While researching a 2018 retrospective of Leonora Carrington’s work, curator Tere Arcq made a discovery of divine proportions: a set of tarot cards designed by the artist. The paintings, cast onto thick board, capture the 22 archetypes found in the tarot’s Major Arcana, fashioning the deck’s most well-known cards in Carrington’s signature Surrealist style.
The cards are collected in a new book recently published by Fulgur Press. Titled “The Tarot of Leonora Carrington,” the hardbound text clocks in at 120 pages and features 59 color images, an illustrated essay from Arcq and scholar Susan Aberth, and an introduction from Carrington’s son Gabriel Weisz Carrington.
“The magical themes of Carrington’s otherworldly paintings are well-known, but the recent discovery of a suite of tarot designs she created for the Major Arcana was a revelation for scholars and fans of Carrington alike,” the publisher said, noting that the book marks the first publication dedicated to Carrington’s tarot.
In his essay, Weisz Carrington recalls the genesis of the cards, explaining that one day, his mother plucked “Le tarot des imagiers du Moyen Age” by Oswald Wirth of the bookshelf and concluded, “You know, I might design my own deck.”
What followed was months of planning and research. Carrington crafted her Major Arcana out of paperboard sheets, on which she depicted brilliant figures. She adorned cards such as the Emperor, Wheel of Fortune and the Hanged Man with delicate gold and silver leaf. Weisz Carrington explains that while his mother created the deck, she consulted Wirth’s tarot, Arthur Edward Waite’s “The Pictorial Key to the Tarot” and Papus’ “The Tarot of the Bohemians,” among other works.
“Leonora’s tarot is endowed with a subliminal iconography, a window opening to a performance of the marvelous,” Weisz Carrington writes. “What retains such a seductive allure is that whenever we get the opportunity to play with these cards, each one of us is invited to daydream; the cards also guiding players and observers through an adventure into an unknown domain of feeling and subliminal transformation.”
The British-born artist, who lived in Mexico and is closely associated with the Surrealist movement, filled her paintings with ethereal transfiguring bodies, fantastical creatures and strange landscapes. The well-known themes of her paintings carry over to her cards, directly linking the artist’s study of the occult with her visual lexicon.
The discovery, the publisher writes, “has placed greater emphasis upon the role of the tarot in Carrington’s creative life and has led to fresh research in this area.”
More information about “The Tarot of Leonora Carrington” can be found here.
Top Image: Detail of Leonora Carrington's "The Sun." Copyright: Estate of Leonora Carrington/ARS New York. Courtesy Fulgur Press.