In 1973, producer Albert R. Broccoli commissioned Salvador Dalí to create a set of tarot cards for the upcoming James Bond film Live and Let Die. The Catalan artist indulged his mystical side when designing the very surreal deck of cards, but his prop deck failed to make the movie’s final cut: As Hakim Bishara explains for Hyperallergic, Dalí reportedly asked for an enormous fee beyond even the Bond film’s $7 million budget.
The famed surrealist continued working on the spooky set after Broccoli rescinded his offer, and in 1984, he released a limited edition of the deck. Now, for the first time in more than 30 years, the 78-card set is back on the market. (The deck and a companion book are available from Taschen Books for $60.)
Dalí’s deck blends elements of his bombastic personality with typical surrealist motifs—think ants and disembodied heads—and traditional tarot symbolism. In one card, the artist himself poses as the Magician, and in another, his wife, Gala Dalí, assumes the role of the Empress. The deck’s “Lovers” card, according to Architectural Digest’s Stephanie Strasnick, mirrors Jan Gossaert’s 16th-century painting Neptune and Amphitrite but replaces the mythical scene’s classical setting with a giant butterfly and flower.
The surrealist pioneer’s interest in mysticism extended beyond his encounter with Hollywood. Gala, Dalí’s muse, business partner and agent, had a penchant for the esoteric. She used to read tarot cards in an attempt to predict her husband’s career path and may have even encouraged him to accept the Bond producer’s commission.
“This mysterious, cultured woman, a gifted creator, colleague and peer of poets and painters, lived her art and her life in an intensely literary manner,” said Dalí Museums director Montse Aguer in a statement on the 2018 exhibition “Gala Salvador Dalí: A Room of One’s Own in Púbol.”
Just as Gala’s mystical leanings likely influenced the deck, Dalí’s surrealist background is evident in full force. The “Magician” card features the artist standing above one of his iconic melting clocks, while the “Death” card shows a cypress tree emblazoned with a skull beside a single blooming rose.
Many of the tarot cards feature classic works of art juxtaposed with collage elements. Per Strasnick, Dalí reimagines Vincenzo Camuccini’s 19th-century painting The Death of Julius Caesar as the “Ten of Swords,” topping a cut-out of the brutal attack with 10 painted blades. In the “Empress” card, meanwhile, the artist superimposes Gala’s face on the statue of a goddess seen in Eugène Delacroix’s 1826 painting Greece on the Ruins of Missolonghi.
Dalí even pokes fun at Roger Moore, the then-new actor portraying James Bond, by including original 007 Sean Connery’s face on the “Emperor” card.
And while Dalí’s deck doesn’t appear in Live or Let Die, Bond girl Solitaire, played by Jane Seymour, does flip through a custom-made tarot deck in the film. Artist Fergus Hall designed the set of cards—likely for much less money—following the better-known surrealist’s split from the project.