Even in the bizarre world of Salvador Dalí (1904-1989), there’s a rather exceptionally bizarre bit of news about him making the rounds at the moment.
The Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí, which the artist founded in 1983 to promote and preserve his legacy, and which also controls all the licensing and reproduction rights in his work, runs three historic sites connected with the artist. In 2015, the Foundation released “Dalí’s Last Masterpiece”, the first of a planned trilogy of documentary films about these places, describing how the Teatre-Museu Dalí in the Catalan city of Figueres was created. It’s the largest repository of his works in the world, as well as the spot where he is buried. The next installment, which has just been released, is entitled “The Secret Life of Portlligat”, which explores the development of Dalí’s beach compound in Portlligat, a seaside village on the Costa Brava.
Call it perfectly surreal timing with the release of this latest film, but a rather strange development connected to that beach house has caused a sensation in the international art press. For making its way through the courts at the moment is a paternity suit, which claims that the artist and a maid had a secret affair at Portlligat back in the summer of 1954, with the end result being a bastard daughter. Barring some eleventh hour injunction, Dalí’s body is going to be exhumed this Thursday, July 20th, as part of that ongoing court case.
About a decade ago, a tarot card reader named Pilar Abel came forward claiming to be the daughter of Dalí, the product of a summertime liason between the artist and a maid who was working for a family in Portlligat back in the 1950’s. Dalí and his wife Gala had rather strange living arrangements, in that they did not often live together in the same place. In the summer, she resided in a castle he had bought for her in the town of Púbol, while he stayed on the beach in Portlligat, about an hour and a half away. From a purely logistical perspective it’s certainly possible that the artist might have had an affair at the place and time claimed.
Since Dalí and his wife had no children, he left his rather considerable estate to the Spanish state and his Foundation. If Ms. Abel can prove paternity, the fortune teller will be entitled to her own fortune for a change. Under Spanish law, as the artist’s only daughter she may be entitled to something approaching a quarter of the value of Dalí’s estate – which is currently estimated to be worth around $336 million.
So far however, the plaintiff hasn’t had much luck in actually establishing her claim. The Guardian gives the following summary of Ms. Abel’s efforts to date:
Abel won permission from the courts in 2007 for an attempt to extract DNA from traces of hair and skin clinging to Dalí’s death mask, but the results proved inconclusive.
Later that year an attempt was made to extract DNA from material supplied by the artist’s friend and biographer, Robert Descharnes. Abel claims she never received the results of the second test, but Descharnes’ son Nicholas told the Spanish news agency Efe in 2008 that he had learned from the doctor who conducted the tests that they were negative. “There is no relationship between this woman and Salvador Dalí,” he said.
Despite these setbacks, at this point one feels tempted to insert the hashtag, #shepersisted – because back in June Ms. Abel managed to convince the Spanish courts that the only way to conclusively determine paternity was to dig up her alleged father’s corpse. Although the Foundation lodged an appeal, at this point the exhumation is set to proceed at 9:30 am this Thursday, July 20th. So far, it looks as though the museum in Figueres still plans to open to the public that day, or at least, there’s nothing on the website about any plan to close either the galleries or the crypt.
Whatever the end result here, this is certainly a most surreal case – stay tuned.