb after a Madrid court granted Pilar Abel, a 61-year-old tarot card reader, a DNA test to find out whether her allegations of being Dali’s daughter are true.

art and culture Updated: Jul 21, 2017 17:01 IST
Agence France-Presse
Salvador Dali,Pilar Abel,Dali paternity controversy
Portrait of Salvador Dali, taken in Hôtel Meurice, Paris, 1972.(Allan Warren/Wikimedia Commons)

Forensics experts exhumed Salvador Dali’s remains from a tomb in his Spanish hometown on July 20, nearly three decades after his death, to test a fortune teller’s claims that she is the only daughter of the surrealist.

Working behind closed doors, they removed a slab weighing more than a tonne which covers the tomb of the artist at the Dali Theatre-Museum in Figueras in northeastern Spain where he was born.

“The biological specimens have been taken from Salvador Dali’s remains,” Catalonia’s High Court of Justice said in a statement. It said Dali’s coffin had been opened so that work could begin. DNA samples were taken from “his skin, nail and two long bones.”

The surrealist master’s trademark moustache is in perfect shape in its “ten past ten” position, the foundation that runs his estate said on Friday.

A casket is carried inside the Teatre-Museu Dali (Theatre-Museum Dali) as forensic examiners arrive for the exhumation of Salvador Dali's remains in Figueras on July 20, 2017. (AFP)

Narcis Bardalet, who was responsible for embalming Dalí’s body 28 years ago was at his grave the moment he was exhumed on Thursday night for DNA tests. “It was a moving moment for him and for us,” Lluis Penuelas Reixach, the secretary general of the Salvador Dali Foundation, told a press conference.

“When I took off the silk handkerchief, I was very emotional. I was eager to see him and I was absolutely stunned. It was like a miracle ... his moustache appeared at 10 past 10 exactly and his hair was intact,” Bardalet told Catalan radio station RAC1 on Friday morning.

A crowd of onlookers gathered outside the elaborate museum of Dali’s work to watch as police escorted the experts into the building, which is topped by a huge metallic dome decorated with egg shapes. Dali designed the building himself.

The museum, a top tourist site that drew over 1.1 million visitors last year, was covered in some places with cloth to prevent drones from capturing images. “A day like this arouses in me a great deal of feeling because it reminds me of the day of his death,” Maria Lorca, who was the mayor of Figueras at the time of Dali’s death in 1989 at age 84, told AFP.

The eccentric artist would have enjoyed the atmosphere outside the museum, Lorca added. “He would feel at home, it is a day that suits his way of being,” Lorca said.

A huge fortune

Pilar Abel, a 61-year-old who long worked as a psychic in Catalonia, says her mother had a relationship with the artist when she worked in Cadaques, a picturesque Spanish port where the painter lived for years.

Pilar Abel, 61, who says she is Salvador Dali’s daughter. After two decades of court battles, a Madrid judge granted Abel a DNA test to find out whether her allegations are true. (AP)

A Madrid judge last month granted her a DNA test to find out whether her allegations are true.

If Abel is confirmed as Dali’s only child, she could be entitled to 25% of the huge fortune and heritage of one of the most celebrated and prolific painters of the 20th century, Abel’s lawyer, Enrique Blanquez, said.

Dali’s estate, which includes properties and hundreds of paintings, is entirely in the hands of the Spanish state. The Salvador Dali Foundation which manages the estate says it was worth nearly 400 million euros ($460 million) at the end of 2016.

Forensic examiners leave the Teatre-Museu Dali (Theatre-Museum Dali) following the exhumation of Salvador Dali's remains. (AFP)

Abel has already provided a saliva sample for comparison and the results are expected within a matter of weeks.

In an interview with AFP last month, just days after a court ordered the exhumation, Abel said her grandmother had told her she was Dali’s daughter when she was seven or eight years old. Her mother admitted it much later.

Abel is from the city of Figueras, like Dali, and she said she would often see him in the streets.

“We wouldn’t say anything, we would just look at each other. But a glance is worth a thousand words,” she said.

Known in the village

A question has always hung over his sexuality, with some claiming he was a closet homosexual who preferred to watch others having sex rather than taking part.

Visitors walk around Salvador Dali's tomb inside the Teatre-Museu Dali ahead of the exhumation of the artist's remains. (AFP)

But according to Abel’s lawyer Blanquez, his affair was “known in the village, there are people who have testified before a notary”.

Born on May 11, 1904, in Figueras to a bourgeois family, Dali developed an interest in painting from an early age. In 1922, he began studying at the Fine Arts Academy in Madrid where he developed his first avant-garde artistic ideas in association with poet Federico Garcia Lorca and the filmmaker Luis Bunuel.

Soon he left for Paris to join the surrealist movement, giving the school his own personal twist and rocketing to fame with works such as The Great Masturbator.

Visitors walk around Salvador Dali's tomb inside the Teatre-Museu Dali. (AFP)

Returning to Catalonia after 12 years, he invited French poet Paul Eluard and his Russian wife Elena Ivanovna Diakonova to Cadaques. She became his muse – he gave her the pet name Gala – and remained at his side for the rest of her life.

They never had children and she died in 1982, seven years before Dali’s death.

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First Published: Jul 21, 2017 16:44 IST