An Excerpt from my, “Adventure and Ecotourism in Edward James’ Surrealist Garden, Las Pozas, Xilitla”.
Adventure and Ecotourism in Edward James’ Surrealistic Garden
Edward William Frank James (1907 – 1984) was a British millionaire and poet known for his patronage of the surrealist art movement.
James was born August 16, 1907, the only son of William James, an American railroad magnate who moved to England and married Evelyn Forbes, a Scots socialite, who was reputedly fathered by the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII). He had four older sisters: Audrey, Millicent, Xandra, and Silvia. At the age of five, in 1912, he inherited the 8,000 acre West Dean Estate in Sussex, on the death of his father, which he later bequeathed as the West Dean Foundation, a centre for the preservation of traditional arts and crafts.
James was educated briefly at Eton, and then at Le Rosey in Switzerland, then at Christ Church, Oxford where he was a contemporary of Evelyn Waugh and Harold Acton. Jame’s early volumes of self-published poetry were disparaged by critics, and he turned to patronage as his contribution to the arts.
Edward James first sponsorship of note was in publishing John Betjeman’s first book of poems when at Oxford University. He worked with Brian Howard on the Glass Omnibus.
After Oxford James had a brief career as a trainee diplomat at the embassy in Rome. He was asked to send a coded message to London that the Italians had laid the keels for three destroyers, but got the code wrong and said 300 destroyers; shortly after this he was sent “on indefinite leave”. In the 1930s James divorced his wife Tilly Losch and joined a social set in England which included the composer Lord Berners and the Mitford sisters.
James is best known as a passionate and early supporter of Surrealism, a movement that was born from the political uncertainty, and upheaval between the wars. Rejecting the bourgeois’ dominating rationality, surrealists escaped into a world of fantasy and irrationality. He sponsored Salvador Dalí for the whole of 1938, and his collection of paintings and art objects that subsequently came to be accepted as the finest collection of surrealist work in private hands. He also provided practical help, supporting Dalí for about two years and allowing Magritte to stay in his London house to do some paintings.
James appeared in three famous surrealist paintings:
Swans Reflecting Elephants by Dalí
La Reproduction Interdite by René Magritte 
The Pleasure Principle: Portrait of Edward James also by René Magritte
Each suggests an alienated person. In the first, James looks away from the centre; in the second he looks into a mirror which shows the back of his head; in the third James’s head is a fireball.
As well as Dalí and Magritte, his art collection included works by Bosch, De Chirico, Paul Klee, Leonora Carrington, Pavel Tchelitchew, Pablo Picasso, Giacometti, Max Ernst and Paul Delvaux, amongst others. Most were sold at Christies two years after his death.
His intellectual interest in surrealism is demonstrated by his sponsorship of Minotaur, a lavish Surrealist magazine published in Paris. His refurbishment of Monkton House, in a part of the West Dean Estate, was a Surrealist dream, including the large sofa to which Dali gave the form and color of Mae West’s lips, and his Lobster Telephone.
A brief marriage to dancer Tilly Losch in the 1930s ended in a scandalous divorce. He claimed infidelity, and she alleged homosexuality. In 1940, James traveled to Cuenavaca, Mexico where he met telegraphist Plutarco Gastelum. Soon after James and his companion traveled to Xilitla, San Luis Potosí to camp out in the rainforest smog the wild orchids. He loved it there so much that he bought the site that was to become Las Pozas. The original idea was to grow orchids in the rainforest there. But his plants were wiped out by a sudden frost and, he decided to switch to experiments in architecture, and copying the plants in vast colored concrete structures that could never die. He built a series of unfinished palaces, temples and pagodas, populated with exotic creatures such as flamingos and boa constrictors.
A local carpenter José Aguilar became his Surrealist mold maker, and James hired hundreds of local workmen to shape the rebar and wire and our the concrete into James’ designs. His hygiene compulsion necessitated the installation of faucets throughout the construction which were also used in the mixing of the concrete for his sculptures.