Mae West lips sofa – microfading

Collections Care and Access
March 10, 2023

Microfading is a relatively new technique developed by heritage scientists to test how light affects museum objects. The process uses an intense beam of light, aimed at a microscopic spot, while at the same time measuring any colour changes. A microfading test helps the museum to decide on a lighting strategy for a gallery, and how long an object can remain on display. With thanks to generous funding from the UKRI, a microfading tester has been recently purchased by the V&A.

One of the first museum objects we tested was the Mae West lips sofa, made by the Surrealist patron, collector, collaborator, and poet Edward James. The sofa was purchased by the V&A in 2018 and displayed in the Dr Susan Weber Gallery, which reopened in 2020. As the V&A strives to display as many objects in its collections as possible, the microfading tester will help us to understand how sensitive the sofa is to light. 

Mae West Lips sofa, Edward James and Salvador Dalí, designed 1937 – 8, made 1938. Museum no. W.6-2018. © Image Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The Technical services department gathered a team of museum technicians to help provide access to the sofa from behind a Perspex hood.

A group of technicians working on a red sofa in the shape of a pair of lips
Technical services providing access to the sofa

As well as microfading, light and colour measurements were taken at the same time on the surface. After the analysis of the data, the great news is that the dyes used in the sofa surface are extremely light stable and so the sofa can remain on display for longer than we initially thought.

A scientist studying the sofa with lighting equipment
A member of the Preventive team conducting a microfading test and measuring colour on the surface of the Mae West lips sofa
The author smiling in front of the sofa
0 comments so far, view or add yours

Add a comment

Please read our privacy policy to understand what we do with your data.


Join today and enjoy unlimited free entry to all V&A exhibitions, Members-only previews and more

Find out more


Explore our range of exclusive jewellery, books, gifts and more. Every purchase supports the V&A.

Find out more