FIGUERAS, SPAIN (AFP) - Forensics experts exhumed Salvador Dali's remains from a tomb in his Spanish hometown on July 20, nearly three decades after his death, in order to test a fortune teller's claims that she is the only daughter of the renowned surrealist.
Working behind closed doors, they removed a slab weighing more than a tonne which covers the tomb of the artist at the Dali Theatre-Museum in Figueras in north-eastern Spain where he was born.
"At 10.20pm, Salvador Dali's coffin was opened and work has begun on the remains to extract biological samples," said a statement from Catalonia's High Court of Justice, which is overseeing the operation.
The DNA samples in the form of bone or tooth fragments will then be sent to Madrid to undergo the necessary tests.
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A crowd of onlookers gathered outside the elaborate museum of Dali's work to watch as police escorted the experts into the building. Dali designed the museum himself and it is topped by a huge metallic dome decorated with egg shapes.
The museum, a top tourist site that drew more than 1.1 million visitors last year, was covered in some places with cloth to prevent drones from capturing images.
Mr Maria Lorca, who was the mayor of Figueras at the time of Dali's death in 1989 at age 84, said the notoriously eccentric artist would have enjoyed the atmosphere outside the museum. "He would feel at home, it is a day that suits his way of being," he said.
Ms Pilar Abel, a 61-year-old who long worked as a psychic in Catalonia, says her mother had a relationship with the artist when she worked in Cadaques, a picturesque Spanish port where the painter lived for years.
A Madrid judge last month granted her a DNA test to find out whether her allegations are true.
If Ms Abel is confirmed as Dali's only child, she could be entitled to 25 per cent of the huge fortune and heritage of one of the most celebrated and prolific painters of the 20th century, said her lawyer Enrique Blanquez.
Dali's estate, which includes properties and hundreds of paintings, is entirely in the hands of the Spanish state.
The Salvador Dali Foundation, which manages the estate, says it was worth nearly 400 million euros (S$635 million) at the end of last year. The foundation is to provide details of the exhumation at a press conference today.
Ms Abel has already provided a saliva sample for comparison and the results are expected within a matter of weeks.
In an interview with AFP last month, just days after a court ordered the exhumation, Ms Abel said her grandmother had told her she was Dali's daughter when she was seven or eight years old. Her mother admitted it much later.
Ms Abel is from the city of Figueras, like Dali, and she said she would often see him in the streets.
"We wouldn't say anything, we would just look at each other. But a glance is worth a thousand words," she said.
A question has always hung over Dali's sexuality, with some claiming he was a closet homosexual who preferred to watch others having sex rather than taking part.
But according to Ms Abel's lawyer Blanquez, his affair was "known in the village, there are people who have testified before a notary".
Born on May 11, 1904 in Figueras to a bourgeois family, Dali developed an interest in painting from an early age.
In 1922, he began studying at the Fine Arts Academy in Madrid where he developed his first avant-garde artistic ideas in association with poet Federico Garcia Lorca and film-maker Luis Bunuel.
Soon he left for Paris to join the surrealist movement, giving the school his own personal twist and rocketing to fame with works such as The Great Masturbator. Returning to Catalonia after 12 years, he invited French poet Paul Eluard and his Russian wife Elena Ivanovna Diakonova to Cadaques.
She became his muse - he gave her the pet name Gala - and remained at his side for the rest of her life.
They never had children and she died in 1982, seven years before Dali's death.