Scope and Content of Collection
Title: E. L. T. Mesens papers
Date (inclusive): 1917-1976 (bulk
Mesens, E. L. T. (Edouard Léon
12 Linear Feet
The Getty Research Institute
1200 Getty Center Drive, Suite 1100
Los Angeles 90049-1688
Business Number: (310) 440-7390
Fax Number: (310) 440-7780
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
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 the
. 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
London Bulletin (1938-1940), and
(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;
(a collaboration with Paul Eluard), 1933;
Troisiéme front, 1944) and one
Poèmes 1923-1958, published 1959 with illustrations by Magritte.
Mesens also wrote many reviews and published translations of Paul Eluard (with Roland
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 accession 97.R.53.
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
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
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,
Series II. International Surrealist Exhibition 1936
Living Art Gallery and Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA), 1938-1960
Exhibitions and other art activities, 1931-1964
Series V. Mesens's manuscripts,
Series VI. Photographs, ca. 1917-1976
Printed matter, ca. 1925-1976