Salvador Dali’s Mae West Lips sofa, one of the most famous pieces of furniture of the 20th century, could be taken out of the UK unless a buyer willing to pay almost half a million pounds is found.
The British government has placed a temporary export bar on Sofa, which Dali created with Surrealist poet and collector Edward James.
A buyer will have to be found before May to match the asking price of £480,281 plus £16,600 VAT for the red sofa to remain in Britain.
“This iconic piece is considered to be the single most important example of Surrealist furniture ever made in Britain,” said arts minister John Glen. “I very much hope that a buyer comes forward to keep this unique item in the UK.”
The 1938 piece of furniture has been described as the most famous object in the history of Surrealism. The lips relate to Dali’s paintings and drawings that were inspired by Hollywood star Mae West.
Five of the sofas were made in total, with the version on sale altered by James, with the lips elongated, to make it an integral part of the Surrealist interior of Monkton House in West Sussex.
The temporary export bar follows a recommendation by the reviewing committee on the export of works of art and objects of cultural interest.
Committee member Richard Calvocoressi said: “Salvador Dalí and Edward James’s sofa in the shape of Mae West’s lips shares with Meret Oppenheim’s fur-covered cup, saucer and spoon of the same date (Museum of Modern Art, New York) the distinction of being the most famous object in the history of Surrealism.
“But is more than a witty surrealist sculpture or a striking example of fantasy furniture. It is a masterpiece of Pop Art, 25 years before Pop was invented.”
The committee noted the power of the image of the sofa in the 20th century. It made its recommendation on the grounds of the sofa’s close connection with Britain’s history and national life, its outstanding aesthetic importance and its significance for the study of furniture history, as well as the history of design and Surrealist art.
The decision on the export licence for the sofa will be deferred until 16 February. That date will be extended until 16 May if a serious intention to raise funds to purchase it is made at the recommended price.
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