West Dean Collection

The Music Room, West Dean College copyright Heritage House Group
The Music Room, West Dean College copyright Heritage House Group

The Edward James Collection is an outstanding resource for staff, students, academics and researchers. Engagement with the collection has included:

  • Practice-based research projects in the areas of Conservation, Visual Arts and Creative Writing;
  • Scholarly research via a number of leading Surrealism experts;
  • Staff development and support for research that generates new knowledge within the field of Surrealism and the avant-garde;
  • Supporting the establishment of Edward James as an area of academic study;
  • Access to material and artefacts to support external projects such as the UCL Institute of Archaeology Fieldwork Programme
  • Academic support and placements for students at the University of Sussex

The Collection at West Dean represents the cumulative acquisitions of almost 400 years of family ownership of the West Dean Estate, the conveyance to the Edward James Foundation in 1964 and the bequest of Edward James’s personal estate, following his death in 1984.

The Collections Inventory incorporates over 3300 objects dating from the thirteenth to the twentieth century.  The majority of the objects on display and in use in the Main House were acquired by the James family, resident at West Dean from 1891. The present State Room furnishings represent the period of extensive re-design of the building by Ernest George and Harold Peto (1891-1893). The interior re-design was guided by the prestigious furnishing and decorating specialists, Charles Mellier & Co. of Cavendish Square, London, encapsulating the grand and opulent Edwardian country house and society that Edward James was born into in 1907.

Collection items include fine marquetry and inlaid furniture, paintings, prints and drawings, textiles and tapestries, as well as significant ethnographic objects and examples from natural history.   The Old Library exhibits a collection of over 2,000 books, including a significant number of works from the William Beckford Collection.

From 1984 the Collection expanded to include many of Edward James personal possessions.  This included Surrealist and Modernist artworks, encompassing paintings, drawings and prints by artists most notably, Salvador DalÍ, Rene Magritte, Leonora Carrington, Pavel Tchelitchew, and Leonor Fini.

There are a number of significant examples of Surrealist interior design , including the iconic Mae West Lips Sofa and the Lobster Telephone, these items are often requested for loan to national and international museums and galleries.

The Edward James Archive is an extraordinary resource and incorporates approximately 17,000 items including letters of correspondence, bound volumes, photographs, journals and diaries, inventories, film, negatives and printing plates.  It forms the basis of the interpretation and assessment of the West Dean Collection, from which future displays, exhibitions and research may be drawn.