Farbridge has been created out of a group of redundant farm buildings on the West Dean Estate.
Edward James, who owned the West Dean Estate, was born in 1907. The only son of an Anglo – American family, his fortune came from railways and timber. In 1912, at the age of five and following the death of his father, the six thousand acre Estate passed to him in Trust until he reached the age of twenty five.
James was educated at Eton and Oxford. He found the conventional restraints of his privileged upbringing difficult at Eton, especially as he was prevented from pursuing his creative interests. However, whilst at Oxford he began to mix with like-minded people such as Betjeman, Waugh, and Harold Acton. He had a Rolls Royce and a silk lined room worthy of a “Sebastian Flyte”. With his vast wealth his aim was to bring the marvellous back into everyday life – “money seemed to me to have been given to spend… by spending it in my own way… by fostering any and all creative spirits I could meet with…”
Edward James’s life was in art and by the age of 32, he had amassed what is now recognised as one of the finest collections of Surrealist art in the world. He encouraged, funded and supported Salvador Dali in his formative years collaborating with him on the “Lobster Telephone” and having sofas made in the shape of “Mae West’s” lips. These were all destined for his surrealist fantasy “Monkton House”, originally a hunting lodge designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens on the West Dean Estate, along with other such works by Picasso, Magritte, Ernst, Miro and Man Ray. Without James’ support Dali as we know him today would not have existed. Edward James had first refusal on all his work and made sure that the artist’s needs were met. Not only was he paying for him, but he was also buying the latest fashions such as Schiaparelli dresses for Dali’s wife, Gala. He was a catalyst and mentor for Dali.
Following James’ divorce from the beautiful ballet dancer, Tilly Losch, he left England in 1939 for California. From here, in the late forties he then moved on to Las Posas in Xilitla (www.junglegossip.com) and created a surrealist fantasy in the Mexican jungle. It was here that he found peace and spent what in today’s values would be the equivalent of 20 million dollars building “a stairway to imagination“ in plants and stone.
In 1964 Edward James made over the entire West Dean Estate and its contents to his new Charitable Foundation (www.westdean.org.uk) On his death in 1984 he gave away Las Posas in Mexico to his adopted Mexican family Plutarco and Marina Gastelum.
For a largely misunderstood man, his life was full of philanthropic acts.