Pilar Abel, a tarot-card reader, wants a court to recognize her as Salvador Dalí’s daughter — and perhaps grant her a share of the hundreds of millions of euros worth of paintings he bequeathed to Spain.
GIRONA, Spain — Salvador Dalí led the kind of eccentric and sensational lifestyle that might have been expected of one of the greatest surrealist painters.
A quarter century after Dalí’s death, however, Pilar Abel, a tarot-card reader, is determined to add another twist to Dalí’s story. She wants a court to recognize her as his daughter — and perhaps grant her a share of the hundreds of millions of euros worth of paintings Dalí bequeathed to the Spanish state upon his death in 1989.
According to Abel’s paternity lawsuit, filed in a Madrid court in March, her mother had a “clandestine love affair” with the painter in the 1950s in Port Lligat, the fishing village where Dalí and his Russian-born wife, Gala, built their waterfront house.
Abel’s mother, Antonia Martínez de Haro, spent several summers in the village, working mostly as a nanny for families living near Dalí’s home.
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Abel, 59, said in an interview that after her mother became pregnant, she quickly married another man and had two more children with him. Abel said she was first told by her grandmother that Dalí was her real father when she was 8.
She then waited until about seven years ago to confront her mother about whether Dalí was her father. “She told me yes, but that she didn’t want to throw stones on her own grave,” Abel said.
Dalí died seven years after Gala, with whom he had an unorthodox and childless relationship, which included Gala’s moving to a castle overlooking Púbol, a Catalan village, and granting Dalí the right to visit her there only by written invitation.
In bringing the suit now, Abel said she wanted recognition as Dalí’s daughter and “after that, whatever corresponds to me.” Abel’s lawsuit names the Spanish state and the foundation that was set up to administer Dalí’s estate.
Her lawyer said he had not worked out her possible financial claim, but said Spain inherited Dalí paintings that were reported to be worth about 300 million euros, or nearly $325 million.
Spain’s Culture Ministry said it could not discuss the financial value of Dalí’s bequest, which a spokeswoman instead called “an asset of extraordinary cultural value.” The foundation said it had no comment on the paternity suit.
Abel said she got a former assistant and biographer of Dalí, Robert Descharnes, to help her carry out DNA testing to confirm Dalí’s paternity in 2007, but complained in the interview that she had never received the test results.
The test was handled by an American toxicologist, Michael Rieders, who said by phone that Descharnes had initially approached him to see whether DNA testing could be used to help authenticate some of Dalí’s paintings.
Rieders said the test did not yield conclusive evidence that Dalí had fathered a daughter.
The test relied on nasal gastric tubes that had been used to feed Dalí after he was hospitalized following a fire in 1984 in the Púbol castle, during which Descharnes pulled him out of his burning bedroom.
Using such tubes, Rieders said, amounted to relying on “a secondary source” for DNA sampling. For a conclusive test, he suggested, the Spanish authorities would have to grant access to Dalí’s remains.
Francesc Bueno Celdrán, Abel’s lawyer, argued that, if necessary for DNA testing, the court should demand that Dalí’s body be exhumed.
The painter was buried in a crypt below the theater of his hometown, Figueres, which Dalí helped convert into his museum and one of Catalonia’s major tourism destinations.
As he grew older and particularly after Gala’s death, Dalí suffered severe bouts of depression. However, Bueno Celdrán insisted that the alleged affair between Dalí and Abel’s mother took place “long before the more incoherent, unstable and degenerate period of his life.”
Abel said that her mother, 86, had Alzheimer’s disease, which now made it very hard to speak with her. Still, Bueno Celdrán suggested her mother might be able to testify in court “in one of her moments of lucidity.”
Abel, a divorced mother of four girls, said she worked as a freelance parapsychologist, including at a health treatment spa near Girona. One of her main interests, she said, was to read tarot cards.
Asked whether the cards had also helped confirm Dalí’s fatherhood, she said: “I don’t read my own cards but those of others.” However, she added, “My heart says the answer is a clear ‘yes.’ ”