The solo standout lot of Rosebery’s Design Since 1860 auction is Lot 136, a Surrealist bed of art-historical importance designed in 1935 by the poet and art critic Edward James and the interior decorator Norris Wakefield.
Edward James (1907 – 1984) was born into a wealthy family; his grandfather Daniel James had amassed a fortune as a co-founder of Phelps, Dodge & Co. imports and exports company, and his mother Willie James (born Evelyn Forbes) was a Scottish socialite. Rumour had it (and James himself believed) that his biological father was in fact the Prince of Wales (who would go on to become King Edward VII). James studied at Oxford before embarking on a short-lived diplomatic career. In his youth, James cemented himself as an arbiter of taste and began to sponsor artists and writers using his inherited wealth. While at university James sponsored the publishing of John Betjeman’s first book of poems. James is best known for his support of the Surrealist movement, in particular his relationships with Salvador Dalí, René Magritte, and his sponsorship of the Surrealist magazine Minotaur. James was a friend and muse to the Surrealists and features in two paintings by Magritte as well as photographs by Man Ray.
James became close with Dalí in 1935 and sponsored the artist throughout 1938 (during which time the Spanish artist created some of his most recognisable works). James invited Dalí and his wife Gala Éluard to visit him in England in 1935 and the pair hypothesised on the potential limits of Surrealism. That same year, James inherited Monkton House in West Sussex – the house for which this Surrealist bed was designed.
James worked with Dalí, architect Christopher Nicholson, decorator Syrie Maugham, and London-based decorator Norris Wakefield to turn the 1902 Arts & Crafts Monkton House into the three-dimensional ideal of Surrealism. The project marked a fascinating exploration of the ability to realise Surrealism as a lived experience which pervaded everyday objects and spaces. The six-bedroom, five-bathroom lodge house had been designed by Sir Edward Lutyens for James’ parents. With Dalí, James planned to “get away from that cottagey look that Lutyens went in for” and transform Monkton House into a Surrealist fantasy. The house was filled with Surrealist objects – including Dalí’s famous Mae West Sofas and Lobster Telephones, which had been commissioned by James for his interiors in London and Sussex.
A Surrealist interest in motifs which reflect nature and organic forms played into much of the design decisions at Monkton. This bed is playfully dramatic and recalls the swell of waves, reflecting the exaggerated theatricality of the house itself. There are other nautical themes throughout Monkton house, including a fish-themed bathroom and other marine-accented furniture. This bed was pride-of-place in the Map Room of Monkton house and features a shell motif carved into its ebony frame. A shell pattern also runs through the curtains of the Map Room. Shells also mark the end of the curled feet of the frame. The bed’s sea-foam blue upholstery (another nod to the ocean) also mimics the thickly-padded walls which feature throughout Monkton House – “I know it looks like a padded cell, but it’s padded and buttoned to keep it cosy and warm” said James. The contrast between the elegant blue silk and black frame in combination with the bed’s unusual shape makes this a deeply visually appealing item, even when its fascinating origins are not taken into account. The lot has an estimate of £20,000 to £40,000 plus fees and is sure to garner huge interest.
The auction will take place on Wednesday 14 September, 11.00 am
Viewing Times at Roseberys showroom:
Friday 9 September: 9.30 am – 5.00 pm
Sunday 11 September: 10.00 am – 2.00 pm
Monday 12 September: 9.30 am – 5.00 pm
Tuesday 13 September: 9.30 am – 5.00 pm