DREAM HOMES: Whether supporting Salvador Dali or turning his houses in West Sussex into total works of art--or creating follies in the forests of Mexico--the collector Edward James was a champion of the Surrealist movement.

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Date: Apr. 2021
From: Apollo(Vol. 193, Issue 696)
Publisher: Apollo Magazine Ltd.
Document Type: Article
Length: 2,883 words
Lexile Measure: 1470L

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In the summer of 1936, when Salvador Dali gave his famous lecture at the International Surrealist Exhibition in London, delivered wearing a diving suit, he was accompanied by his friend and patron Edward James (1907-84). The pair had gone to Siebe Gorman & Co. to buy the apparatus and, when asked by the shop assistant how deep he was planning to go, Dali replied, 'The depths of the subconscious!' He arrived at the New Burlington Galleries wearing the enormous copper helmet, with a jewelled dagger in his belt, a billiard cue in one hand and leashes attached to two borzois in the other. When he began to asphyxiate mid-manifesto, which James was translating, his fellow artists tried to free him, unsuccessfully, with a spanner. The billiard cue was used to lever off the helmet instead and the audience applauded, sure that the performance was a well-rehearsed Surrealist stunt.

James, the heir to an American railway fortune, already owned four important paintings by Dali, whom he had met in Paris the year before, and from 1937-38 had a contract with Dali to acquire his entire output in exchange for a generous stipend. The duo took Metamorphosis of Narcissus (1937), a masterpiece of Dali's 'paranoiac-critical' period, over whose creation James had presided like a 'midwife', to show the patron saint of Surrealism, Sigmund Freud, then in exile in London. 'Why the ants?' Freud asked, unimpressed. Several of James's paintings by Dali were later confiscated in France by the Nazis. One of the few to be saved was Swans Reflecting Elephants (1937) --a title James borrowed for his memoir--which, when it reached him, bore the mark of a bullet hole. Nevertheless, by the outbreak of war, James had amassed one of the most important collections of modern art in the world. He owned work by Jean Arp, De Chirico, Duchamp, Ernst, Fini, Carrington, Giacometti, Klee, Man Ray, Miro, Paul Nash, Noguchi, Picasso, Dali, Magritte, Rex Whistler and Pavel Tchelitchew (Fig. 1).

On a trip to Berlin in 1929, taking advantage of runaway inflation, James bought his first work, Allegory of Air by Jan Brueghel the Elder, for only 300 [pounds sterling]. He liked to say that, having failed to find more Old Masters at such prices, he began to patronise contemporary artists. However, he didn't consider himself a collector, but a fellow creative and collaborator, even though his early literary endeavours were ridiculed by the likes of the poet Stephen Spender: 'Mr James has too many possessions: pictures by Picasso, estates in England, villas on the Riviera, yachts and aeroplanes. He also thinks he can buy the gift of being a poet' (James never published poetry under his own name again). With functionaries to take care of his financial affairs, James set himself the task of shedding his great inheritance and made that a kind of art in itself. 'Money seemed to have been given to spend,' he wrote to the actress Ruth Ford in 1941. 'I felt that I could do more...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A664447740