Battle underway to keep Salvador Dalí’s Champagne lamps in the UK

A pair 63-inch standard lamps, designed by Surrealist artist Salvador Dalí, featuring modelled gold-painted Champagne glasses stacked on top of one another, are at risk of being exported from the UK unless a buyer is found to pay the asking price of £425,000 plus £15,000 VAT.

‘A Pair of Champagne Standard Lamps’ by Salvador Dalí and Edward James

The lamps, which were made in 1938, are one of two pairs made designed by Salvador Dalí in collaboration with patron, poet and artist Edward James. The other pair of lamps remain under the ownership of the Edward James Foundation.

Arts minister Michael Ellis has placed a temporary export ban on the lamps in an effort to find a buyer located within the UK.

According to the independent committee which reviews the export of art and objects of cultural interest, “the lamps were arguably the most original and important examples of modern lighting designed in the UK”.

They were intended to be displayed in Monkton House in West Sussex, a building constructed for James’ parents in 1902-03 by acclaimed architect Sir Edwin Lutyens. Monkton was remodelled with a Surrealist interior by Dalí, and among the works housed within its walls was the Mae West Lips sofa, which was recently bought by the Victoria and Albert Museum after also receiving a temporary export bar.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport is hopeful that a similar deal can be achieved for the Champagne Lamps.

The lamps consist of modelled and stacked gold-painted, lacquered brass Champagne coupe-style glasses with tray bases decorated with ivy. The lamps, which stand at a height of 63-inches (160cm), contain some glasses with removable half-section inserts.

Arts minister Ellis said: “Salvador Dalí is one of the great artistic pioneers of the 20th century. These lamps were created in the UK by Dalí and it is important that we keep them here.

“I was delighted that the V&A was able to acquire the Mae West Lips sofa and I hope that we are able to find a buyer for the lamps so that they too can be saved for the nation”.

RCEWA member Richard Calvocoressi said: “The lamps are everything one would expect of Dalí. Witty, erotic – the champagne cups can be read as female breasts – the lamps are also strikingly sculptural, standing about the height of a person, with the line of vertical cups resembling a spinal column: a brilliant example of fantasy lighting.

“The RCEWA made its recommendation on the grounds of the lamps’ close connection with our history and national life, their outstanding aesthetic importance and their significance for the study of furniture history, as well as the history of design and Surrealist art”.

The decision on the export licence application has been deferred until 31 August and may be further delayed until 30 November if “a serious intention to raise funds” is made at the recommended asking price.

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