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E. L. T. Mesens papers, 1917-1976 (bulk 1920-1971)

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Mesens (E. L. T.) papers

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.

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