Edward James and Surrealism
Edward James was born in 1907 into a world of privilege. He inherited the West Dean Estate on the untimely death of his father in 1912. He is perhaps best known as a passionate supporter of Surrealism, a movement that was born from the political uncertainty and upheaval between the Wars.
Surrealist artists escaped into a world of fantasy and irrationality. Edward was an early enthusiast of Surrealist artists and supported them by building up a collection of paintings and art objects that subsequently came to be accepted as one of the finest collections of surrealist work in private hands. He also provided practical help, supporting Salvador Dalí for about two years and allowing Magritte to stay in his London house to paint.
His intellectual interest in surrealism is demonstrated by his sponsorship of "Minotaure", a lavish Surrealist magazine published in Paris. His refurbishment of his home, Monkton House, close to West Dean House, was a Surrealist dream. It included a large sofa to which Dalí gave the form and colour of Mae West's lips. Edward also collaborated with Dalí on the lobster telephone.
Edward James was a poet and writer too, producing his own works, setting up a publishing house and launching John Betjeman's first book of verse. A fan of ballet, he helped finance a series of Balanchine productions. Later in his life he created a series of surreal concrete constructions at his Mexican Estate in Xilitla. The palaces, temples, pagodas and fountains, populated with exotic creatures such as flamingos and boa constrictors, are a testament to his vivid but unconventional imagination.
Edward also had a strong affinity with trees and was an avid orchid collector. He died in 1984 and it is fitting that he is buried in the arboretum where he also kept his golden pheasants. His Cumbrian slate grave stone is inscribed with the simple words "Edward James, Poet 1907-1984."