EDWARD FRANK WILLIS JAMES

Poet, Patron of the Arts, Collector and Designer.


James was born 16 August 1907 in Scotland, the fifth child of William James and Elizabeth Evelyn Forbes, and the sole boy among the siblings.

Biography by Edward James

Shis baptismal godfather was King Edward VII, a friend to James’s parents and a frequent guest in their home.

His childhood and part of his adolescence was spent at West Dean Castle in West Sussex, England. In 1928, he inherited a significant fortune from his father and uncle that had been amassed in the Western Hemisphere by his paternal grandfather Daniel James; Edward used his fortune largely to promote the fine arts.

James studied literature at Oxford and it was there where he began to get involved in the world of the arts, starting with relationships he cultivated with artists such as English poet John Betjeman and Randolph Churchill.

In the same years he created his own publishing concern, the James Press, through which he published certain works of his friends’ as well as his own poetry.

At the beginning of the 1930s, he met Tilly Losch, an Austrian dancer, with whom he fell in love. They married in New York in 1931. During the three years that James’s marriage endured, and in an attempt to demonstrate his love for Tilly, he commissioned several ballets in which she performed as prima ballerina; the best known of these was Les Ballets.

Throughout his life, James maintained intriguing relationships with art- and fashion-world personalities such as René Magritte, who painted several pieces for James in which the patron served as a model.

He was involved producing the surrealist journal Minotaure, for which he commissioned several covers designed by Dalí and Picasso.

The sundry personalities with whom James maintained close relations include designers Elsa Schiaparelli, Coco Chanel, and Nikki de Saint Phalle; photographer Man Ray; painter Max Ernst; sculptors Isamu Noguchi and Henry Moore—and many others.

James moved to Taos, New Mexico in 1940, where an artistic community had previously formed; months later he learned that a number of artists were settling in and around Los Angeles and he chose to move there, living temporarily in several Los Angeles neighborhoods including Hollywood and Malibu.

It was at this time that James met writer Aldous Huxley, who in letters written years later evinced an interest in preserving the arts of Europe through a wish to create a foundation that would sponsor an art school headquartered in West Dean Castle, a dream that was realized in 1971 thanks to the Edward James Foundation. To date, the school maintains a growing course offering that touches on painting, writing, photography, sculpture, tapestry design, ceramics conservation, furnishings, antique musical instruments and much more. Today it is one of the world’s most prestigious art schools.

It was during his time in Los Angeles that James began to become preoccupied with finding an idyllic space in which he could fully dedicate himself to writing and poetry.

In 1945 he visited friends residing in Cuernavaca, Mexico. It was the start of his masterwork in the jungles of the Huasteca region in the Mexican state of San Luis Potosí.

In December 1984, Edward James died from a thrombosis at age 77 in San Remo, Italy. He was buried in the West Dean botanical garden in England.

One of the twentieth century’s most exceptional works of architecture is his legacy to the world.