In 1935, Edward James, English and very rich, entered into an agreement to purchase from Salvador Dali his most important works. It was a funny sort of agreement, but it lasted until 1939 and during that period James acquired a large number of Dali's Surrealist works, including the telephone with a lobster replacing the receiver, two of the sofas which represent Mae West's lips, and the painting Autumn Cannibalism, depicting two 'Iberian beings' eating one another with the help of spoon and fork and, according to the painter, expressing the pathos of civil war. Almost every item James collected would have made an appropriate exhibit in what Dali called Surrealism's 'lawsuit against Reality', but I particularly admired two very small paintings - certainly no bigger than nine by ten inches - which I think of as mirages: the loveliest is Phantom Chariot - a horse-drawn cart is crossing a desert and heading for a distant city; the driver of the cart is also the nearest of the city's many towers. Some time after André Breton renamed Dali Avida Dollars, James had to sell a big chunk of his collection, to pay the army of peasants he employed to build architectural follies in the Mexican jungle.
LRB 15 March 1984 | PDF Download