E.L.T. Mesens

The Staff

1962

Original title
L'Etat-Major
Medium
Card, paper and watercolour on board
Dimensions
Unconfirmed: 216 x 276 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Purchased 1970
Reference
T01260

Display caption

A composer, poet, writer and generator of Surrealist activity in Belgium, ELT Mesens first arrived in London in 1936 when he helped to install the International Surrealist Exhibition. He stayed to run the London Gallery and produce the ‘London Bulletin’ as well as manifestos that defined British Surrealist activity. It was not until the 1960s that he returned to an early enthusiasm for producing collages. The Staff uses cigarette cards of English footballers, though their celebrity is undercut by the blanking-out of their eyes. The title has military connotations (as in the ‘general staff’).

Gallery label, July 2011

Catalogue entry

E.L.T. Mesens 1903-1971

T01260 L'Etat-Major (The Staff) 1962

Inscribed 'Mesens' b.l., 'L'ETAT-MAJOR' b.c. and '20/1962' br.; also 'L'ETAT-MAJOR | No. 20 | 1962 | E.L.T. Mesens' on the back
Collage and watercolour on cardboard, 8 1/2 x 10 7/8 (21.7 x 27.6)
Purchased from the Grosvenor Gallery (Grant-in-Aid) 1970
Prov: With Grosvenor Gallery, London (purchased from the artist)
Exh: The Belgian Contribution to Surrealism, RSA, Edinburgh, August-September 1971 (66)

Mesens has included cigarette cards of eleven leading English footballers of the nineteen-thirties (making up a complete team?), with narrow strips of bus tickets or other paper pasted across their eyes, possibly in order to give them anonymity. George Melly commented (letter of 22 August 1971): 'He had no interest in football as such so I presume the cigarette cards were selected for formal reasons. He did, however, keep everything and probably happened upon them one day among his other hoardings.'

The cards are from a set of Association Footballers published by W.D. & H.O. Wills in November 1939, the identity of the players being as follows:

Top row (left to right): R. Baxter, Middlesbrough; D. McCulloch, Derby County; G.W. Hall, Tottenham Hotspur; J. Dawson, Rangers.
Centre row (left to right): T. Graham, Nottingham Forest; L. Goulden, West Ham United; G. Vose, Manchester United.
Bottom row (left to right): A. McNab, West Bromwich Albion; J. Mercer, Everton; S. Smith, Leicester City; E.M. Glover, Plymouth Argyle.

Published in:
Ronald Alley, Catalogue of the Tate Gallery's Collection of Modern Art other than Works by British Artists, Tate Gallery and Sotheby Parke-Bernet, London 1981, p.509, reproduced p.509