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.
When the gates of the premises close Thursday, forensic experts are expected to remove a 1.5-ton heavy stone slab for the first time in 27 years and evaluate the state of the remains to see if any genetic material can be obtained.
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.
Regional Catalan officials said the two coroners in charge of the exhumation will be extremely cautious about handling Dali’s remains out of respect and to avoid any contamination of the samples. The plans include removing four teeth, some nails and the marrow of a long bone only if the corpse’s status allows it.
The process could take up to 11 hours, the regional Justice Department said, and the samples would then 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 have been taken to avoid any imagery of the process, including covering the museum’s glass dome to avoid any possible photography or video taken by drones.
Dali’s paternity lawsuit was a topic of discussion Thursday among the lines of visitors at the museum.
“I think that 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.”
AP correspondent Aritz Parra contributed from Madrid.