Salvador Dalí

The battle over copyright: Even in death, Dalí spreads chaos

Millions of dollars from reproduction rights, hundreds of thousands of fakes and the authority to authenticate works are at stake. The Gala-Salvador Dalí Foundation, set up to care for his work, claims that Demart, which administers his intellectual property rights, is failing to do its job

Salvador Dalí is yet again at the centre of a controversy. Ten years after his death, a battle is being fought over an important part of his legacy. At stake are millions of dollars from reproduction rights, the fate of hundreds of thousands of fake prints and the authority to authenticate works by the surrealist genius. But when it comes to Dalí, nothing is quite what might be expected: a major legal case over his intellectual property rights is being waged in the somewhat unlikely setting of a small town in Canada. During his lifetime, Dalí seemed to enjoy leaving chaos in his wake, and he has not lost his masterly touch.

The dispute is between two bodies established with Dalí’s support. On one side is the Gala-Salvador Dalí Foundation, which runs the artist’s “theatre-museum” in his Catalonian birthplace, Figueres. The Foundation was the most important body set up by Dalí to care for his artistic work. On the other side is Demart, a company chaired by the French Dalí specialist Robert Descharnes, a colleague of the artist who was charged with administering his intellectual property rights. Mr Descharnes, originally a photographer, met Dalí in 1950 and he was one of the “troika” who looked after him in his final years (along with painter Antonio Pitxot and lawyer Miguel Domenech).

Since Dalí’s death, the Foundation has become increasingly critical about Demart’s operations, charging that it is failing in its obligations. Backed by the Spanish State, the Foundation is now assuming Demart’s rights, but Demart is fighting back. Although the dispute has had some coverage in the Spanish press, comparatively little has been published internationally. The Art Newspaper has delved deep into the Dalínian world, to examine what is going on behind the scenes.

Both sides passionately believe they are acting in Dalí’s interests. Mr Descharnes has even taken to writing a series of “open letters” to his deceased colleague. In one of his most recent epistles, addressed to “Dear Salvador Dalí”, Mr Descharnes accuses the Foundation of “lies, pressure, threats, trading on influence, intellectual terrorism and despoilment”—charges vehemently rejected by the Foundation. The Foundation stresses its determination “to defend the pureness of the Dalínian heritage on an international basis”, while preserving “the fame and good name of this artist of genius.”

The tangled web

Demart, the company at the heart of the dispute, was formed in 1985 and the following year Dalí signed an agreement with Mr Descharnes, granting it “the full and complete exercise of all the intellectual property rights” until 2004. An amendment of the following year specified that the sole beneficiaries of Demart should be Dalí (during his lifetime) and the Foundation. When Dalí signed the amended contract, he was eighty-two and his scrawled signature is evidence of declining health. Dalí died on 23 January 1989, leaving Demart in the hands of Mr Descharnes and his associates. Demart’s structure is complex (see below, under “The two parties”) and its international nature ensures that corporation taxes are kept to the minimum.

Three years before Demart’s establishment, Dalí had set up the Gala-Salvador Dalí Foundation, partly to take over the running of his Teatre-Museu. Dalí became the Foundation’s president and ran the museum in his own inimitable style. “When Dalí managed the museum, it did not really have an organised structure, but it was run with his creative imagination,” explained Antonio Pitxot, the current director of the Teatre-Museu. In addition to running the museum, the Foundation also has a much wider brief, and among its aims is one which appears to be similar to that of Demart: “to protect and defend...the artistic, cultural and intellectual production of Salvador Dalí.”

Collision course

Dalí’s strength was his artistic imagination, not administrative skills, and after his death the Foundation floundered somewhat until the election in December 1991 of Figueres-born Ramón Boixadós as its chairman. Mr Boixadós, a former head of Spanish Railways, had a mandate to improve efficiency and he soon became embroiled in a row with Demart. In theory the two bodies were supposed to work in tandem: Demart providing an income which would help support the Foundation. But Demart was tardy in providing financial accounts and it was not generating significant profits, mainly because of its high operating costs (see box).

