Salvador Dalí’s Avant-Garde Christmas Cards


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.

dali xmas card 4

via Rebec­ca Ben­der

Relat­ed Con­tent:

John Waters Makes Hand­made Christ­mas Cards, Says the “Whole Pur­pose of Life is Christ­mas”

Watch Ter­ry Gilliam’s Ani­mat­ed Short, The Christ­mas Card (1968)

Andy Warhol’s Christ­mas Art

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.

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