In advance of a fascinating exhibition, Surreal Encounters | Collecting the Marvellous, opening at the Scotland National Gallery of Modern Art, which will showcase Surrealist works from four legendary collections: those of Roland Penrose, Edward James, Gabrielle Keiller and Ulla and Heiner Pietzsch; a remarkable story about Salvador Dalí has been rediscovered.

The Guardian has delved deep into art’s archives to chronicle one of Salvador Dali’s most dangerous excursions, one that happened in Britain as the Spanish Surrealist and fellow members Breton, Ernst and Duchamp tried to kick-start the British imagination.

In 1936, Dalí went to be fitted for a diving suit in a small shop on the South coast of England. The shop owner asked as to how deep Dalí was planning on going, Dalí replied his plan was to dive into the depths of the human subconscious – and that he hoped to take the British public with him.

The diving suit was the pièce de résistance of the legendary International Exhibition of Surrealism, which brought together Pablo Picasso, René Magritte, Max Ernst, Alexander Calder Marcel Duchamp, Alberto Giacometti, Paul Klee, Joan Miró, Henry Moore, Paul Nash, Meret Oppenheim, Man Ray, and Salvador Dalí. On its opening day (11 June 1936) the show stopped traffic on Piccadilly due to the enormous crowds and, would instigate a change in the British arts establishment, a long-awaited reappraisal of what an art exhibition could be. Dalí’s idea was to give a lecture while wearing the diving suit. Because this wasn’t quite odd enough he made the addition of holding two dogs on leads in one hand, and in the other, a billiard cue. All looked as if it were going to plan, for a while, but during the course of the lecture, Dalí began, slowly, to suffocate underneath the hefty diving helmet. Which is when the billiard cue came to the rescue, and was used to help prise it off his head.

The ways that Surrealist art has been collected are often as idiosyncratic and seemingly irrational as the actions of the artists being collected. This exhibition examines the strange impulses behind these four notorious collections and gives a fascinated insight into the whole picture of surrealism.

Surreal Encounters: Collecting the Marvellous is at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh, 4 June to 11 September 2016