Salvador Dalí (1904-1989) and Edward James (1907-1984)
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Salvador Dalí (1904-1989) and Edward James (1907-1984)

Mae West Lips Sofa

Salvador Dalí (1904-1989) and Edward James (1907-1984)
Mae West Lips Sofa
wood carcass upholstered in red and green Melton wool fabric with green appliqué and black wool fringing
Length: 79 1/2 in. (202 cm.)
Height: 31 1/8 in. (79 cm.)
Depth: 36 1/4 in. (92 cm.)
Conceived by Salvador Dalí and Edward James in 1936, and executed by Green & Abbott in 1938 as one of a pair for the dining room at Monkton House.
Made for Edward James by Green & Abbott in 1938.
At Monkton House, West Dean Estate, West Sussex, until 1986, and then moved to West Dean House, West Sussex.
The Edward James Foundation, West Dean, West Sussex.
S. Dalí, The Secret Life of Salvador Dalí, New York, 1942, p. 78 (one of the two tone sofas illustrated).
C. Aslet, 'Monkton House, East Sussex', Country Life, 12 September 1985, p. 704.
J. Glancey, ‘Mad Monckton’, World of Interiors, May 1986, p. 148.
M. Etherington-Smith, Dalí, London, 1992, no. 23, pp. 8, 248 & 249 (one of the pink satin sofas illustrated).
R. Descharnes & G. Néret, Salvador Dalí, The Paintings, vol. I, 1904-1946, Cologne, 1994, no. 552, p. 244 (one of the pink satin sofas illustrated).
D. Guinness, 'Edward James', World of Interiors, May 1998, p. 148.
Exh. cat., A Surreal Life: Edward James, 1907-1984, London, 1998, no. 192, pp. 27, 50, 102, 124 (no. 23) & 149 (the pair to this sofa illustrated pp. 10 & 50).
R. & N. Descharnes, Dalí: The Hard and The Soft, Sculptures & Objects, Azay-le-Rideau, 2004, pp. 40-41 (the pink satin sofas illustrated p. 41).
Exh. cat., Dalí: The Centenary Retrospective, Venice, 2004, no. 173, p. 284 (a pink satin sofa illustrated p. 285).
Exh. cat. Surreal Things: Surrealism and Design, London, 2007, p. 42 (a pink satin sofa illustrated, p. 2).
G. Stamp, 'Surreal Recall', Apollo, July 2007, pp. 80-81, fig. 4 (illustrated).
Exh. cat. Surreal Encounters: Collecting the Marvellous, Edinburgh, 2016, pp. 205, 206, 208, 246, 258 (illustrated p. 206; a red and pink sofa illustrated pl. 46).
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent. Please note that at our discretion some lots may be moved immediately after the sale to our storage facility at Momart Logistics Warehouse: Units 9-12, E10 Enterprise Park, Argall Way, Leyton, London E10 7DQ. At King Street lots are available for collection on any weekday, 9.00 am to 4.30 pm. Collection from Momart is strictly by appointment only. We advise that you inform the sale administrator at least 48 hours in advance of collection so that they can arrange with Momart. However, if you need to contact Momart directly: Tel: +44 (0)20 7426 3000 email:


An instantly recognisable icon of Surrealism, Salvador Dalí’s striking bright red Mae West Lips Sofa was the result of a creative collaboration between the artist and the legendary surrealist patron, collector and poet, Edward James. The pair had first met in 1934, although James was already familiar with the artist’s work, and immediately struck up a close friendship. Two years later, in 1936, James signed a contract with Dalí to purchase his entire production, giving the artist the creative freedom to work unhindered by financial strain. This same year, when Dalí and Gala were visiting James in his London home on Wimpole Street, they conceived of an elaborate surrealist interior project. As the ideas took shape, it was decided that Monkton, James’s country house, would be the site for the project. Together they collaborated on a range of highly theatrical, surreal interior schemes, objects and pieces of paranoiac furniture, transforming the rooms of Monkton into fantastical surrealist visions: amidst eclectic wall papers, carpets and upholstery, strange surrealist objects appeared: a telephone was metamorphosed into a lobster, a pair of lamps was created from a tower of golden Champagne glasses, and, as in the present work, a sofa has become a pair of scarlet red lips inspired by a photograph of screen siren, Mae West. With these surreal objects, assemblages and paranoiac-critical interiors, Dalí significantly expanded the artistic possibilities of Surrealism, pushing this groundbreaking movement into an experimental new dimension.

A total of five sofas were made for James, by two different manufacturers. Completed in February 1938, the first, which James retained for the dining room of his Wimpole Street home, was produced by Green & Abbott and featured duo-tone pink satin dyed specifically to match couturier Elsa Schiaparelli’s characteristic ‘shocking pink’ lipstick. This version of the sofa remains today in the Edward James Foundation. Another pair in red and pink wool was manufactured and completed in early March 1938 by Edward Carrick’s firm, Associated Artist-Technicians; one of the pair now resides in the Royal Pavilion, Libraries & Museums, Brighton & Hove, and the other in the Boijmans-Van Beuningen Museum in Rotterdam.

Conceived by Dalí and James in 1936, and executed by Green & Abbott in 1938, the present example is one of the pair that was designed specifically for the Dining Room of Monkton. This version of the Mae West Lips Sofa, upholstered in bright red wool, is principally distinguished by a heavy black fringe lining the edge of the lower lip, and also by an overall structure that is more elongated than the other versions. James’s communication with the manufacturer, John Hill of Green & Abbott, reveals fastidious attention to this detail – the fringe was to be specially woven, and according to James, needed ‘to look like the embroidery upon the epaulettes of a picador, or the breeches and hat of a toreador’ (Edwards James, letter to John Hill, 20th January 1938). James subsequently chose to further ornament this pair of sofas by the careful positioning of three delicate felt appliqué shapes, suggestive of caterpillar larvae, to the seat and backs of both examples. The matching example of this important pair of sofas was sold at Christie’s London on 15th December 2016 in ‘A Surreal Legacy: Selected Works of Art from the Edward James Foundation’ (lot 30; sold for £725,000 ).

The initial idea for a sofa in the shape of lips supposedly came when James saw Dalí’s Mae Wests Face which May Be Used as a Surrealist Apartment of 1934-35 (Art Institute of Chicago), and a related drawing of around the same time, The Birth of Paranoiac Furniture (Former collection of Edward James). In the former gouache, which Dalí had executed on his trip to the USA in 1934, he transformed a magazine cover photograph of the Hollywood actress, Mae West, re-conceiving her face as an interior scene with long, hanging curtains as her hair, paintings for eyes, and most importantly, a sofa as her lips, an image that had been supposedly inspired by the uncomfortable, jagged rocks of Cadaqués. Captivated by the image of the sofa lips, James suggested producing the Mae West Lips Sofa, as it became known, transforming Dalí’s idea into reality.

The softly curving, bright red lips have become one of the most identifiable symbols of Surrealism, embodying the eroticism that lay at the heart of the movement. In 1929, the self-appointed leader of Surrealism, André Breton, wrote the Second Surrealist Manifesto and when it was published, it featured seductive lipstick-imprints to the cover, which were amongst the first literal expressions of the body within Surrealism. Seeking to free themselves from the perceived oppression of conventional society, the pursuit of unconscious desires became central for the surrealists, and as a result, images of women and the nude proliferated both in surrealist art and poetry.

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