During 1992-94 there were negotiations between the Foundation and Mr Descharnes, but these failed to lead to a settlement. In September 1994 the Foundation then attempted to take over the administration of Dalí’s intellectual property rights, a move resisted by Demart. The following month the Foundation dropped Mr Descharnes as one of its life trustees, despite the fact he had been originally appointed by Dalí.

Mr Boixadós then asked the Spanish government to intervene, and on 25 July 1995 the Minister of Culture issued an order, transferring the administration of Dalí’s intellectual property rights to the Foundation. Demart appealed, and the ministerial order was temporarily withdrawn in February 1996, but in March 1997 the order was upheld by the National High Court. Demart then appealed to the Supreme Court, a process which was to take more than two years.

What then were the main reasons behind the Foundation’s efforts to take over the Dalí rights? In an interview with The Art Newspaper last month, the Foundation’s intellectual property adviser Margarita Ruiz Combalía made four main complaints against Demart. Mr Descharnes also spoke to us, rebutting the charges.

o Demart has failed to provide regular financial accounts and copies of contracts. Despite some information submitted in 1994, Ms Ruiz Combalía points out that the company has provided little detailed accounting data for the 1990s. Mr Descharnes responds that Demart gave information to the Spanish government in 1994, but further information was stopped “after the Foundation initiated action against our company.”

o Demart has paid no profits to the Foundation. It was intended by Dalí that profits generated by Demart should help support the work of the Foundation. Mr Descharnes responds that the legal costs of fighting the marketing of fake Dalís has been very high. Relatively small profits have been made some years, but these were retained to balance losses incurred in earlier years. In the present impasse, Mr Descharnes has no plans to pay profits to the Foundation, and “these will be retained or spent on other cultural projects relating to Dalí”.

o Demart is allowing Dalí’s name to be used on unsuitable products. Ms Ruiz Combalía cites two examples. A French perfume company was granted rights, but it has recently started to use the Dalí name on deodorants, which she believes is demeaning. Demart has also signed a contract with Sony Creative Products in Japan and an annex lists the products on which the artist’s images can be used, including underwear. Mr Descharnes dismisses Ms Ruiz Combalía’s charges and claims that the Foundation has allowed the Dalí name to be used on food products.

o Demart has failed to exploit the market for suitable products and rights should bring in considerably more income. Ruiz Combalía believes that rights should produce an income of at least Pta300 million (£1.2 million; $1.9 million) a year. Mr Descharnes responds that Demart’s profits have been affected by the legal costs involved in fighting fakes and dealing with the Foundation’s challenges.

Royal comment

This summer King Juan Carlos found himself drawn into the Dalí dispute. As Honorary President of the Foundation, he made a prearranged visit to the Figueres Teatre-Museu on 28 June and, in his speech, he backed the stand against Demart. “The Foundation is the only administrator worldwide of the estate and the intellectual and industrial property rights of the Master Dalí,” the king proclaimed. This was just two weeks before the Supreme Court was due to announce its decision on the status of the ministerial order.

Mr Descharnes immediately penned a further open letter to the deceased Dalí, accusing “the ‘putrefied’ manipulators of Figueres” of making use of the king. Although presumably uninfluenced by the royal comments, on 13 July the Supreme Court upheld the ministerial order. If the intellectual property rights were in dispute, the matter should be taken to the civil, not the administrative courts. This means that yet another legal battle is to begin.

On 22 September Demart filed an action in Madrid. “We are suing the Spanish government in the national civil courts,” explained Demart’s lawyer, José Briones. This case is expected to take between one and two years to come to court and, whatever the result, the loser is likely to appeal, which will take a similar length of time. This means that the issue of the intellectual property rights may not be resolved much before 2003, the year before Demart’s mandate is ended under the original 1986 contract.

