If ever you find yourself looking down on the Christmas card as a bland, mainstream art form, remember that John Waters makes them. So did Andy Warhol. But we’ve told you about those two countercultural creators’ appreciation for the imagery of Christmas before. This holiday season, we submit for your approval a series of Christmas cards from the hand of none other than Salvador Dalí. They came our way via Spanish literature professor Rebecca M. Bender, who writes that the surrealist painter “designed 19 unique Christmas cards between 1958–1976 for the Barcelona-based company Hoechst Ibérica,” a chapter in a commercial career that also included “artwork for advertisements (Bryan’s Hosiery) and magazine covers during the mid-20th century.”
Bender, a Dalí enthusiast who teaches at Grinnell, has assembled an impressive collection of images that give Christmas the surreal touch that I think we can all agree the holiday has always needed. The sketch for a 1948 Vogue magazine cover just above “exhibits tell-tale characteristics of Dalí’s surrealist style, including the barren, expansive landscape and the incorporation of double-images (which also characterize his depiction of the Spanish Civil War).” While that image has today become a specialty Christmas card, the art he created specifically for cards “did not incorporate traditional Mediterranean, Catholic Christmas imagery such as the Nativity scene or the Reyes magos (Wise men), but rather they appropriated more American and Central European elements, such as the Christmas Tree,” which he sometimes used as “an allegorical depiction of the year’s events” or infused “with distinctive elements of Spanish culture.”
When Dalí did try his hand at more traditional Christmas iconography, he did it for American greeting-card titan Hallmark. You can see one fruit of this commission in the 1959 nativity scene at the top of the post. Bender cites Patrick Regan’s book Hallmark: A Century of Caring as describing Dalí’s “take on Christmas [being] a bit too avant garde for the average greeting card buyer.” But tastes, even mainstream tastes, seem to have broadened quite a bit over the past 55 years. The time may have come where every man, woman, and child in America could do with a little surrealism stirred into their Christmas spirit. If you agree, make sure to read and see everything else Bender has gathered from Dalí’s Christmas-card career, all of which will inspire you to make the Yuletide more aesthetically daring.
Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.