Surrealism: Tripping Around Brighton Museum


Join us on a metaphorical trip around Brighton Museum from Dali’s surreal, yet sensual furniture to Alexander McQueen’s rule breaking fashion. In 1924, Andre Breton’s surrealist manifesto began a movement in art that is concerned with the bizarre, the dream like and the irrational. Breton believed that automatic writing or drawing (allowing the hand to draw automatically without thinking) was the key to unlocking the subconscious mind. Surrealist artists challenged and subverted the rational order by representing ideas from the subconscious.

Salvador Dali's Lips sofa

Salvador Dali embraced the surrealism movement, “Art is a weapon of war engaged by desire in its battle for supremacy against reality,” he said. The controversial artist was not afraid to provoke and amuse. He once described himself as being in a permanent state of ‘intellectual erection.’ In May 1936 Dali began to collaborate with his friend and patron, Edward James. At this time James was redecorating Monkton House, on his family’s West Dean estate in Sussex. He transformed the house into a mauve walled extravaganza of surreal fantasy. The lips sofa emerged from Dali’s obsession with the actress Mae West. Dali first painted ‘The Face of Mae West’ in 1934. This picture showed her eyes as paintings, her nose as a fireplace and her lips as a sofa. The Dali lips sofa was made in 1938, with James closely involved, choosing the fabrics and the colour.

the artist's estate; (c) not given; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Ithell Colquhoun’s ‘The Judgement of Paris’ has a dreamlike quality to it. Her work is inspired by Dali’s strange, imaginary landscapes. Paris, the gentlemen in the left corner of the painting, is the son of Priam, the King of Troy. He has been called on to judge a beauty contest between the three goddesses. Minerva tries to bribe Paris by offering him skill in war. She bears a spear and a shield. Venus the goddess of love sits astride a goat, which symbolises lust. She offers Paris the most beautiful woman in the world. Juno sits astride a chariot drawn by peacocks, and tries to tempt Paris with the promise of power and wealth. The painting has a surreal feel to it, and the goddesses are not shown in their characteristic beauty.


The surrealism movement is still influential today in both fashion, and art. Take for example, Lady Gaga’s controversial ‘meat’ outfit. The designer, Alexander MCQueen was not afraid to challenge and provoke:  “You’ve got to know the rules to break them. That’s what I’m here for to demolish the rules but to keep the tradition”. He commissioned Emily Ticehurst to create a clear acrylic torso smeared with blood red ink. The torso was shown at the Hunger Collection fashion show in 1996. Ticehurst also designed another bodice called the wormery, that was filled with live worms.

I hope you have enjoyed the brief trip around some of the most surreal objects in Brighton Museum’s collection. In the words of Salvador Dali, himself: ‘Take me, I am the drug, I am the hallucinogenic.’

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