Salvador Dali, West Sussex and Edward James, what an intriguing combination?In honour of two extraordinary men and one great location which was Edward’s family home, here is a little snippet, Mae West’s Lips, and the Aphrodisiac Telephone (Lobster telephone. ) You can visit and see the works there even now.
Mae West Lips Sofa:
- The Lips Sofa was obviously inspired by Mae West designed from the inspiration of Dali’s paintings and drawings of the actress.
- Edward James, the wealthy and eccentric poet and collector, together with Salvador Dali, produced the “Mae West” lip sofa, one of the 20th century’s most sensuous and iconic pieces of furniture. In 1936 Dali was in London for the International Surrealist Exhibition and it was then he conceived the idea for the Sofas. Dali like many artists experienced financial difficulties and hence he actually signed an agreement with Edward to exchange a years output for a wage. James with his considerable family wealth became a great benefactor to the arts and crafts movement and was a creative soul himself.
- Production of the Sofa took place in 1938 with James deeply involved in specifying and choosing the fabrics and colours. This resonated with his passion and interest which survives to this day post the world war he witnessed in the Henry James Foundation and West Dean College, a charitable foundation for ensuring the survival of the skills and artisan trades which he feared might be erradicated and wiped out by the outcome of the war.
- The two extreme individuals set about designing a series of pieces of surreal furniture, and hence the connection to Monkton House a Lutyens (the architect) designed Dower House on the Jame’s family estate in West Dean in West Susex. Bizarrely this English country house was transformed into a mauve-walled extravaganza of surreal fantasy.
- Possibly such a creative relationship was less than likely to yield a profitable ongoing concern, just 5 sofas were produced, with 3 remaining in the ownership of the Henry Foundation. What an intriguing connection to art history in the 20th century!
Syrie Maugham was a very successful wealthy and radical interior designer. Her initial success was founded on her radical all white rooms, for which the White Lobster Telephone was distinctively designed. what a creation for an interior designer, a product designed by one of the leading surrealist artists.
Yet more intriguing connections: She was very much part of society of the day as was Edward James. House Guests to West Dean included Edward the Prince of Wales and both he and Wallis Simpson were client’s of Syrie as were many socialites of the day. She designed Cecil Beaton inspired papers and again this resonates with West Dean which has many original prints of photographs taken and featuring Cecil Beaton again a house guest at west Dean.
- In 1901 she had met Harry Wellcome (American born but British industrialist) who was more than twice her age. The marriage was unhappy sadly despite the wealth of her own and her husband’s pharmaceutical success and his firm which was to become Burroughs Wellcome. The rest as they say is history and yes this is the Wellcome Foundation family. They had one child with a learning disbaility that kept him apart from his family. It is believed Syrie had numerous affairs including Harry Gordon SELFRIDGE (department store magnate) Percy most notoriously William Somerset Maughan.
- Syrie had one child with Somerset Maughan after years of separation from Wellcome: Mary Elizabeth was born but given Wellcomes name, he sued subsequently for divorce. Eventually in 1917 Maughan and Syrie married but it was a radical relationship with Maughan who was gay spending much time away from Syrie and pursuing other relationships. They later divorced and in his memoir of 1962 he was highly critical of his ex-wife but this was later rebutted in publication by Beverley Nichols a close friend of Maughan.
- Edwards James a passion for Surrealism he could afford to indulge: whilst a poet in essence himself, Edward james became a passionate patron of it’s early period. In addition to his close association with Dali he allowed René Magritte to stay and paint in his London house. He was the subject himself of two paintings by the artists Portait of Edward James and Not to be Reproduced. He had a voracious appetite for art and beauty and his collection included Hieronymous Bosch, De Chirico, Picasso Klee, Giacometti, max ernst and more. this extensive collection was to yield the funds two years after his death which so well endowed his foundation and ensured it’s long term development.
- James most fantastic surrealist creation was realised in the Mexican rain forest, a surrealist Sculpture garden, “Las Pozas” which you can read about in related posts.
If you have an interest in the art, craft and many other humanities subjects you can enjoy at West Dean do try a visit. A walk in the expansive and stunning grounds, or a short course, preferably residential at very competive and great value fees is a must, if you can. It is a truely inspiring and creative environment with captivating and compelling objects and artefacts both inside and outside the main house, yes I am a fan. Thank you Edward, another great example of wealth turned to the advantage of the many in a great philanthropic flourish by it’s patron. Edward James was a character in his own right. Imagine the fatal and fascinating combination of dinner with Edward, Dali and whoever else was invited for the estate’s hospitality.
Edward James What an interesting man he must have been and what connections he made, in his life from 1907-1984 he lived life to the full and generously established a true cultural legacy of his house home and dream for the survival of the arts and craft movement by the establishment of his educational and arts foundation. Both during and his life and after his death quite a contribution.
For more intriguing People & Personalities and to help reveal some more intriguing connections take a look here