Descharnes, a French photographer and author of books on Dali, said the artist has not done any work since he completed a series of 26 drawings to commemorate Spain's acceptance into the European Community more than a year ago. Dali titled the series "We Are the Bull That Has Abducted Europa," and presented the drawings to King Juan Carlos of Spain.
The seclusion of a great and immensely rich artist, who sees very little of his closest living relative, a younger sister, lends itself to all kinds of suspicion about the people who hover near him.
After a series of articles in the Spanish, French and American press in 1980 accused Dali's secretary and manager, Enrique Sabater, of mismanaging Dali's business affairs and using the job to enrich himself, Dali pushed Sabater aside and replaced him with an old friend, the photographer and critic Descharnes. After the fire, Spanish newspapers accused Descharnes of neglect, but they produced no evidence, and a government investigation absolved him of all blame.
The three people closest to Dali now are Descharnes, who commutes between Figueras and his apartment in Paris; Miguel Domenech, a Madrid lawyer, and painter Antoni Pitxot, son of an old friend of Dali. Pitxot lives in nearby Cadaques and sees Dali almost every afternoon. Dali has shown his gratitude by alloting an entire floor of the Dali museum to the works of Pitxot.
On His Own
In an interview, Descharnes insisted that this coterie of associates cannot control what Dali does, not even in matters of health. "We are his friends," Descharnes said. "We are not his family. We cannot tell him what to do."
Dali's popularity, carelessness and, by all accounts, greed have contributed to the creation of a monstrous market in fake Dalis, especially in the United States. Photographic reproductions of Dali lithographs and drawings with false signatures are often sold as original, signed works by Dali. On top of this, there is a brisk trade in Dali-style lithographs done by other artists under what is advertised as Dali's signature.
In February, a New York County grand jury indicted seven people on charges of selling fake Dali lithographs. Customers were sold photographic reproductions of Dali works--worth about as much as a $10 poster--for $3,000 each. But these indictments barely touched the problem. Michael Stout, a New York lawyer who represents Dali, has estimated that $625-million worth of fake Dali lithographs have been sold in the United States in the last few years.
The Dali print market has long been confused by an old Dali habit of signing blank sheets of lithograph paper, supposedly for artisans to use to run off genuine Dalis from plates in his absence. There are stories that two aides would stand by his side, one pushing a sheet under his pen and the other pulling it away, so that he could sign a huge number in an hour.
Judge Quinta said that when he was a reporter he once discovered that Hotel Meurice in Paris had 50,000 blank sheets with Dali's signature in its storeroom. A former manager, John Peter Moore, has estimated that Dali signed 350,000 blank sheets in his lifetime.
It is not clear how many of these signed sheets were obtained by counterfeiters. But Descharnes said that the practice of signing blank sheets, which stopped at the end of 1980, was "an open door."
Fighting the counterfeiters has been made difficult by Dali's reluctance to involve himself in any legal action against a dealer, partly because of the illness, partly because of a distrust of the courts, partly because of a pride over being faked.
"My problem as an assistant and friend of Dali," Descharnes said, "is that it is very difficult to have the efficient help of Dali on this. And Dali is the only man who can definitely say that a work is a fake. I give only my opinion."
The eccentric and playful Dali Museum is the only side of Dali that most visitors to Figueras can see these days. Its genesis reveals a good deal about the flamboyant painter.
In 1960, Ramon Guardiola Rovira, the mayor of Figueras, asked Dali to donate a few paintings to Figueras so that the town museum could have a Dali room. Dali went further than that. He promised to donate enough of his works to fill a whole museum and proposed that the Municipal Theater, destroyed by fire in the Spanish Civil War, be rebuilt to house a Dali museum. The theater had sentimental significance since some paintings of Dali had been exhibited there when he was a student of 14 years of age.