Salvador Dalí’s moustache still intact, exhumation reveals

Embalmer says artist’s body ‘like wood’ after samples collected to settle paternity claim

Experts who exhumed the body of Salvador Dalí to collect samples for use in a paternity claim have revealed that the enigmatic artist's trademark moustache still graces his face almost three decades after he died.

Narcís Bardalet, the embalmer who tended Dalí’s body after his death in 1989 and helped with the exhumation on Thursday night, said he had been delighted to see the surrealist’s best-known feature once again.

“His moustache is still intact, [like clock hands at] 10 past 10, just as he liked it. It’s a miracle,” he told the Catalan radio station RAC1.

Dalí is buried in a crypt beneath the museum he designed for himself in his home town of Figueres, Catalonia. His remains were disinterred to help settle a long-running paternity claim from a 61-year-old fortune-teller who insists she is his only child.

Mr Bardalet described the moment he had laid eyes on Dalí. “His face was covered with a silk handkerchief – a magnificent handkerchief,” he told RAC1.

“When it was removed, I was delighted to see his moustache was intact . . . I was quite moved. You could also see his hair.”

He said Dali’s body now resembled “a mummy; it was like wood”, adding that it was so hard experts had had to use an electric saw rather than a scalpel to collect bone samples.

Mr Bardalet predicted Dalí’s body would last for a good while longer. “The moustache is still there and will be for centuries,” he said.

Once the last visitors of the day had left the museum, the 1.5-tonne stone slab that rests above his grave was lifted so that experts could get to his body to take hair, nails and two large bones.

“The biological specimens have been taken from Salvador Dalí’s remains,” Catalonia’s high court said in a statement before midnight local time.

It said Dali’s coffin had been opened at 10.20pm so that work could begin. To guard the artist’s posthumous privacy, awnings were put up around the museum to stop drones recording the exhumation.

The DNA recovered from the remains will be compared with samples from Pilar Abel, who claims to be the result of a liaison her mother had with Dalí in 1955.

Open secret

Ms Abel has been seeking to prove her parentage for the past 10 years and says the physical resemblance to the surrealist painter is so strong “the only thing I’m missing is a moustache”. She says it was an open secret in her family that the artist was her biological father.

She told the Spanish newspaper El País that she first learned of her true paternity from the woman she said she had thought was her paternal grandmother.

Ms Abel claims she told her: “I know you aren’t my son’s daughter and that you are the daughter of a great painter, but I love you all the same.” She also noted that her granddaughter was “odd just like your father”.

Under Spanish law, Ms Abel would be heir to a quarter of Dalí’s fortune if the DNA supports her contention.

The Gala-Salvador Dalí Foundation, which controls the artist’s lucrative estate, had unsuccessfully sought to fight the exhumation by appealing against a judge’s decision late last month to let it go ahead.

As Dalí bequeathed his properties and fortune to the foundation and the Spanish state, Ms Abel has brought her claims against both.

In 2007, Ms Abel was granted permission to try to extract DNA from skin and hair and hair traces found clinging to Dalí’s death mask. However, the results proved inconclusive.

Another attempt to find DNA was made later the same year, using material supplied by the artist's friend and biographer, Robert Descharnes.

Although Ms Abel has claimed she never received the results of the second test, Mr Descharnes’s 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.

Ms Abel told the Spanish news agency Europa Press that she was looking forward “to the truth being known once and for all”, adding: “I’m not nervous but happy and positive.”

The results of the latest DNA test are expected in a month or two. Once the samples have been tested, they will be returned to Dalí’s grave.

Guardian service