Pamela Colman Smith

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Pamela Colman Smith about 1912

Pamela Colman Smith (born February 16, 1878 in Pimlico , Middlesex , † September 18, 1951 in Bude , Cornwall ) was an Anglo-American artist and author. Her illustrations of the Waite-Smith Tarot - decks , she with Arthur Edward Waite developed were world famous.


Pamela Colman Smith was born in Pimlico, the only child of the American Charles Smith and the Jamaican Corinne Colman, and spent the first ten years of her life in Manchester , where her father ran an upholstery factory. Manchester was the center of spiritualism at that time , to which Corinne Colman was also close. Around 1889 the Colman Smith family moved to Jamaica, where Charles Smith worked in railroad construction. Pamela and her father moved to New York in 1893 . There Pamela Colman attended the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn , a private art school. There she attended the painting classes of Ernest Fenollosa and Arthur Wesley Dow . Dow had a particular influence on Colman Smith's work. He advocated the then unusual thesis that painting should not be exclusively realistic, but rather a composition of sensory impressions. He advocated the theory of sensory couplings in art, such as hearing colors or seeing sounds. From today's point of view, Colman Smith is said to have been a synaesthetist and possessed the ability to perceive pieces of music as colors or shapes. Some of her later series of images were inspired by pieces of music by well-known composers such as Beethoven , Debussy or Mozart . Since she was often sick, she attended school only irregularly and left it in 1897 without a degree. In the same year she exhibited her paintings at William Macbeth's Gallery, where she sold four paintings. She became a member of the Pen and Brush Club , an organization for women artists and writers.

In 1899 three books of her were published, as well as a tape of her pictures, and she toured with the Lyceum Company of the Lyceum Theater in London. Her father died in December of that year. She teamed up with actress Ellen Terry and returned to London, where she also stayed for a while with Terry, whose daughter Edith Craig remained lifelong friends with Pamela Colman Smith. During this time she illustrated Bram Stoker's book Lair of the Withe Worm and in 1903 some works by William Butler Yeats , who introduced her to the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn . In November 1903 she followed Arthur Edward Waite in the Independent and Rectified Rite of the Golden Dawn , in which Waite took the lead.

In 1904 she designed the set for Yeats' play Where there is nothing in collaboration with her friend Edith Graig and returned to New York that same year.

In 1906 she turned to the photographer Alfred Stieglitz , who made it possible for her to exhibit her pictures in his gallery 291 . The exhibition in January 1907 was also the gallery's first non-photographic show. Pamela Colman Smith was able to sell some of her pictures, which is why two further exhibitions followed in 1908 and 1909, but they were unsuccessful. She then returned to England. In a letter to Alfred Stieglitz in 1909 she mentioned that she had finished her work on the 80 pictures of the Tarot , but the letter went unanswered. It remains unclear to what extent Arthur Edward Waite was involved in the tarot cards of Pamela Colman Smith, and which are the two superfluous images that Pamela Colman Smith mentions in her letter. The cards were published in the same year by the publisher Rider & Son as "Tarot Deck" without an author's name, only in an advertisement for the game was the name of Pamela Colman Smith mentioned.

In the following time Pamela Colman Smith took on various commissions, most of which were book illustrations. In 1911 she converted to Catholicism , which was probably preceded by a break with the Isis Urania Temple. During the First World War she was involved in various charities.

In 1918, a deceased uncle left her a small inheritance with which she leased a house in the artists' colony The Lizard in Parc Garland in Cornwall , where she ran a holiday home for Catholic priests for a short time. During this time she had only moderate success, which can be attributed to both her display of Catholicism and her lack of business acumen. In 1942 she moved to Bude , also in Cornwall, where she spent the last years of her life impoverished and often bedridden and died on September 18, 1951. Most of her works have been lost, including the originals of the Rider Waite tarot cards. A few surviving images are in the possession of Stewart R. Kaplan .


  • Stewart R. Kaplan: The Tarot. History, interpretation, laying systems . Hugendubel, 5th edition 1988, ISBN 3-88034-224-5
  • Melinda Boyd Parsons: To all believers: the art of Pamela Colman Smith . University of Delaware, 1975

Web links

Commons : Pamela Colman Smith  - Collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ M. Irwin Macdonald: The Fairy Faith and Pictured Music of Pamela Colman Smith. The Craftsman, October 1913, accessed October 6, 2009 .
  2. ^ Intimate Circles - American Women in the Arts: Pamela Coleman Smith. Beincke Rare Book and Manuscript Library , Yale University , accessed October 6, 2009 .
  3. ^ Pen + Brush History. In: October 23, 2005, accessed May 10, 2020 .
  4. It was included in the original Golden Dawn under the motto "Quod Tibbi id allium", but followed in 1903 Waite in Independent and Rectified Rite. See: RAGilbert in The Golden Dawn Companion , 1986, pp. 161 and 170.