A quite separate legal action has been launched in Canada by the Foundation, which is seeking the dissolution of the Fredericton-based Salvador Dalí Pro Arte Trust, on the grounds that it has failed to live up to its obligations. This action was initiated earlier this year, but so far the New Brunswick court has refused to dissolve the trust. The Foundation is also using the courts to try to force Demart to provide additional financial information. This action is likely to prove more successful, but Demart is resisting unless it gets assurances that the Foundation will not use the resulting information in order to launch further attacks.

With all these legal moves, the battle between Demart and the Foundation is by no means over and in the meantime both sides are claiming the right to collect reproduction rights for the use of Dalí’s images. Two years ago, the Foundation made a contract with the Spanish artists’ rights agency, Visual Entidad de Gestión de Artistas Plásticos (VEGAP), which in turn has links with similar organisations abroad. But in some countries, such as Germany, Switzerland and Japan, certain payments are still going to Demart, although income may be held in escrow accounts pending a resolution of the complex legal issues.

The fakes mountain

Dalí is the most forged artist in history, thanks to the plethora of fake prints. The vast majority of these date from the 1960s, when the artist began to sign sheets of blank paper for publishers of his prints. Ruiz Combalía believes that Dalí actually signed fewer than 30,000 blank sheets, but the artist’s former business manager Captain Peter Moore says the figure is very much higher, possibly as much as 500,000.

Dalí fakes come in a bewildering number of varieties. There are authentic prints with forged signatures and forged prints with genuine signatures (on pre-signed paper). Some prints have both fake images and fake signatures. “Limited editions” are often not what they seem, with different sets of numbers for American, French and Japanese printings. All this is big business for unscrupulous dealers and Dalí’s American lawyer once estimated that over $600 million (£xx) worth of fake prints went into circulation in the 1980s in the US alone.

Although it is reproduction rights which bring in the income, a very important aspect of administering intellectual property rights is fighting the fakers. Until recently it was Demart which was leading the battle, and Mr Descharnes has chalked up a number of victories. In New York State, a case which came to court two years ago led to prosecutions and the seizure of 70,000 prints. Last March a court in Valence, France, ordered the destruction of 90,000 prints. These were both complex cases and the fraud investigations had taken many years.

But despite Demart’s efforts, the Foundation now feels that not enough is being done to tackle the problem and it has set up its own fakes-busting operation. Ms Ruiz Combalía describes this aspect of her work as tackling “the dirty job” of the Foundation. She has recently introduced a new strategy: first go for those in Spain, and then move onto those abroad. “It is like throwing a stone in a lake, and seeing the circles ripple outwards.”

Targeting the Captain

The Foundation’s first target is one of the people who was closest to Dalí: Captain Peter Moore, the artist’s business manager from the early 1960s to the mid 1970s. The Irish captain, who claims a distinguished career in wartime intelligence, is now eighty and remains a witty and controversial character. He makes no secret of the fact that Dalí made him rich and his mansion in Port Lligat is considerably grander than that of his former master. Captain Moore and his wife also have a Dalí museum in Cadaqués, the Perrot-Moore Art Centre.

According to the Foundation, Moore was selling fake prints in his museum, until recently for prices of around Pta170,000 (£660; $1,023). Much of the evidence obtained by the Foundation came from one of Moore’s former assistants, Quim Miró. On 27 April, following the Foundation’s tip-off, police raided Captain Moore’s home, his museum and a Cadaqués warehouse. Up to 10,000 prints were seized. Captain Moore indignantly denies that these include fakes, stressing that he of all people had no reason to have fakes, because of his huge stock of authentic Dalís.

Captain Moore says that when he worked for Dalí he was normally paid 10% of the value of the contracts he arranged. “If it was for prints, I would usually take a percentage of the print run instead of cash,” he told The Art Newspaper. Captain Moore insists that he saw many of the prints being produced and signed, and this gives him the confidence to state that they are authentic.

