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Mae West Lips Sofa

Mae West Lips Sofa

Salvador Dalí (in 1938)

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  • etoile asked

    Où est cette ouvre d'art ?

  • Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen answered

    A ce moment c'est en Hamburg, pour l'exhibition Surrealism and Beyond. Mais a partir de 11 Fevrier cette ouvre est autre fois en Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam.

  • etoile asked

    Où est cette ouvre d'art ?

  • Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen answered

    Hi Etoile, this work was in Hamburg before, but now it's back again at Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen and on view in our exhibition Mad About Surrealism! (until 28 May 2017) Best, Rianne

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More information

The museum's collection of surrealistic art is not restricted to paintings and sculptures. In recent years, a number of design objects have been acquired, including the lobster telephone and the Mae West Lips Sofa. Dalì designed this sofa with his English benefactor Edward James. The lips of sex symbol and film star Mae West were the inspiration for this titillating piece of furniture. Three pairs were made of his sofa, each different.

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Collection book

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Specifications

Title Mae West Lips Sofa
Material and technique Wood, woollen flannel, cotton and brass rivets
Object type
Sofa > Furniture > Living > Utensil
Location This object is in storage
Dimensions Height 92 cm
Width 215 cm
Depth 66 cm
Artists Kunstenaar: Salvador Dalí
Uitvoerder: Green & Abbott
Accession number V 2280 (KN&V)
Credits Aankoop met steun van / Purchase with the support of: Stichting Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Vereniging Rembrandt 2003
Department Applied Arts & Design
Acquisition date 2003
Age artist About 34 years old
Exhibitions Een paraplu, een naaimachine en een ontleedtafel. Surrealisme à la Dalí in Rotterdam. (2013)
Gek van surrealisme (2017)
External exhibitions Jean-Michel Frank (2009)
Surreal Encounters - Collecting the Marvellous (2016)
Dalí, Ernst, Miró, Magritte... (2016)
Dal nulla al sogno (2018)
Research Digitising Contemporary Art
Material
Object

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Author: Marijke Peyser

In 2003 Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen acquired a key work by Dalí: an original Mae West Lips Sofa made in 1938. The sofa was made by the British firm of Green & Abbott for Dalí’s patron Edward James,[1] and fitted in perfectly with the other Surrealist works the museum had obtained from Edward James and the Edward James Foundation.[2]

In 1936 James suggested that Dalí should refurbish the drawing room of his house in London as a Surrealist room. Although this project was never carried out they did make ambitious plans for the interior rooms.[3] Dalí had made the gouache Visage de Mae West pouvant être utilisé comme appartement surréaliste (Face of Mae West Which May Be Used as a Surrealist Apartment) in 1934-35. James believed that the shape of the film star’s lips could be used as the back and seats of a beautiful sofa.[4] We know of six early versions of the Mae West Lips Sofa – three pairs in different finishes. One of the two sofas in pink satin is now in the Victoria & Albert Museum in London; the second was once documented in the collection of Baron Roland d’Espree, but its current whereabouts are unknown. The second pair, made of red wool with a black fringe, from the dining room of James’s country house Monkton House, has also been split up: one is on loan to the Museum of the Moving Image in London and the other is owned by the Edward James Foundation. Lastly there is a pair upholstered in two shades of wool. The back and the seats are bright red. The base, which is edged with brass rivets and follows the contours of the mouth and back, is salmon pink as is the piping along the top. This pair, also once owned by James, was split up in 1983. One sofa was purchased by the Brighton Art Gallery and Museum. The second came on to the market again in 2003 and was auctioned at Christie’s in London and bought by the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen Foundation with support from the Vereniging Rembrandt.[5]

The sofas must have been perceived as extremely racy. Being able to sit on a sensual mouth – the mouth of the famous sex symbol Mae West – must have felt like an indecent act. They were most certainly conversation pieces.[6] In 1926 Mae West was already front-page news because of her obscene lines in the stage play Sex, which she wrote, produced and starred in. In 1932 she played her first leading role in Hollywood in Night after Night by Archie Mayo. Her sexually-charged writing led to censorship by the Motion Picture Production Code. From then on, to get round the strict rules, she spoke in suggestive one-liners like, ‘Is that a gun in your pocket or are you just glad to see me?’ and ‘A hard man is good to find’. In 1936 Mae West was the best-paid actress in the world, but soon afterwards her career took a downturn. Dalí would have certainly felt drawn to her double entendres. After all he himself was a master of them. Like the White Aphrodisiac Telephone the Mae West Lips Sofa can be seen as a paranoiac piece of furniture, created according to Dalí’s paranoiac-critical method.[7]

 

Footnotes

[1] Venice/Philadelphia 2004-05, p. 284.

[2] See Van Kampen-Prein in this publication, pp. 27-29.

[3] Venice/Philadelphia 2004-05, p. 284, note 4: in 1938 James commissioned Green & Abbott to make a ‘torso set of drawers’ based on a design by Dalí.

[4] Ibid., p. 284.

[5] See MBVB Archives, Dalí object file, Mae West Lips Sofa.

[6] Rotterdam 2007, p. 100.

[7] For more about Dalí’s paranoiac-critical method, see p. 79.

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