Artist Salvador Dalí (1904-89) and his British patron Edward James (1907-84) designed the lamps together for James’s Monkton House in West Sussex, which he renovated in the mid-1930s as part of his attempt to create ‘a complete Surrealist house’.
Each lamp is made from ten oversized brass champagne coupes, one stacked on top of the other, standing on a base in the form of a Victorian papier-mȃchè tray decorated with gold ivy tendrils, berries and leaves.
Following the sale of the pair at auction by the Edward James Foundation in 2017, a temporary export stop was placed on the lamps after the buyer applied for a licence to remove them from the UK.
Now the V&A, with funding from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, Art Fund and V&A members, has bought the lamps to keep them in the UK. The original asking price was £425,000 plus £15,000 VAT.
The lamps will join the V&A’s recently acquired Mae West Lips sofa, also designed by Dalí and James for Monkton House. The lights were placed next to the sofa in the Monkton dining room and are on display together in the V&A’s Twentieth-Century Gallery.
Christopher Wilk, keeper of furniture, textiles and fashion at the V&A, said: “These lamps are of outstanding significance to the history of modern design and Surrealist art in Britain and we are delighted that the V&A is acquiring them for public enjoyment.”
The lamps were sold at auction, alongside Dalí’s lobster telephone and a Mae West Lips sofa, to raise money for the Edward James Foundation.
Two pairs of lamps were made for the house and the other pair is still owned by the foundation which runs West Dean College, an institution that focuses on fine art conservation courses among its specialities.
Five Mae West Lips sofa were made in 1938 by Dalí and James. The foundation decided to sell one pair and the first of this pair was sold at Christie’s in December 2016. The second sofa was sold at Christie’s in February 2017, subsequently temporarily barred from export and the V&A purchased it in May 2018.
Monkton House was built in 1902-03 for James’ parents and designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens. The redesign in the 1930s was led by architects Christopher ‘Kit’ Nicholson and Hugh Casson, as well as decorator Norris Wakefield.