Monday, 25 February 2013

Edward James

I've just come back from teaching at West Dean, former home to Surrealist and Surrealist art collector Edward James. It made me think about Jim Ede and his love for artists and the way that he lived his life surrounded by their work. Edward James lifespan: 1907-1984 was similar to Jim's 1895-1990 and they are listed on Wikipedia together on a Wikipedia page on English philanthropists. Ede's life seems to be ascetic and James' is Dionysian as he makes clear with his numerous anecdotes on the fantastic fuzzy VHS that plays in the basement of West Dean.

Edward with one of his favourite parrots

Monkton, designed by Lutyens, James felt it to be too 'cottagey' and changed it with the help of Syrie Maugham

The sun and moon lights in the alabaster bathroom at Monkton

Edward James by Magritte

Edward James by Magritte

Jim Ede

Edward James at his home in Mexico in parakeet coloured Aran jumper


Edward James in bed at Monkton
His cold, whale-boned mother, he described as always wearing disparate things piled on top of one another in the Edwardian style: a huge bulbous jewel-encrusted brooch on a sprig of violets, nestled onto a sable stole, sounded like a perfect description of a Surrealist representation of woman to me.

Whilst at Oxford he swagged his rooms in Purple velvet and gilded in gold leaf, flew his own aeroplane and drove a Rolls Royce Phantom. His career in the diplomatic service in Rome ended abruptly and he dedicated himself to the dancer, Tilly Losch, whom he fell instantly in love with when he saw her dance in a Noel Coward revue.
 It wasn't until their honeymoon in Hawaii that she discovered to her horror that he was not gay and had married her for love. She left him in a flash.James funded an entire season of ballet in Paris to to entice Tilly back to him. When this plan failed bitter divorce ensued and James' family disapproved of this very non-U prosecution. He (rightfully) accused Tilly of adultery with Prince Serge Oblensky (he didn't come to such a glamorous end: he is buried in a cemetery in Ipswich).

Edward had Tilley's wet post-bath footprints sewn into the carpet at West Dean and later at his Lutyens designed house, Monkton he had his favourite long dead Irish Wolfhound's sewn in instead. He had the walls of Monkton padded and buttoned with the help of an interior designer known at the time for her all-white interiors: Syrie Maugham (b. 1879-d.1955 daughter of John Barnado of the children's charity, married Henry Wellcome whom she met in Khartoum, they had a child with learning difficulties and who they disassociated themselves from. She had affairs with Harry Gordon Selfridge (Selfridges) and Somerset Maugham although he was predominantly gay).

James thought dreams to be more vivid than life and sometimes I agree with him. I find life very vivid and beautiful, but sometimes the feelings of a dream reside heavily within with me while my waking life drifts over me like a daydream.

James recounts Nancy Cunard telling him off for telling the truth and warning him that society is built on a lie.

Poignant to me is having too much stuff  oscillating  between wanting nothing and everything.
Stuck at the back of a train to his new home in Mexico, he had two and a half minutes to get all of his suitcases and his many crates of orchids and parrots off the luggage car. This is a much more exciting variation on one of my own recurring dreams where I am on a beautiful wooden train to Paris, I see the Gare du Nord sign and feel the train slowing down so I go to pick up my bag. The guard tells me to remember my other bags and I turn around to see the whole compartment is full of not only bags, but a bed, tea crates and a piano. The short of it is I end up in Kings Lynn and this is where I must disembark. James had more luck. He rescues his briefcases full of writing and poems and runs to the front of the train where the orchids and parrots reside (each with their own passport as Mexican bureaucracy insisted). He runs along with the train and pleads with the driver, his long, straggly hair flying and his sweaty beard bobbing. The driver says its nearly midnight and that he cannot stop the train. Suddenly a bolt of lightning strikes the field where James is running and the driver thinking James to be a witch slows down and hands him his orchids and parrots, some of which are by now hanging upside-down with dehydration.

James starts his life thinking he will be a hermit and live only with the animals.One day whilst shampooing his hair in the waterfall near his shack he hears wind in the bamboo which he then considers might be a rustle of fabric. He sees twelve large penguins on opening his eyes and after wiping his eyes again sees they are nuns and they are asking him something. Will he build a clinic for the poor? Yes he says.

Later James adopts a Mexican family who he lives with. He continues to travel and collects plants and animals which he fills a suite with at the Hotel Franc├ęs in Mexico City whenever he is en route to his house in rural Mexico. Pigeons, doves a kinkajou, an ocelot, a monkey and a forest of trees surround him, boa constrictors have their own suite.



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