One of the most influential artists of the 20th century, 28 years dead, is about to be pulled from the grave to settle a paternity claim. The case could be worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
So when news broke Monday that a Spanish judge had ordered the body of Salvador Dalí exhumed, that was worth plenty of juice alone.
And yet, the real shocker is that Dalí may have fathered a child at all.
The genius painter, with the celebrity friends, and the fame, and the phallic-shaped swimming pool, reportedly had no trouble attracting an entourage of beautiful young women and men into his orbit, even in his later years. He was also married to his muse, Gala, for nearly five decades.
And yet, both within that marriage and outside of it, Dalí is thought to have mostly abstained from sex throughout life.
It's an unexpected narrative, maybe because of the bohemian free love or never ending affairs we associate with his art world contemporaries.
His friend, the surrealist poet Paul Eluard, who was married to Gala first, was an epic swinger. Pablo Picasso, the fellow Spaniard with whom Dalí shared an admiration and rivalry, was a machismo-fueled womanizer.
"That's one of the things very unique about Dalí," said Peter Tush, curator of education at the Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg. "Picasso is the ultra male, constantly cheating on his wives, while Dalí is seen as sort of the consummate celibate, cheating with nobody. The idea that he could have an affair that led to a child seems totally out of character."
In 2015, Spanish tarot card reader Pilar Abel sued the Spanish state and the Gala-Salvador Dalí Foundation. If Abel's claim is proven true, and DNA evidence proves that Dalí did sleep with her mother Antonia Martinez de Haro in 1955, it would be a strange departure from the story we have about the eccentric surrealist who painted the famous melting clocks, rode in a car filled with cauliflower and nearly suffocated when he attempted to lecture in a diving helmet.
"He doesn't seem to have had those types of intimate relationships with men or women," Tush said.
By many accounts, Dalí had an aversion to physical contact in general.
In Dalí's painting "Accommodations of Desire," the lions' jaws are said to represent female anatomy and his terror over it. The painting is based on his early courtship with Gala, when he was a 25-year-old virgin.
During their childless marriage, Gala engaged in numerous affairs, apparently with Dalí's blessing, maybe because he was uninterested himself. He even organized orgies at his home in the 1960s, according to Ian Gibson's extensive biography The Shameful Life of Salvador Dalí, but he only watched, and may have been a "rampant voyeur."
Maybe his hang-ups stemmed from his self-described "panic fear" of sexually-transmitted diseases — his father supposedly showed him a frightening book on them at an early age — or his known anxieties over his own inadequacy.
There were only a few people he ever really seemed comfortable being close to. There was Gala, of course, the poet Federico Garcia Lorca, whose advances Dalí claimed he rejected, and later, Amanda Lear, the androgynous model who Dalí shared a close relationship with for more than a decade starting in the '60s, and the nearest person to a mistress Dalí was ever known to have.
By that time, Gala lived in a castle Dalí had purchased for her, and Dalí was only allowed to visit with her written permission.
Lear wrote that she and Dalí once climbed a mountain via Cadillac and donkey back to find a bearded hermit who helped them enter into a "spiritual marriage," though she offers no suggestion that they ever consummated it physically.
[Associated Press (1951)]
Stepping back to the late '50s reveals a time of unprecedented security and intimacy with Gala, evident in some of the photos now on display at the Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg.
He returns to devout Catholicism, painting his version of the Last Supper around the time of the alleged affair, and in 1958, he and Gala renew their vows in a Catholic church after receiving a special dispensation from the pope. If he does indeed turn out to be a father, it begs the question: was Dalí driven by guilt over what he'd done?
Abel's birth year of 1956 also coincides with the start of Dalí's "nuclear mysticism," a period in which he was fascinated by nuclear physics, and most notably, DNA, the very thing that could be extracted from his exhumed body.
DNA is referenced in at least nine paintings starting that year. His "Galacidalacidesoxiribunucleicacid" (1963), part of the Dalí Museum's permanent collection, is a tribute to Crick and Watson, the discoverers of the double helix, and even the museum's helical staircase is a nod to Dalí's interest in the shape of DNA.
[Monica Herndon | Times]
That's the kind of too-coincidental Easter egg we'd be obsessing over if this were a heady peak TV drama and not the real life biography of one of history's most important artists.
Gibson writes that Dalí's life was geared toward vigilance and self control. He was narcissistic, and known to keep a strict routine, rising and going to bed at exactly the same time.
Nothing about that life suggests a child would have been a welcome addition, and when he died in 1989 the Spanish state inherited everything.
Whether this final footnote will be a blip, or an upheaval, is yet to be seen. The Gala-Salvador Dalí Foundation, which manages the Dalí estate, said it plans to appeal the judge's order.
Perhaps this post-mortem version of fatherhood suits him better. Even his last-minute decision to be buried beneath his theater-museum, a major tourist attraction, ensured he'd remain the star of the show.
He'd probably be fascinated by the genetic science, and the shameless self-promotion he was sometimes criticized for suggests he'd likely enjoy the attention he is getting now.