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Salvador Dalí's Remains Exhumed, Revealing A Perfectly Arranged Mustache

Salvador Dali in 1971.
AFP/Getty Images
Salvador Dali in 1971.

The remains of Salvador Dalí were exhumed Thursday night, pulled from their resting place by Spanish officials hoping to confirm whether the surrealist painter fathered a child in an affair. The closed procedure extracted some hair samples, nails, teeth and two long bones from the artist's embalmed body, the DNA of which might offer the conclusive answer to a high-profile paternity lawsuit long underway.

For now, that answer remains elusive — but forensic experts did uncover at least one curious fact when they pulled him briefly from his tomb at the Dalí Museum Theater in Figueres: His iconic mustache remains perfectly intact.

"The mustache preserved its classic 10-past-10 position," Lluís Peñuelas, secretary-general of the Dalí Foundation, told the Spanish newspaper El Pais. "Checking it was a very exciting moment."

The paper notes the forensic doctor who embalmed Dalí in 1989 was also on hand for Thursday's operation, which was conducted with a pulley and concluded just hours after it began.

It was "a miracle," Narcís Bardalet told a local radio station, according to The New York Times. "Salvador Dalí is forever."

Tourists visit Salvador Dali's tomb at the Dali Museum Theater in Figueres on Friday, following the exhumation of his remains.
Lluis Gene / AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images
Tourists visit Salvador Dali's tomb at the Dali Museum Theater in Figueres on Friday, following the exhumation of his remains.

He might also be a father. At least, that's what 61-year-old tarot card reader Pilar Abel alleges, saying Dalí had an affair with her mother back in 1955 — one year before her birth.

"The first time I saw him, I was a little girl," she told reporters three years ago, when she filed her lawsuit for partial claim to Dalí's estate. "I was out for a walk with my grandmother, and she pointed him out."

As NPR's Lauren Frayer reported last month, Dalí was married around that time — though, characteristically, that marriage was a tad unconventional.

"He was married at the time to his muse Gala, who lived in a castle, which he visited with written permission only," Lauren explained. "They had no children. Without an heir, Dalí left his fortune — in the hundreds of millions — to the Spanish state when he died in 1989."

Abel went public with her claim in 2007 and has sought proof since then, saying she wishes to honor her mother's memory. And her lawyer, Enrique Blanquez, says that proof would also entitle Abel to one-fourth of the Dalí estate, according to The Associated Press.

Peñuelas and the foundation, which manages the artist's estate, fought the exhumation order issued by a Madrid judge last month and vow to continue the fight in court.

"[The Foundation] considers the exhumation performed on Salvador Dalí's remains entirely inappropriate," the Dalí Foundation said in a statement quoted by Artnet.

"Before agreeing to such an invasive act as the exhumation of Salvador Dalí in a museum, the claimant Pilar Abel Martínez — as proposed by the Foundation and the Spanish State — should have been required to carry out a DNA test to compare her DNA with that of her legal father (deceased) or her brother, to thereby obtain all available evidence that she is not their daughter or sister."

Still, Abel remains convinced the forensic experts now on the case will prove her right — after all, she says, she looks just like him.

"The only thing missing is the mustache," she says.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Colin Dwyer covers breaking news for NPR. He reports on a wide array of subjects — from politics in Latin America and the Middle East, to the latest developments in sports and scientific research.