Captain Moore’s case will eventually go before the District Court of Figueres, probably in a year or so, but there could then be a new twist to the story. Relations between Mr Descharnes and Captain Moore have been strained in the past, but both are now facing the same enemy: the Foundation. Captain Moore revealed to The Art Newspaper that he hopes to call Mr Descharnes to give evidence to authenticate his prints. Mr Descharnes told us that he has an open attitude towards this suggestion. “Through my lawyer, I have asked for more information on Moore’s prints,” he said.

Questions of attribution

Until now Mr Descharnes has been regarded as the international specialist on Dalí for authentication. He is the author of the two most complete books on the paintings, Salvador Dalí: the work, the man and a two-volume Taschen book (1,600 illustrated paintings). Mr Descharnes has also built up a formidable archive of images and data, and Christie’s and Sotheby’s are among the international auction houses which regularly seek his opinion. Mr Descharnes says he currently authenticates 250 paintings and drawings a year.

The Foundation disputes Mr Descharnes’s authority, and Ms Ruiz Combalía describes him as a “photographer, not an art historian”. In 1994, just after the break with Demart, the Foundation established its own expertise commission, which is currently composed of three trustees (Antonio Pitxot, Ana Beristain and Cesáreo Rodríguez-Aguilera) and two staff members (Montse Aguer and Georgina Berini). Last year it authenticated eleven works (rejecting thirteen). The Foundation is also working on a catalogue raisonné, and it hopes to publish the prints volume late next year and the paintings in 2004.

Ms Ruiz Combalía is determined to “clean” the Dalí market by regularising reproduction rights and eliminating fakes by 2004, the hundredth anniversary of the birth of Dalí - and the final year under which Demart is claiming its rights. She insists that the Foundation must now administer all aspects of the intellectual property rights, and there is no longer room for compromise with Demart. Mr Descharnes is determined that Demart will continue to administer these rights until 2004. Ms Ruiz Combalía’s believes the fundamental question is simple: which party is selflessly attempting to respect Dalí’s wishes?

Demart’s accounts (1998, Dutch guilders)


From perfume contract 1,712,000

From other contracts 674,000

From reproduction rights 345,000

Total 2,731,000

Expenditure 2,659,000

Profit 72,000

i.e. less than 30% of incom

What’s what and who’s who in the Dalí world

The two parties

Demart is the company set up by Mr Descharnes in 1985 to manage Dalí’s intellectual property rights. Dalí signed contracts with the company in 1986-87. Demart Pro Arte BV is registered in Amsterdam, but its office is located at Geneva airport and its chairman is Robert Descharnes, a French citizen resident in Paris. Mr Descharnes receives what he calls a “normal” salary or fee, although he is unwilling to give further details. Demart, in turn, is controlled by the Salvador Dalí Pro Art Trust, set up in Fredericton, New Brunswick. It is chaired by Mr Descharnes and currently has five other trustees: the Jersey-based Phinean Trust (run by company administrator Philip Bisson in St Hellier), Madrid lawyer José Briones, Barcelona lawyer Alejandro Blanco, Brussels-based Luxembourg business consultant John Heinz and French artist Pierre Yves Trémois. Antonio Pitxot and Miguel Domenech, the other two members of the “troika” who cared for Dalí in his final years, were originally trustees, but both resigned in l985. The Foundation also had two representatives on the Trust from 1993 to 1997 (Jordi Mercador and Enrique Barón), but they did not attend meetings and were later removed.

The Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí, based in Figueres, Dalí’s birthplace, is a private foundation. It was established by Dalí in 1983 to promote his work and run his Teatre-Museu. During his lifetime, the Foundation was directed by Dalí. The Foundation is run by a board, now headed by chairman Ramón Boixadós. Its trustees are twelve life-members appointed for their personal qualifications (nine of whom were chosen by Dalí) and nine members appointed by the various governments (Spain, Catalonia and town councils of Figueres and Cadaqués). King Juan Carlos is the honorary president and a year ago his daughter Princess Cristina was appointed a life trustee. The Foundation has five departments: museums, the Centre of Dalínian Studies, the restoration studio, the expertise and cataloguing commission, and the commercial management and copyright section.

