Cataloguing the Edward James Archive

A new project to catalogue part of Edward James' unique personal archive has recently begun. The focus of this project will be the Cultural Papers, a diverse and illuminating body of material with content ranging over many areas of the creative arts including visual art, literature, music and ballet. The papers span the period from the late 1920s to James's death in 1984 and reflect the remarkable breadth of his international patronage of the arts which began in the 1930s.

A large part of the Cultural Papers consists of James' correspondence with leading surrealist artists such as Salvador Dalí, René Magritte and Leonora Carrington; literary figures including John Betjeman and Aldous Huxley; and composers such as Kurt Weill and Igor Markevitch. Other notable content includes some rare manuscripts and works by writers and artists whom James assisted, or collaborated with, and material relating to George Balanchine's Les Ballets 1933. James's private thought world often emerges in his sometimes extraordinarily long and visually colourful draft letters, several of which were probably never sent. Documentation relating to the provenance of items in the West Dean art collection and of items held by other institutions is also found, as well as photographs of artists and artworks and various printed ephemera.

The initial six months of the project will focus on the scoping, sorting and arranging of the material, devising a cataloguing scheme and selecting and purchasing appropriate archival management software. An application to the 'Archives Revealed' national funding stream has been submitted and, if this is successful, the project will move on to the cataloguing phase.

The cataloguing of the Edward James Cultural Papers will open up an internationally significant body of primary source material to researchers. The key end product will be an online searchable catalogue which can be linked to UK archive networks and portals. It is envisaged that the successful cataloguing of this section will be a crucial first step in transforming much of the Foundation's archive collection into a usable resource for research and teaching. Presenting an intricate web of artistic projects and personal connections, the Cultural Papers perfectly embody the outlook and vision of the College's founder. They have the potential to inspire new creative endeavors and open up fresh approaches to research in the art world of the 20th century.

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