Our Collection

The College holds historic collections and archives relating to the West Dean Estate, its former owners and the College. The legacy of Edward James, an influential patron of the arts, these collections include artworks, manuscripts and letters of prominent 20th century artists and cultural figures. Among the items from this period are paintings by his close friends Leonora Carrington, Salvador Dalí, Leonor Fini and René Magritte and furniture and fabrics commissioned from leading interior designers. Edward James’s personal archive of correspondence and papers reflects his creative involvement in fine art, music, ballet, interior design and architecture in Europe, the USA and Mexico. A poet and novelist in his own right, James left hundreds of drafts of his works, published and unpublished.

The West Dean Estate Archive, dating from the 15th century to the creation of the Edward James Foundation in 1964, comprises manorial records, title deeds, maps and plans, correspondence and accounts. Significant pre-20th century object collections include furniture, tapestries, decorative art, clocks, paintings, prints and drawings. These were largely the acquisitions of the James family who moved to West Dean in 1891. The extensive travels of Frank and William James (uncle and father of Edward) in the 19th century resulted in a collection of objects, taxidermy, journals and photograph albums chiefly relating to Sudan and Somalia.

The Collection and Archives are used extensively for teaching and learning within the College and frequently consulted by external researchers. Items are regularly requested by institutions for loan to international exhibitions.


In recent years, West Dean has supported a number of high-profile exhibitions that enhance research opportunities and extend the reach of the Collection. Exhibitions also enable the College to build partnerships with international organisations, furthering our reputation as a centre of excellence and providing students with outstanding professional practice opportunities.

Recent exhibitions that include Collection items include:

Leonora Carrington
Arken, Copenhagen, 17 September 2022 – 07 May 2023
MAPFRE, Madrid, 8 February 2023 – 14 May 2023

Shocking – The Surreal World of Elsa Schiaparelli
Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris 30 June 2022 – 21 January 2023

The Art of Chichester
Novium, Chichester, 25 June 2022 -25 February 2023

Dalí-Freud : An Obsession
The Belvedere, Vienna, 28 January 2022 – 29 May 2022

Objects of Desire: Surrealism and Design 1924 – Today
The Design Museum, London, 14 October 2022 to 19 February 2023

Cecil Beaton’s Bright Young Things
Millennium Gallery, Sheffield, 20 May to 4 July 2021

Phantoms of Surrealism
Whitechapel Gallery, 16 April 2021 – 12 December 2021

Cecil Beaton's Bright Young Things
National Portrait Gallery, London, 12 March to 7 June 2020

Salvador Dalí and Hans Arp
Arp Museum Bahnhof Rolandseck, Germany, 16 February to 16 August 2020

From Nothingness to Dreams
Ferrero Foundation, Alba, 27 October 2018 to 25 February 2019

Dalí and the Metamorphosis of Narcissus
Freud Museum 3 October 2018 to 24 February 2019

Leonora Carrington Magical Tales
Museo des Arte Moderno Mexico City 21 April to 23 September 2018
Contemporary Art Museum of Monterrey (MARCO), 11 October to 3 February 2019

Royal Academy, 7 October 2017 to 3 January 2018
Dalí Museum Florida, February 10 2018 to May 27 2018

Sussex Modernism
Two Temple Place, London, 28 January to 23 April 2017

Surreal Encounters 'Mad About Surrealism'
Boijmans Museum, 11 February to 28 May 2017