This Salvador Dalí Mae West lips sofa was made in 1938. It has been blocked from export in the hope a buyer can be found to pay nearly £500,000 to keep it in the country.

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The sofa is one of five Mae West sofas made in 1938 by Dalí and Edward James, the late poet and artist who was a patron of the Surrealist movement.

It is one of a pair recently sold at two separate auctions at Christie’s which had previously been in James’ former home in West Sussex.

This particular version of the sofa was altered by James from the other versions to make it an integral part of the decoration in his home, to fit with his vision for a Surrealist interior.

Its dimensions, textiles and colour differ from other versions, and it was also elongated to give the lips a more satisfactory appearance.

James, who died in 1984, funded Dalí during 1938 in exchange for the artwork he created. They together designed the sofa and a lobster-shaped telephone.

Fantasy furniture

The decision to defer the granting of an export licence to the owner of the sofa follows a recommendation by the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest (RCEWA), administered by the Arts Council.

RCEWA member Richard Calvocoressi said: “Salvador Dalí and Edward James’s sofa in the shape of Mae West’s lips shares with Meret Oppenheim’s fur-covered cup, saucer and spoon of the same date (Museum of Modern Art, New York) the distinction of being the most famous object in the history of Surrealism.

“But it is more than a witty surrealist sculpture or a striking example of fantasy furniture. It is a masterpiece of Pop art 25 years before Pop was invented.”

The export bar runs until February and could be extended to May.

The pair of sofas has been in store since James’ death. The first was sold at Christie’s in December 2016, as part of a fundraising auction for The Edward James Foundation. The foundation runs West Dean College which focuses on fine art conservation courses among its specialities.

The sofa that is subject to the temporary export bar was sold at Christie’s in February 2017. A potential buyer must offer £480,281.56 plus VAT of £16,600.