Salvador Dalí

Dalí estate resolves bitter dispute with Demart

The Foundation has settled a long-running battle over rights

The bitter dispute between the Gala-Salvador Dalí Foundation, the organisation that manages the Surrealist’s estate and owns the copyright to his works, and Demart, a company chaired by Robert Descharnes, a friend of Dalí who looked after him in his final years, has finally been resolved.

The stakes were high, as control of the Surrealist’s estate—and the income that derives from reproduction rights and authentications—is worth millions of dollars annually. Complicating the issue was the tortuous state in which Dalí left his affairs.

In his lifetime he had established both the foundation, and Demart, a company which was granted intellectual property rights (the right to reproduce images) until February this year. The idea was that Demart should provide income to help support the Foundation, which runs three museums, the “theatre-museum” in Figueres and Dalí’s “house-museums” in Púbol and Port Lligat.

However, in 1994 the foundation attempted to take over the administration of Dalí’s intellectual property rights, triggering a series of lawsuits (The Art Newspaper, No.98, December 1999, pp.25-27).

The foundation accused Mr Descharnes of failing to provide regular financial accounts; for failing to pay profits realised by Demart to the foundation; for allowing the use of the Dalí name on unsuitable products; and for failing to exploit the market for more suitable products. Mr Descharnes responded to these accusations by saying that the legal costs of fighting the proliferation of forgeries of the artist’s work, as well as lawsuits brought by the foundation, were eating up all of the company’s profits.

Under the recent settlement both parties have agreed to drop all existing suits. The Dalí Foundation has bought the entire stock capital of Demart, and Mr Descharnes has left the company. Joan Manuel Sevillano, executive manager of the foundation, told The Art Newspaper, “We have achieved the goal we had set ourselves. The Foundation now manages and controls all the intellectual property rights to Dalí’s work. We have taken over the trust which held the image rights. Now we can get on with our job”.

That job is considerable, in that Dalí is generally considered to be the artist whose work is faked more often than any others’—something Mr Sevillano surprisingly denies. “We have to educate the public on this issue: there is a myth about the the real number of fakes circulating. For original oils, most of Dalí’s work is catalogued, and there is no problem in identifying fakes. The big problem occurs in the graphic arts, in multiples; that’s where the big scams are.”

Estimates of the number of fake Dalí prints on the market run into the hundreds of thousands. Dalí’s US lawyer once estimated that the market for forgeries was worth $600 million (about £360 million) in the 1980s alone. This summer, police seized 450 works in Helsinki, at a Dalí centenary show. The Finnish police haul included graphic prints, etchings, woodcuts and sculptures. Mr Sevillano says, “We are continually working on this problem”.

Appeared in The Art Newspaper Archive, 151 October 2004