When most people think about Salvador Dalí, the first thing that comes to mind is likely his mind-bending work as one of the vanguards of surrealism—melting clocks, spindly-limbed monsters, bizarre tableaus that tread the line between dreamscape and nightmare… either that or his trademark mustache.
However, Dalí’s oeuvre is not simply limited to oil paintings; throughout his career, he dabbled in a wide variety of eccentric and surprising formats. He made sculptures, cookbooks, wine guides, designed sets for plays and operas, and even collaborated on an animated film with Walt Disney. One of the most unique undertakings of his career though is undoubtedly the infamous Dalí tarot deck, which has been a highly-sought and hard to find collector’s item since its original release in the mid-80s. Well, good news: the Dalí tarot deck is back, and it’s better than ever.
Taschen, the publisher behind a number of high-end hardcover volumes of Dalí’s work, has recently re-released the Dalí tarot deck as a beautiful 78-card box set. Included with the deck itself is an insightful companion book by author and tarot scholar Johannes Fiebig, which delves into Dalí’s life and process while completing his tarot series. The book also provides detailed information on the history of tarot, explanations of what the individual cards mean, and instructions on how to perform your own readings with the deck. The addition of Fiebig’s book elevates the previous version of the deck by making it one of those rare art objects that are not only inspiring to behold, but also functional to use.
Although it’s easy to imagine Dalí deciding to delve into tarot cards on a psychedelic whim, his original impetus for creating the deck is perhaps even stranger than the fact that he made one at all. The deck was commissioned by famed film producer Albert Broccoli as a prop for the classic 1973 James Bond film Live and Let Die, starring Roger Moore and Jane Seymour. In the film, Seymour plays a psychic medium called Solitaire who uses tarot cards to track the legendary MI6 spy James Bond. Legend has it that after Dalí began working on the deck it became clear that his fees would be too high for the production to afford, so Broccoli decided to scrap the idea and the tarot deck prop was cut from the film.
Thankfully, Dalí’s wife Gala encouraged his interest in mysticism and the occult, and he became so enamored with the process of creating the tarot deck that he continued to work on it for more than a decade.
Many of the cards themselves feature Dalí’s interpretations of classic works of art, such as Vincenzo Camuccini’s The Death of Julius Caesar, which stands in for the Ten of Swords. As a tribute to Gala, he included her likeness in the deck as the figure of the Empress, which is quite an appropriate choice, since the Empress represents the creation of life, romance, and art. Dalí also included himself in the deck as the figure of the Magician, which represents self-confidence and signifies success in upcoming ventures. When he finally completed the tarot deck in 1984, the original limited edition was lauded by tarot readers and Dalí fans alike and quickly sold out, so it seems that his casting of himself as the magician was indeed a prophetic choice… fated by the cards, perhaps?
For a particularly surreal tarot experience, and as a supplement to Fiebig’s guide, try combining the Dalí tarot deck with surrealist filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky’s series of instructional tarot YouTube videos, in which he provides in-depth lessons on the history and practice of tarot reading, as well as personalized readings for followers of his channel. Jodorowsky and Dalí were contemporaries, and Dalí was even slated to appear in Jodorowsky’s ill-fated attempt to make a big-budget version of the sci-fi classic Dune. Although there’s no evidence that the two surrealist visionaries ever discussed their mutual interest in tarot, at least not on record, it’s fun to imagine what that conversation would have been like; one has to assume it would have been either extremely profound or completely incomprehensible.
Until the new Taschen edition, which was released this past November, original copies of the deck were extremely hard to come by, selling for upwards of $500 on online auction websites like eBay. The 2019 version of the deck is much more affordable, retailing on Taschen’s website for $60 USD. It makes a perfect gift for any lover of Dalí’s artwork, or just tarot cards in general. So if you want to take a surreal glimpse into your future, or just have some fun with your open-minded, art-loving friends, there’s no better way to do so than with a tarot deck designed by the inimitable Salvador Dalí.
Combining the occult with his own unmistakable sensibility, Dalí’s tarot is a pastiche of old-world art, surrealism, kitsch, Christian iconography and Greek and Roman sculpture.— openculture.com
Deck of 78 tarot cards with booklet in a box, 7.4 x 13 in., 184 pages