V&A saves Salvador Dalí’s Champagne lamps for the nation

The Victoria & Albert Museum has acquired a pair of lamps adorned with gold-painted Champagne coupes, designed by Salvador Dalí, which are described as “one of the most important examples of modern lighting ever designed in the UK”.

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.

Back in June last year, following the sale of the pair by the Edward James Foundation in 2017, arts minister Michael Ellis placed a temporary export ban on the lamps in an effort to find a buyer located within the UK.

The lamps 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 bought by the Victoria and Albert Museum after also receiving a temporary export bar.

The lights were placed next to the sofa in the Monkton dining room and have now been reunited in a display in the V&A’s 20th century gallery.

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.

They had an asking price of £425,000 plus £15,000 VAT. The lamps were almost sold to an overseas buyer last year, but the V&A together with The National Heritage Memorial Fund (NHMF) and Art Fund stepped in.

Christopher Wilk, keeper of furniture, textiles and fashion at the V&A, said: “These lamps are of outstanding significance to the history of modern design and Surrealist art in Britain and we are delighted that the V&A is acquiring them for public enjoyment.”

Sir Peter Luff, chair of the NHMF, added: “The National Heritage Memorial Fund helps secure for the nation our most important and precious heritage at risk of being lost. These exquisite lamps, on the cusp of being sold to an overseas buyer, fit the bill exactly. Designed by the most famous Surrealist of them all, Salvador Dalí, they are rare examples of the contribution of British patronage to the twentieth century Surrealism movement. Quite simply, we felt it imperative they should remain here in the UK and the V&A is the perfect home.”

Stephen Deuchar, director of Art Fund, commented: “Dalí and James’s partnership is a fascinating strand in the history of Surrealism in Britain. Their highly original Champagne Standard Lamps are now reunited with their Mae West Lips Sofa, which we also helped the V&A to acquire earlier this year. Both will feature strongly in the museum’s Twentieth-Century Gallery, where they can be enjoyed by visitors from around the world.”

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