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Surreal indeed: An exhumation of Salvador Dalí shows his mustache intact

Stefan Andrews

In the mid-1920s, Salvador Dali appeared to be beardless. By the end of the decade, he supposedly grew his first Menjou beardlet, fairly popular at that time. He would himself call it “the smallest mustache in the world,” but as photo evidence shows, he wore his mustache in such a manner until the end of the 1930s.

Throughout the next two decades, photographs show that Dali started growing longer tips to his mustache. The prominent antenna stood out from his face by the mid-1950s, reportedly reaching almost 10 inches.

 

While eccentric and attention-grabbing appearances were standard for Dali, his distinctive mustache eventually became the most recognizable trait of the Spanish surrealist. A personal trademark ever since the 1950s, Dali’s mustache became the most prominent detail of his image and Gertrude Stein would appraise it as “the most beautiful mustache of any European.”

As Dali grew older, his mustache got slightly shorter, and in some of the last photographs taken of the surrealist, showing him at the age of 82, the mustache appears a little gray and drooping. He died in 1989, at the age of 85.

Is it possible his mustache has “lived on”?

Photo of Salvador Dalí in 1934

Photo of Salvador Dalí in 1934

Due to a legal paternity claim, the body of the famous painter was exhumed in July with the aim of collecting samples. According to the artist’s embalmer, the mustache has “remained in its classic shape.”

Embalmer Narcis Bardalet, who tended Dalí’s body following his death in 1989 and who is now assisting with the exhumation, remarked he was “absolutely stunned” after seeing the famous mustache still on Dali’s face when he removed a magnificent silk handkerchief that covered it.

“His mustache is still intact, [like clock hands at] 10 past 10, just as he liked it. It’s a miracle,” he had said in a statement for the Catalan station RAC1.

Photo of Salvador Dalí dated November 29, 1939

Photo of Salvador Dalí dated November 29, 1939

Bardalet added that “you could also see his hair.” He explained that at this point, Dali’s body resembled a wooden-like mummy, adding that it was a bit of a challenge for experts to take the needed bone samples. According to Bardalet’s predictions, Dali’s body will last for many years more, and that the mustache will remain perhaps for centuries to come.

Dali’s remains have been buried in a crypt set beneath the museum he designed for himself in his hometown of Figures, Catalonia. His remnants have been disentombed so as to help settle a decade-long pursuit of paternity evidence. The claim has been made by 61-year-old Maria Pilar Abel, who has persisted in saying she is Dali’s single child. Abel has been described as a tarot card reader and fortune teller. Her mother worked for a family in Spain that lived near Dali’s home.

Salvador Dalí with his pet ocelot Babou (1965)

Salvador Dalí with his pet ocelot Babou (1965)

The stone slab beneath which Dali was entombed weighing 1.5 tons was lifted so that experts could take samples from his bones, hair, and nails. According to local accounts, the biological specimens have been taken successfully.

The retrieved DNA from the specimens will be further compared with samples from Maria Pilar Abel, who claims that she was born after her mother had been with Dali in 1955. Abel had been looking forward to what she says will be proof of her lineage for the last decade, and has also stated that her physical similarity to the surrealist painter is so strong that she is only missing the famous mustache.

Portrait of Salvador Dali, taken in Hôtel Meurice, Paris, in 1972. Photo by Allan Warren, CC BY-SA 3.0

Portrait of Salvador Dali, taken in Hôtel Meurice, Paris, in 1972. Photo by Allan Warren, CC BY-SA 3.0

Abel has further stated that within her family it was an open secret that the famous artist was her biological father. If Abel’s claims are proved true, she would be the heir to a quarter of Dali’s fortune in accordance with Spanish law. Dali’s heritage, his entire estate with hundreds of his paintings, was estimated to be worth close to 400 million euros at the end of 2016.

The 61-year-old’s motion to have Dali’s body exhumed was contested by the Gala-Salvador Dalí Foundation that administrates the lucrative estate of the artist, but the foundation’s appeal against exhumation at the courthouse failed. As Dali had left his heritage to both the foundation and the nation of Spain, Adel has brought her claims against the two, so far seemingly quite successfully.

In 2007, she got an allowance to try to extract DNA from skin, hair, and hair traces found in Dali’s death mask, but the results failed to reach a conclusion. One more attempt at collecting DNA and conducting tests had been made later that same year, using specimens provided by Robert Descharnes, Dali’s friend, and biographer. Abel claimed she never received the results of this second analysis, but according to Descharnes, the tests conducted were negative.

Read another story from us: Salvador Dalí designed the logo for the famous lollipop company “Chupa Chups”

The results of the latest and third DNA run are expected at some point this summer. Once the specimens are tested, they will be returned to Dali’s grave.