SALVADOR Dali kept his first ever surrealist work a mystery by dating it to before he was born, in a bizarre practical joke.

Art experts have confirmed that the painting – unveiled in Madrid’s Institute of Bellas Artes this week – is his earliest surrealist work.

Dating to 1921, the painting was created when Dali was just 17 years old, several years before he was thought to have joined the surrealist movement.

A young art historian bought the oil painting in an antiques shop in the north-eastern city of Girona for the equivalent of just under €150 (25,000 pesatas) in 1988.

Tomeu L’Amo suspected the painting was an early work of Dali’s, but the shopkeeper insisted it was impossible as it was dated 1896 – eight years before Dali was born.

“Dali must be laughing in his grave at the thought that he managed to fool everyone for so many years,” said L’Amo.

The painting has been entitled The Intrauterine Birth of Salvador Dali.

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