FIGUERES, Spain (AP) — Salvador Dali’s eccentric artistic and personal history took yet another bizarre turn Thursday with the exhumation of his embalmed remains in order to find genetic samples that could settle whether one of the founding figures of surrealism fathered a girl decades ago.
Pilar Abel, a 61-year-old tarot card reader, claims her mother had an affair with Dali while working as a domestic helper in the northeastern Spanish town of Figueres, where the artist was born and where he had moved back to with his Russian wife Gala.
After two decades of court battles, a Madrid judge last month granted Abel a DNA test to find out whether her allegations are true.
“I am amazed and very happy because justice may be delivered,” she told The Associated Press at the time, adding that a desire to honor her mother’s memory was motivating her paternity lawsuit. “I have fought a long time for this and I think I have the right to know.”
Her lawyer, Enrique Blanquez, said a judicial victory for Abel would give her a chance to seek one-fourth of Dali’s estate in further lawsuits, in accordance with inheritance laws in Spain’s Catalonia region.
Dali and his wife had no children of their own although Gala — whose name at birth was Elena Ivanovna Diakonova and who died seven years before the painter — had a daughter from an earlier marriage to French poet Paul Eluard.
Upon his death in 1989 at age 84, Dali bestowed his estate to the Spanish state. His body was buried in his hometown’s local theatre, which had been rebuilt to honor the artist in the 1960s. The building now hosts the Dali Theater Museum.
After the gates of the premises closed Thursday, a 1.5-ton stone slab was removed to open the crypt where Dali was interred 27 years ago. In order to lessen the risk of contaminating any biological samples, only five people — a judge, three forensic experts and an assistant— witnessed the opening of the coffin at 22:20 local time (20:20 GMT)
It remains to be seen if the chemicals used for preserving the artist’s body have damaged his genetic information, said Narcis Bardalet, the forensic expert who embalmed Dali back in 1989.
Regional Catalan officials previously told the AP that experts planned to remove four teeth, some nails and the marrow of a long bone, if the corpse’s condition allowed it. A coffin from a funeral home was delivered earlier in the day to the museum premises. If the operation is successful, the samples will travel to a forensic lab in Madrid, where an analysis could take weeks.
The public foundation that manages Dali’s estate failed to halt the exhumation but convinced the judge to reschedule it out of visiting hours. Extra measures were taken to prevent images being taken of the process, including raising a marquee inside the museum’s glass dome to avoid any possible photography or video taken from drones.
Dali’s paternity lawsuit was a topic of discussion Thursday among the lines of visitors at the museum.
“I think the woman has the right to know who her father is,” said 33 year-old Miguel Naranjo. “But I think it is surreal that they have to unearth his body after such a long time.”
Since the judge ordered the exhumation many have raised doubts about Abel’s story. In an article published by Ian Gibson last month in El Pais after having researched the artists’ complex sexual appetites, the Dali biographer concluded that there could be serious doubts about any offspring claims.
Among the skeptics is Joan Vehi, who started working as a carpenter for Dali and his wife, Gala, but with the time became a close friend of the couple and one of the painter’s personal photographers.
“I’ve never heard of this woman, Dali never talked to me about her, and now suddenly all this fuss,” Vehi said on Thursday. “This is self-publicity.”