By Martha Nodar

Bill Stanford (from left), Harriet Moore, docent Lynn Bush, Rhoda Burd and docents Ann Rinaldi and Barbara Kitchens take in the Dali lithographs at the Oglethorpe Museum.

The Oglethorpe University Museum of Art provided a surreal refuge from a sultry summer Sunday afternoon when Atlantans gathered July 11 to view the latest additions to the museum’s permanent collection.

An anonymous corporate donor gave the museum 14 of Salvador Dali’s original lithographs that had never been seen in public. The works are on display now, along with the “Utrillo: The Magic of Montmartre” exhibit, which runs through Sept. 5.

“This is a significant donation, and it fits in our collection,” said Betsy Ayers, the museum’s assistant director. “Three of our new Dali prints belong to a series of tarot cards Dali was commissioned to do and are part of the major arcana.”

Tarot cards are symbolic representations associated with fortunetelling. The deck is divided into the major arcana, full of heavy symbolism and significance, and the minor arcana, which focus more on the everyday world.

A lithograph is the result of a complex artistic process, and the artist must have had a hand in its creation for it to be considered original, Ayers said.

The three watercolor lithographs that form Dali’s “Trilogy of Love” tarot cards are “Prince of Love,” representing the Hanged Man; “Love’s Promise,” representing Temperance; and “Eternity of Love,” representing the Tower.

Influenced by fellow Spanish artist Pablo Picasso and known for his eccentric flair and passion for juxtaposing elements in his compositions, Dali is considered the quintessential surrealist of his time.

Born in 1904, Dali was named after a brother who had died 10 months earlier, and his grief-stricken parents told him at age 5 he was the reincarnation of that brother.

Despite the unusual circumstances under which he received it, the name Salvador, which means “rescuer” in Spanish, was fitting for Dali, who thought modern art needed to be rescued from mediocrity.

Dali died at his home in Spain in 1989.

David Swann, a neo-surrealist artist in Atlanta, said Dali’s work has captivated him since early in his career.

“I can relate to Dali’s quest to extend the range of acceptable experience beyond socially established limits,” Swann said. “Dali’s ‘Eternity of Love’ illustrates his self-hypnosis, which he admitted allowed him to escape reality. But what is the master trying to tell us in this piece? … Is love a proverbial fatal attraction that eventually does us all in, or is it a flawed, uncertain goal implied by the hidden summit of his Tower?”

Sisters Ansley and Britton Monroe pondered such questions while visiting the museum for the first time. They offered their views on “Love’s Promise,” the Temperance tarot card.

“Alluding to female virginity, the young woman is depicted as angelical,” Ansley Monroe said. “And yet she has a sensual side.”

“Yes,” her sister said, “and notice how different colors were used in such a way to create an illusion of texture in her wings.”

Buckhead resident Shellie Arnold said it was also her first visit to the Oglethorpe museum.

“I think it was very clever for the museum’s staff to hang the Hanged Man tarot card upside down to give the viewers the full effect,” Arnold said.

Given Dali’s nature, he might have applauded the staff’s idea.

“Dali’s art, in its purest form, is truly a mystery,” Swann said. “If we were to understand one of his pieces, Dali would have considered himself a failure.”

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