Dalí’s contracts

Few artists can have left a more complex set of commercial contracts. The Foundation is now trying to establish how many contracts were signed and if they are being honoured. The preliminary investigations suggest:

o Until the 1970s, Dalí signed his own contracts. Their number is unknown, but the Foundation has details of nearly thirty.

o Dalí’s business manager Enric Sabater arranged fifty contracts between the early 1970s and the early 1980s.

o Demart signed sixty contracts from its establishment in 1986 until 1994 (plus a few additional contracts since then).

o The Foundation began to sign contracts from 1995, although only five have been concluded because of the wish to wait until the legal issues are resolved. The most important contract signed was the 1997 arrangement with VEGAP, the Spanish artists’ rights association.

The Dalínian triangle

Despite the legal rows, the museums run by the Foundation are flourishing. Antonio Pitxot, Dalí’s closest friend in his later years and director of the museums, stresses that the Teatre-Museu is “the artist’s last great work”. Dalí’s house in Port Lligat and Gala’s castle in Púbol have also been opened to visitors. Pitxot describes Dalí as an anticipator of many of the major artistic movements of recent decades: Pop art, happenings, abstract expressionism, conceptual art, installations and cybernetic art. But Dalí is now being remembered for the wrong things: the anecdotal, the frivolous and the ephemeral. “Dalí has become a victim of his vulgarisers, but of course the person who would be most amused by this would be Dalí himself.”

Although Mr Pitxot is director of the museums, his role is like that of a chairman and the administrator is Lluís Peñuelas. The Foundation manages 4,000 works of art, of which 1,500 are on show. These include pictures donated by Dalí to the museum in 1974 and to the Foundation in 1983, plus some of those inherited by the Spanish State in 1989 (fortunately, ownership of Dalí’s works of art in Spanish museums is not affected at all by the other legal disputes). The Foundation receives no State funding. Around 80% of its income comes from tickets and shop revenues and most of the remainder from travelling exhibitions (“The universe of Salvador Dalí” is currently touring Japan, at the Hiroshima Prefectural Museum of Art this month). The Foundation now runs three museums in north-west Spain:

o Teatre-Museu, Figueres. Established in 1974, in the ruins of the old Municipal Theatre, the museum is now celebrating its twenty-fifth anniversary. Dalí lived in part of the museum complex in 1984-89, in a room on the upper level of the Torre Galatea. He is buried beneath the theatre stage, in the heart of the museum. The Teatre-Museu receives over 750,000 visitors a year, making it among Spain’s most popular museums.

o Casa-Museu Castell Gala Dalí, Púbol. A fourteenth-century castle in the small village of Púbol, 40km south of Figueres. The property was presented by Dalí to his wife Gala in 1970 and the artist never visited her without written permission. Following her death in 1982, Gala was buried in the Tithe Room. Dalí then moved into the castle, where he stayed until the fire which badly burned him in 1984. The castle is owned by the Spanish state and run by the Foundation. It was opened to the public in 1996, and now has 45,000 visitors a year.

o Casa-Museu Salvador Dalí, Port Lligat. Dalí’s home is situated on a small bay on the outskirts of Cadaqués, thirty kilometres east of Figueres. The artist bought a fisherman’s cabin in 1930 and gradually expanded the property, buying up adjacent houses and eventually creating the present labyrinthine structure by 1971. Although Dalí lived part of every year outside Spain, he remained in Port Lligat until his move to Púbol in 1982. The house now belongs to the Spanish State and was opened to the public in 1997. It now receives 75,000 visitors a year.

o For opening times

Tel: +34 972 677500