Dalí’s “Daughter” Is A Dud

As I suspected, a court-ordered paternity test carried out on the remains of Salvador Dalí, at the behest of a woman who claimed to be his illegitimate daughter, has revealed that she is not, in fact, the offspring of the Catalan Surrealist.

Regular readers will recall that I reported on the bizarre claims of fortune teller Pilar Abel, who for decades has been trying to prove that she was the result of an alleged affair which took place between Dalí and a maid working near his summer house on the Costa Brava back in 1955. In July of this year, Ms. Abel successfully persuaded a Spanish court to order the exhumation of the late artist, who is buried in the crypt of the museum bearing his name in the city of Figueres. The exhumation took place on July 20th, and analysis of the DNA of both the artist and the palm reader was carried out by the National Institute of Toxicology and Forensic Sciences in Madrid. Formal notice that Ms. Abel is not the daughter of Dalí was issued by the Court of First Instance in Madrid yesterday.

A statement released by the Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí, which administers the late artist’s estate, including the three museums in Catalonia dedicated to his life and work, reads in part:

This conclusion comes as no surprise to the Foundation, since at no time has there been any evidence of the veracity of an alleged paternity. The unusual and unjustified court decision to practice the exhumation is confirmed as totally inadequate and disproportionate, showing its utter inadmissibility and the uselessness of the costs and damages caused of all kind, in respect of which the Foundation reiterates its express right of actions.

The Foundation is pleased that this report puts an end to an absurd and artificial controversy, and that the figure of Salvador Dalí remains definitively excluded from totally groundless claims. The Dalí Foundation is also pleased to be able to focus again on the management of its extraordinary artistic legacy and in the promotion of the work and figure of Salvador Dalí.

In other words it appears that the Foundation intends to, if I may quote Professor Bauer’s advice from my first day of Civil Procedure back in law school, “sue all the bastards” – pun intended.

I’m certainly no expert on Spanish law, whether it be their rules of evidence or indeed the basis in law for claiming damages following an unsuccessful paternity suit. But what always struck me as being particularly odd about this exceedingly odd case – particularly after TWO previous genetic tests failed to establish the veracity of Ms. Abel’s claim – was the fact that, at least according to most of the press reports that I’ve seen, the judge in this case ordered the late artist’s exhumation predicated mainly upon the testimony of a single witness: to wit, a friend of Ms. Abel’s mother, who claimed that the former maid had always told her that Ms. Abel was the result of a summer (ahem) dalliance with Dalí. I don’t quite understand how, given the paucity of evidence in this case, that such testimony could prove persuasive enough for a reasonable finder of fact to order something as drastic as an exhumation.

As of this writing, Ms. Abel has not issued a statement regarding the outcome of the test, but in closing, I’ll just let Dalí speak for himself:



The World’s Greatest Swimming Pool (That Never Was)

We could probably nominate a number of structures as candidates for “World’s Greatest Swimming Pool”. For example, the “Neptune Pool”, a Greco-Roman fantasy by architect Julia Morgan at Hearst Castle in San Simeon, California comes to mind. It incorporates not only a wealth of decorative tile work, statuary, and other ornaments, but even the restored façade of an actual Roman temple which publisher William Randolph Hearst imported to the U.S. But for my money, the greatest of all swimming pools was one designed by the Catalan Surrealist Salvador Dalí – which was never built.

Back in the 1950’s, Dalí created a set of 6 tiles for a massive swimming pool, which was supposedly commissioned by a member of the regime of Spanish dictator General Francisco Franco. Called “The Catalan Suite”, the tiles bore images of different elements which the artist associated with the seaside in Catalonia, including the sun, starfish, compass roses, birds, and trencadís (the broken tiles often used by the Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí.) The bright colors would have sparkled beneath the surface of the water in the strong Mediterranean sunlight.

The most likely candidate for the commission, it seems to me, was Eugeni d’Ors, like the artist a fellow Catalan conservative and Franco supporter, who was often put in charge of overseeing artistic commissions by the Spanish government. Dalí and d’Ors had known each other for many years, since the older d’Ors was a friend of Dalí’s uncle and a fellow member of the Ateneu (“Athenaeum”), a private club for intellectuals and the well-to-do in Barcelona. They worked together on several projects, including publication of “The Cobbler of Ordis”, a collection of poems by Dalí’s lifelong friend Carles Fages de Climent, which contained a preface by d’Ors and illustrations by Dalí.

In 1954, a total of 100,000 of these Dalí-designed tiles were produced at a factory in Onda, a town in the Valencian province of Spain known for its high-quality industrial ceramic output. Yet although the materials were ready to go, the swimming pool itself, unfortunately, was never built. I suspect the reason is that d’Ors just so happened to have died in 1954, probably around the same time that the tiles were completed. As a result, Dalí was left with thousands and thousands of tiles, and nowhere to put them.

Enter German lawyer Peter Ackermann who, as this article explains, met Dalí twenty years later, when the artist was trying to get these unused tiles off his hands. About 60,000 of the tiles were left, and while it’s difficult to imagine a normal person losing 40,000 tiles, this is Salvador Dalí we’re talking about, after all. Presumably the rest disappeared as a result of breakage, theft, or the artist giving them away; they turn up at auction periodically.

Unlike his near-contemporaries Pablo Picasso and Joan Miró, Dalí did not seem particularly interested in clay as a medium, which is highly unusual for someone hailing from the Iberian Peninsula. While Picasso designed pots and vases produced by French ceramics factories which today are highly prized by collectors, and Miró created enormous ceramic tile designs for walls or floors that were installed in public spaces, Dalí did not do much exploration in this area. Yes, he designed telephones that looked like lobsters, and couches that looked like Mae West’s lips, but things made out of dirt were not something that seem to have attracted his attention all that often. That makes this particular foray into the world of ceramics all the more special.

The Artsy article tells us that Mr. Ackermann is now selling his 60,000 tiles to whoever wants to take them off his hands. Since I didn’t win the Powerball jackpot last week, I won’t be acquiring them for my make-believe villa on the Costa Brava. But if you have around $20 million on your hands, and are thinking about building yourself a nice place in which to take a dip, consider the possibilities of paving that backyard oasis with tiles by the greatest Surrealist artist of the 20th century. You’ll almost instantly have the greatest swimming pool in all the world.


Digging Up Dalí: Late Surrealist To Be Exhumed This Thursday

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.