Scope and Content of Collection
Title: E. L. T. Mesens papers
Date (inclusive): 1917-1976 (bulk 1920-1971)
Mesens, E. L. T., (Edouard Léon Théodore), 1903-1971
12.0 linear feet
The Getty Research Institute
1200 Getty Center Drive, Suite 1100
Los Angeles, California, 90049-1688
E.L.T. Mesens collected, supported, and promoted the work of surrealist artists and writers. The archive comprises comprehensive
documentation of the Belgian surrealist's career as gallery director, editor, publisher, critic, musician, poet, and artist.
Most significant are ca. 3,500 letters (1918-1971) to and from artists, musicians, writers, dealers, and others prominent
in the art world, and ca. 800 photographs documenting art that Mesens exhibited or sold.
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Language: Collection material is in Dutch, French, and English.
Edouard Léon Théodore Mesens (born in Brussels, 1903 November 27) is probably best known for his ardent support and promotion
of surrealist art, particularly artists in the Surrealist movements in Belgium and England. In his capacity as a gallery director,
curator, collector and publisher, Mesens mounted significant exhibits in both countries, bought and sold works by little-known
artists, introduced artists to other dealers, and published the work of writers and artists. His favorite artist was Magritte,
whose work Mesens championed as early as 1920 when they met at an exhibit. Despite their difficult relationship, Mesens promoted
Magritte consistently and amassed a large collection of his work.
In the early 1920s Mesens became the assistant to the art dealer Louis Manteau in Brussels. In 1926, after his military service,
Mesens worked briefly for the Galerie La Vierge Poupine. In 1927 Paul-Gustave van Hecke (who also edited
Variétés) hired Mesens to be the assistant director at the Galerie L'Epoque. (Mesens had introduced Magritte to van Hecke in 1920.)
Mesens opened his own, eponymous, gallery in 1930, but it lasted only a few months until 1931 when he was appointed secretary
for the Palais de Beaux-Arts in Brussels, a vital center for art in Brussels at this time. While at the Palais he organized
the exhibition Minotaure in 1934, and worked with the English artist Roland Penrose to organize the International Exhibition
of Surrealism in 1936. Shortly after this experience Mesens moved to London in 1938 to direct the London Gallery and publish
London Bulletin. The gallery closed at the start of World War II; during the war Mesens worked in London for Radio Belgique.
Mesens studied music as a child, and up through the 1920s composed many pieces, setting the poems of Philippe Soupault, Benjamin
Péret, Tristan Tzara and Paul Eluard to music. Several of his compositions were performed in Europe. Around 1923 Mesens dedicated
himself to poetry and art. During the 1920s he was an editor of the avant-garde magazines,
Sélection (published in Antwerp) and
Variétés (published in Brussels). He published and edited the magazines
Bulletin International du Surealisme, 3 (1935), the
London Bulletin (1938-1940), and
Message from Nowhere (1944). In 1933 Mesens founded editions Nicolas Flamel, which published books of the early surrealists, including some of
his own. His own published work includes 3 books of poetry:
Femme complete, 1933;
Alphabet sourd-aveugle (a collaboration with Paul Eluard), 1933;
Troisiéme front, 1944) and one collection,
Poèmes 1923-1958, published 1959 with illustrations by Magritte. Mesens also wrote many reviews and published translations of Paul Eluard
(with Roland Penrose).
His own art work, primarily collages, was exhibited in the Venice Biennal, at the Galerie Furstenberg in 1957 (his first one-man
exhibit), the Palais de Beaux-Arts in Brussels 1959, the Galleria del Naviglio par Carlo Cardazzo in Milan in 1960, London's
Grosvenor gallery in 1961, the Alan gallery in New York in 1962. A major exhibit of his collages was held at Knokke-Le-Zoute
in 1963. He continued to exhibit through 1971 until his death in Brussels in that same year.
Open for use by qualified researchers.
E. L. T. Mesens papers, 1917-1976 (bulk 1920-1971), The Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles, Accession no. 920094.
Acquired in 1992.
Neil Hathaway began processing and organizing the collection in 1994. Sjoerd Meihousen began writing this finding aid in 1996.
Jocelyn Gibbs finalized the organization of the collection and completed this finding aid in 1998. Nearly 100 photographs
of art by artists whose work Mesens exhibited or encountered in some way, were moved to this archive from Special Collections
Some of the publications received with the archive have been kept in the collection; most were transferred to the Getty Research
Institute Library's general and rare book collection.
Scope and Content of Collection
The papers of E. L. T. Mesens (ca. 12 linear ft.) document his career as a gallery director and curator, editor and publisher,
and musician, poet and artist during the period 1917-1971. (A few printed materials date to 1976.) The archive provides a
unique view of the Surrealist movement, especially in Belgium and London. Included in the archive are more than 3,000 items
of correspondence with artists, writers, dealers and other culturally prominent figures. Ca. 900 photographs of art works
illustrate the work carried by Mesens' galleries and shown in exhibits he organized. A dossier documents the International
Surrealist Exhibit he and Roland Penrose organized in 1936. A few files contain notes and meeting minutes from the Living
Art Gallery and the beginnings of the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA), both in London. A few small sales books and lists
document some of the work carried by his galleries, 1931-1936, as well as works he collected. Unpublished manuscripts sent
to him at the
London Bulletin (1938-1940) reveal the audience and appeal of the publication among established and relatively unknown surrealist writers
and artists. Mesens's own work is presented in musical scores, poetry and prose manuscripts, some printed articles and reviews,
and photographs of his collages and paintings. In addition printed ephemera and some single issues of magazines document his,
and other artists' exhibitions. Most of the printed journals and catalogues received with the collection have been separated
to the Getty Research Library.
The papers are organized in seven series:
Series I. Correspondence, 1918-1971
Series II. International Surrealist Exhibition 1936
Series III. Living Art Gallery and Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA), 1938-1960
Series IV. Exhibitions and other art activities, 1931-1964
Series V. Mesens's manuscripts, 1917-1967
Series VI. Photographs, ca. 1917-1976
Series VII. Printed matter, ca. 1925-1976