The Surreal Story Behind Salvador Dalí’s Tarot Cards

Saturday November 11, 2017 Written by sam

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How’s this for an odd couple? Suave British secret agent James Bond and controversial Catalan surrealist Salvador Dalí. One the epitome of style, discretion and alpha-masculinity; the other a flamboyant genius with a penchant for melting clocks and self-promotion. Yet this curious pairing almost happened in 1973, when Dalí was commissioned to design a deck of tarot cards for Live and Let Die, Roger Moore’s first cinematic outing as 007.

While Dalí adhered to tarot principles, the cards crackle with his irrepressible personality. The Magician and King of Pentacles are self-portraits, the Queen of Cups has a rakish moustache and goatee, and a red demon sucks on a strand of the Queen of Pentacles’ hair. The Moon is a woman’s face gazing upon a modern metropolis as a weird crustacean-like creature looks on; Death is a sinister skull in a floating cypress tree.

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The cards were needed for the character of Solitaire (Jane Seymour), the fortune-telling consort of a Caribbean drug lord. With a typically large budget at his disposal, the film’s producer Albert R. Broccoli didn’t hesitate in approaching Dalí – who enthusiastically accepted, possibly egged on by his esoterically inclined wife Gala. But the contract fell through when Dalí – already well into the project by this stage – demanded an exorbitant fee that made even Broccoli baulk. He ended up being dropped for lesser-known artist Fergus Hall, whose Tarot of the Witches ultimately appeared in the film. Undeterred, Dalí continued with his deck, which eventually went on sale in 1984 when he was 80 – the first tarot set by an artist of his stature. Familiar Dalinian motifs such as butterflies, roses, disembodied faces, ants, and his beloved Gala (on the Empress card, no less) combine with collaged details from classic European masterpieces, Roman numerals and occult symbolism, resulting in 78 tiny works of surreal art.

The artist even acknowledges his lost James Bond commission by giving the Emperor Sean Connery’s face. Guess he wasn’t a Roger Moore fan, then.

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