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Mesens (E. L. T.) papers
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  • Descriptive Summary
  • Biographical/Historical Note
  • Administrative Information
  • Separated Material
  • Scope and Content of Collection

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: E. L. T. Mesens papers
    Date (inclusive): 1917-1976 (bulk 1920-1971)
    Number: 920094
    Creator/Collector: Mesens, E. L. T. (Edouard Léon Théodore), 1903-1971
    Physical Description: 12 Linear Feet (32 boxes)
    The Getty Research Institute
    Special Collections
    1200 Getty Center Drive, Suite 1100
    Los Angeles 90049-1688
    Business Number: (310) 440-7390
    Fax Number: (310) 440-7780
    URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10020/askref
    (310) 440-7390
    Abstract: 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.

    Biographical/Historical Note

    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 the 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 Oesophage (1925), Marie (1926), 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.

    Administrative Information


    Open for use by qualified researchers.

    Publication Rights

    Preferred Citation

    E. L. T. Mesens papers, 1917-1976 (bulk 1920-1971), The Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles, Accession no. 920094.

    Acquisition Information

    Acquired in 1992.

    Processing History

    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.

    Separated Material

    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.

    Arrangement note

    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