One of many world’s best-known items of furnishings, Salvador Dalí’s Mae West lips couch, began life as a sketch on the again of an envelope, analysis within the archive of a Sussex nation home has revealed.
The sketch was unearthed at West Dean close to Chichester, the previous house of Dalí’s patron Edward James, and specialists say it reveals the extent to which James was concerned within the creation of the Nineteen Thirties couch. Alongside the lobster phone, additionally the results of a collaboration between Dalí and James, it is without doubt one of the emblems of the surrealist motion.
The discover was made as a part of the preparations underneath approach at West Dean to digitise and share on-line James’s 2,300-item archive, which features a tantalising array of correspondence, first editions and sketches by a bunch of Twentieth-century inventive greats who have been linked to James. These embody Dalí, whose work James funded at one level for a complete yr, and in addition surrealist artists together with René Magritte, Marcel Duchamp, Leonora Carrington and Jean Cocteau. It additionally contains Pablo Picasso and writers Aldous Huxley and John Betjeman.
Highlights embody Magritte’s preparatory sketch for a portrait of James entitled The Pleasure Precept; a Cocteau sketch of an Elsa Schiaparelli costume coat; letters to and from Carrington stretching throughout a number of many years, Picasso sketches and authentic music scores by Francis Poulenc, Igor Stravinsky and Bertolt Brecht.
In line with Hugh Morrison, collections supervisor at West Dean, the genesis of the Mae West couch was James’s concept in 1936 to offer the drawing room of his London house in Wimpole Avenue a completely surrealist inside. “This concept sparked Dalí’s creativeness, and the 2 of them started to debate it, every feeding off the opposite,” he says.
Dalí had already sketched a top level view for a mission he described as “Mae West’s face which can be used as a surrealist residence” in honour of the film star, and sooner or later James steered that West’s lips might be the inspiration for a settee, and mentioned he would undertake its manufacturing. The back-of-an-envelope sketch found within the archive is assumed to have been the work of Edward Carrick, a designer with whom James was working on the time.
In line with Christopher Wilk, keeper of furnishings, textiles and vogue on the V&A, which owns certainly one of 5 recognized variations of the couch, the West Dean sketch pertains to the primary of the sofas to be produced – definitely in Britain. It was a pink satin model colored to match the surprising pink shade of lipstick of designer Schiaparelli, for whose residence it was maybe destined.
Letters within the James archive additionally reveal that his authentic intention was to have this couch upholstered in leather-based, till he found that it had been a misunderstanding that Schiaparelli preferred that concept; in actual fact she hated it, and mentioned she’d a lot want it in satin. That model is now within the assortment at West Dean; the model on the V&A is a later mannequin, upholstered in vibrant purple wool with a black fringe.
Wilk says the story of the lips couch raises attention-grabbing questions in regards to the authorship of inventive works. “The envelope sketch and the correspondence helps clarify James’s function in creating these sofas, and it’s fairly clear that whereas the unique idea was Dalí’s, a lot of the exacting work in really creating the items was right down to James,” he says.
James (1907-1984) was a vibrant and complex character whose life was typically controversial: there was hypothesis he was the grandson of King Edward VII, who was a daily customer to West Dean the place he was thought to have been seeing his illegitimate daughter Evelyn, James’s mom. James used his huge wealth, the product of two inherited fortunes, to fund the work of surrealist artists in Europe and in addition Mexico, the place he spent a lot of his time and the place he created a concrete surrealist sculpture backyard, Las Pozas.
Morrison says James saved an outstanding quantity of paperwork, and the archive has taken a few years to unravel. “It’s stuffed with treasures, and we are actually virtually able to share them with a wider world by way of digitisation,” he mentioned. West Dean grew to become an arts school in 1971, in the direction of the tip of James’s life, and the ambition is to mark its fiftieth anniversary with the digital opening of the archive.
Wilk says the lips couch achieved its iconic standing within the Sixties and 70s when it got here to be seen as proto-pop and was given a brand new lease of life. Copies adopted the world over, and celebrities together with Kylie Minogue, Beyoncé and Katy Perry have been photographed posing on them. “It’s such an outrageous piece, and it was certainly one of a form – there was nothing else prefer it,” he mentioned. “Within the days of Dalí and James, its overt sexuality wasn’t broadly acceptable, however in the present day that’s very totally different. It got here into its time, and it grew to become an emblem of sexualisation.”
Tantalisingly, there’s a chance that one other authentic couch is on the market, in all probability in France. “We all know that one other couch or two could have been created by French designer Jean-Michel Frank in Paris, so there’s at all times the chance that we would get fortunate sooner or later and one other one will emerge,” Wilk mentioned.