Sur­real even in death

Ex­huma­tion of Dali’s re­mains finds his mous­tache still in­tact


Foren­sic ex­perts in Spain have re­moved hair, nails and two long bones from Sal­vador Dali’s em­balmed re­mains to aid a cour­tordered pa­ter­nity test that may en­able a woman who says she is the sur­re­al­ist artist’s daugh­ter to claim part of Dali’s vast es­tate.

Of­fi­cials said Fri­day that the artist’s mum­mi­fied re­mains were so well pre­served that even his fa­mous mous­tache had sur­vived the pass­ing of time and re­mained in “`its clas­sic shape of ten past ten,’’ re­fer­ring to the hands on a clock.

Dali, who once said “sur­re­al­ism is me,’’ is con­sid­ered one of the found­ing fa­thers of the artis­tic move­ment. His works in paint, sculp­ture and cin­ema, among other dis­ci­plines, are shown in mu­se­ums all over the world and sought by pri­vate col­lec­tors.

The artis­tic ge­nius was buried in the Dali Mu­seum The­ater in the north­east­ern Span­ish town of Figueres, his birth­place, when he died at 84 in 1989.

The ex­huma­tion that be­gan Thurs­day night fol­lowed a long­stand­ing claim by Pi­lar Abel, a 61-year-old tarot card reader, who says her mother had an af­fair with Dali in his home­town.

In June, a Madrid judge fi­nally ruled that a DNA test should be per­formed to find out whether her al­le­ga­tions were true.

Foren­sic ex­perts opened the artist’s cof­fin in a sen­si­tive op­er­a­tion that in­volved us­ing pul­leys to lift a 1.5-ton stone slab.

Lluis Penue­las Reix­ach, the sec­re­tary gen­eral of the GalaSal­vador Dali Foun­da­tion, said Dali’s re­mains - in­clud­ing his mous­tache - are well pre­served and mum­mi­fied af­ter an em­balm­ing process was ap­plied 27 years ago. He spoke Fri­day dur­ing a press con­fer­ence in Figueres.

Ac­cord­ing to ju­di­cial au­thor­i­ties, only five peo­ple _a judge, three coro­ners and an as­sis­tant_ were al­lowed to over­see the re­moval of the sam­ples out of re­spect for the re­mains and in or­der to avoid any con­tam­i­na­tion.

Rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the foun­da­tion, which man­ages Dali’s es­tate on be­half of the Span­ish state, said Fri­day the ev­i­dence back­ing Abel’s claims weren’t enough to jus­tify the in­tru­sive ex­huma­tion. They vowed to con­tinue a le­gal bat­tle to nul­lify the pa­ter­nity test.

Dali and his Rus­sian wife Gala had no chil­dren of their own, al­though Gala had a daugh­ter from an ear­lier mar­riage to French poet Paul Elu­ard.

Abel, who for a while made her liv­ing by read­ing tarot cards on lo­cal tele­vi­sion, was born in Girona, a city close to Figueres. She said she pressed for the ex­huma­tion be­cause le­gal proof of Dali’s pa­ter­nity would hon­our the mem­ory of her mother.

If proved right, Abel could claim one-fourth of the painter’s es­tate, ac­cord­ing to her lawyer, En­rique Blan­quez. There are no cur­rent es­ti­mates of the ex­act value of that - but it’s cer­tainly a for­tune.

If she is proved wrong, the Dali foun­da­tion will seek fi­nan­cial com­pen­sa­tion for the costs of the ex­huma­tion.

Ei­ther way, min­i­miz­ing the dis­rup­tion to the mu­seum’s op­er­a­tions and to the rest of Dali’s re­mains is a pri­or­ity for the foun­da­tion, ac­cord­ing to its sec­re­tary.

“It’s im­por­tant for Sal­vador Dali to be re­turned to rest in the in­te­rior of his mu­seum’s dome,’’ Penue­las said.

Dur­ing a press con­fer­ence this week, Abel ex­plained how her grand­mother told the fam­ily se­cret when Abel was still young. Years later, she said her mother con­firmed the story.

The foun­da­tion and the mu­seum in Figueres took steps to make sure no images of the ex­huma­tion were made pub­lic. Be­fore work in the crypt be­gan on Thurs­day, mo­bile phones were put in a de­posit and a mar­quee was in­stalled un­der the mu­seum’s glass dome to pre­vent any pho­tog­ra­phy or video be­ing taken from drones.

The bi­o­log­i­cal sam­ples will travel to a foren­sic lab­o­ra­tory in Madrid for anal­y­sis, a process that could take weeks.


Vis­i­tors stand near the tomb of Sal­vador Dali in­side Dali Mu­seum Theatre in Figueres, Spain, Fri­day. The sam­ples of hair, nails and two long bones re­moved overnight from Sal­vador Dali’s em­balmed re­mains could open a ju­di­cial bat­tle for the artist’s es­tate if ge­netic tests prove that he had fa­thered a girl decades ago.

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