Press Release: West Dean College loan items to Whitechapel Gallery for exhibition highlighting the forgotten females of the Surrealist Movement

West Dean College of Arts and Conservation is delighted to announce that material from its Archives will feature in a forthcoming archival exhibition at Whitechapel Gallery in London. Phantoms of Surrealism runs from Wednesday, May 19 to Sunday, December 12, 2021, and examines the pivotal role of women in the Surrealist movement in Britain. In the company of 11 artists and organisers, the exhibition features Eileen Agar, Claude Cahun, Ithell Colquhoun, and Sheila Legge – whose appearance as the flower-headed ‘Phantom of Surrealism’ launched the London International Surrealist Exhibition at New Burlington Galleries in June 1936 – a seminal event that introduced British audiences to Surrealism. 

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Material from the West Dean College Archives, together with items from the Whitechapel Gallery, National Galleries of Scotland and Jersey Heritage Trust will shed new light on the contribution of women to these important exhibitions.  

The material on loan from the West Dean College Archives originates in the life and work of College founder, Edward James, who was closely involved in the 1936 exhibition and was an active supporter of numerous Surrealist artists. Notably, Phantoms of Surrealism will feature James’s introduction and partial translation of Dalí’s iconic ‘diving-suit’ lecture, ‘Authentic Paranoic Phantoms’, which was delivered on 1st July 1936. This is the first time the document will be shown in a public exhibition (see separate release).  

Other fascinating archival items from the West Dean Collection have been loaned to the Whitechapel Gallery. As well as promotional material and press cuttings relating to the 1936 show, it includes a letter from Roland Penrose to Edward James (dated 26 March 1937) detailing James’s support of the Artist International Association (AIA). James loaned two Dalí works to an exhibition in 1937, organised to raise funds for the left wing Republican cause in the Spanish Civil War, furthering AIA’s intent for 'unity of artists for peace, democracy, and cultural development'.  

As Sarah Hughes, Curatorial Assistant, West Dean College of Arts and Conservation, noted: “We’re really pleased that material from the West Dean College Archives is part of the Phantoms of Surrealism exhibition. The disruption of the canonical history of Surrealism, presented through the critical role played by women, highlights the need to revisit pivotal moments in 20th century art history, such as the International Surrealist Exhibition. That we are able to support this revised narrative is exciting for us as holders of the Edward James Archive.” 

She continues: “Figures like Dali are often foregrounded in exhibitions, yet in this instance, the material is presented in support of a female-centred show. This levelling up seems to me like an ideal situation for us to present James’s translation of Dali’s lecture for the first time.” 

Nayia Yiakoumaki, Curator: Archive Galleries and Head of Curatorial Studies at Whitechapel Gallery, commented: "Phantoms of Surrealism focuses on the unknown work of British female artists that were pivotal to the surrealist movement in Britain. Amongst the artworks on display, we were delighted when colleagues from Edward James Archives kindly agreed to lend us the original press cuttings documenting the London International Surrealist exhibition in 1936. Through this loan we are able to present the handwritten notes by Edward James, with his introduction for Salvador Dalí's lecture during the iconic exhibition at the New Burlington Galleries." 

Two members of staff from West Dean College, Dr. David Stent (Fine Art Subject Leader) and George Charman (Diploma in Art and Contemporary Craft / Fine Art Tutor), will be delivering papers at a conference at University of the Creative Arts (UCA), organised alongside the Whitechapel Gallery exhibition. 

West Dean College of Arts and Conservation was founded by Edward James in 1971 with the aim of supporting future generations of artists and makers. Today, the College teaches courses ranging from contemporary fine art to furniture making and conservation. The opportunities for interdisciplinary study maintain the legacy of surrealist design, and together with the College’s Collection and Archive, offers unique opportunity for study, from short courses to MFA degrees. West Dean College of Arts and Conservation has an international reputation for excellence and is a full partner of the University of Sussex. For conservation, craft and fine art study opportunities see www.westdean.ac.uk

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Notes to Editors:

  • West Dean College of Arts and Conservation was founded in 1971 by the poet and Surrealist patron, Edward James, recognised by BBC Arts as the ‘the greatest patron of art of the early 20th century’. 
  • The College is part of The Edward James Foundation (Charity No. 1126084), also comprising West Dean Gardens, West Dean Estate and West Dean Tapestry Studio.  
  • All photography is free to use for editorial purposes. 
  • West Dean College is situated on the A286, six miles north of Chichester and within 
easy access of Portsmouth, Guildford, Brighton and London. 
  • For over a century the Whitechapel Gallery has premiered world-class artists from modern masters such as Pablo Picasso, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Frida Kahlo and Hannah Höch to contemporaries such as Zarina Bhimji, Sophie Calle, William Kentridge, Eduardo Paolozzi and Michael Rakowitz. Its historic campus houses exhibitions, artist commissions, collection displays, historic archives, education resources, inspiring art courses, talks and film screenings, the Townsend dining room and the Koenig Bookshop. It is a touchstone for contemporary art internationally, plays a central role in London’s cultural landscape and is pivotal to the continued growth of the world’s most vibrant contemporary art quarter. 


For all media enquiries please contact Rachel Aked:  
Email: rachel.aked@westdean.org.uk 
Telephone: 07790 732448 

West Dean College of Arts and Conservation, Chichester, West Sussex, PO18