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Before his recent death, surrealist artist Salvador Dali had assembled a secret collection of his last paintings that were to be exhibited only after his death.

"Dali will shock us once again," according to A. Reynolds Morse, founder of the Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Fla., and one of the few people to have seen these recent pictures.Dali, 84, died Jan. 21 in a hospital in Figueras, Spain, of pneumonia.

Morse said in an interview that art critics will be astonished when the 150 paintings are unveiled. "The last pictures are in a totally new style," he said.

Dali's last works are likely to become the most controversial of his 60-year career. Painted from 1978 to 1982, when the artist's health was deteriorating fast, Morse says they are "violent pictures."

Morse, a long-time collector and friend of Dali, is the first person beyond the artist's private entourage to have spoken about these paintings.

"Dali's last paintings reflect the terrible anguish as he watched his wife Gala die after 50 years of the closest companionship. They are monumental works, and very expressive," Morse said.

Gala Dali's death in June 1982 ended Dali's artistic career, and after that he never painted again. Two years later he was almost killed in a fire at his castle of Pubol, and his doctors feared that he would never recover.

Dali astonished everyone by leaving the hospital and setting up a new home at the top of the tower above the museum devoted to his work at Figueras, his birthplace, in northern Spain.

He continued to defy his doctors' predictions and did not eat for five years, saying that he was unable to swallow. Instead, he was fed through a tube up his nose.

Last December, he was again hospitalized, suffering from an infected lung and heart problems. Close to death, he had a bedside visit from King Juan Carlos, giving him two of his own poems and promising to paint again. A few days later he was back in the Galatea Tower. Then, on Jan. 18, he was hospitalized again.

If the new paintings are in fact all by Dali, then his output was truly prodigious. At the height of his career, Dali normally did about nine oil paintings a year; by the 1970s his output had declined to about one a year. By this time his health was failing and Parkinson's disease meant that he suffered from trembling hands.

Yet by the late 1970s, Dali is said to have been finishing a picture a week.

"Dali was given some help by his assistant Isidor Bea, but the paintings are undoubtedly his own works. Bea would do the preparatory work of putting on the flat color, but it was Dali who did the details," Morse insisted.

Curiously, the last paintings are not only unlike his earlier works but also are said to be done in various styles. Cynics may claim that Dali may just have added his greatest contribution, his signature. If so, Dali will again turn the art world upside down by forcing critics to decide whether one of his paintings with a genuine signature can be a "fake."

The story of Dali's last paintings may well end up causing as much of a storm as the "prints scandal," which involved the sale of $900 million worth of "fake" prints, many of them printed on pre-signed paper with genuine Dali signatures.

Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service