1904-1989 | Spanish
Two of Swords
Signed “Dalí” (upper right)
Gouache on photographic background
Representing a unique blend of spiritualism and Surrealism, this gouache hails from Salvador Dalí’s fascinating and highly inventive deck of custom-made tarot cards. The original commission for the design came from Albert Broccoli, the producer of the James Bond film Live and Let Die, who sought a tarot card deck to use in the film. Though the contractual deal eventually fell through, Dalí continued the project of his own accord, largely thanks to the inspiration of his wife Gala, who had an interest in mysticism.
The Surrealist maestro drew upon a number of influences to complete the deck, which comprised 78 cards in total — 22 major arcana and 56 minor. His own self-portrait served as the Magician card, while his beloved wife Gala naturally posed for the Empress. Jan Gossaert’s 1516 Renaissance work Neptune and Amphitrite was the basis for the Lovers card, while the Queen of Cups card represents a fascinating marriage of Duchamp’s iconic Mona Lisa remix, L.H.O.O.Q., with a portrait of Elizabeth of Austria. The iconography of the deck is as eclectic as one would expect from the Surrealist master; it is little wonder that it took him 10 years to complete the project.
The present gouache is among the original 56 minor arcana cards, this one depicting the Two of Swords. Traditionally depicting a blindfolded woman balancing a sword in each hand, the Two of Swords card represents rational decision-making, intuition and self-discipline. When one draws this card, it indicates a need for reflection rather than action — to look inward for direction and conviction in one’s own judgment. Reversed, the card suggests indecision in the face of a difficult choice.
Dalí reimagines the traditional visual elements of this card, modeling it after a 12th-century German manuscript illumination depicting Saint Mark writing his Gospel, his quill replaced with swords. A crescent moon, representing cyclical change, floats above the figure, and below is a bull containing a drawing of the sea, symbolizing our deepest thoughts and feelings.
After Dalí completed his deck, the original cards were assembled and published in a limited art edition in 1984. While a number of editions have since been printed of the cards, the present Two of Swords is the artist’s original gouache and collage creation.
Born in Catalonia in 1904, Dalí was formally educated in the fine arts in Madrid, particularly falling under the influence of the Impressionists and the Renaissance masters. He became associated with the Madrid avant-garde group Ultrae at a young age, though he eventually grew more acquainted with avant-garde movements such as Cubism, Dada and Futurism. By the late 1920s, his mature Surrealist style had already begun to emerge, and in 1929 he officially burst onto the avant-garde art scene with his Un Chien Andalou, a short film he made with Spanish director Luis Buñuel. Today, he is remembered as one of the most legendary and significant contributors to Surrealism. His Persistence of Memory, with its melting clocks, is arguably the most recognizable painting of the movement. Two museums — one in St. Petersburg, Florida and another in Catalonia — are entirely devoted to his oeuvre; other important works by the artist can be found in the Museum of Modern Art (New York), the Art Institute of Chicago, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the National Gallery of Art (Washington, D.C.), among many others.
The Archives Descharnes have confirmed the authenticity of this work under the reference number d4861. It is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity.
Card: 12 1/2" high x 9 3/8" wide
Frame: 29 3/8" high x 25 7/8" wide
Gertrude Stein Gallery, New York.
Opera Gallery, London.
Matsart, Jerusalem, International Fine Art sale, 19 February 2013, lot 57.
Private collection, Paris.
M.S. Rau, New Orleans.