Portrait de Iya, Lady Abdy signed 'aDerain' (lower right) oil on canvas 116 x 89cm (45 11/16 x 35 1/16in). Painted circa 1934-1939
PROVENANCE Justin K. Thannhauser, New York. Marie Harriman Gallery, New York. Estate of Marcel and Liliane Pollack, Sotheby's, London, 25 October 1995, lot 33.
EXHIBITED San Francisco, Golden Gate International Exposition, 1939.
LITERATURE M. Kellermann, André Derain, Catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre peint, Paris, 1999, vol.III, no.1812 (illustrated p.113).
Iya, Lady Abdy (d. 1993), was the first wife of the English ship-owner Sir Robert Abdy (1896-1976). Born Iya Grigorievna de Gay in St Petersburg, she escaped with her family to Finland during the Russian Revolution, before moving to Paris. A striking blonde over six feet tall (Cecil Beaton said she 'invented size') she was one of the bright young things of Parisian society of the '20s and '30s. A friend of Coco Chanel and Jean Cocteau, she was a regular in the salon of the Comtesse de Noailles, and was photographed by Man Ray and Cecil Beaton, and for Vogue by George Hoyningen Huene.
In 1935 she financed a production of Les Cenci by the theatre visionary Antonin Artaud, in return for taking the part of Beatrice Cenci. The play was based partly on Shelley's 1819 cabinet piece on the gruesome medieval story of incest and patricide, and partly on Stendhal's work of 1837 based on his own archival research. Both sources contributed to the shocking subject matter of the play, which was designed to introduce Artaud's brutal theories of the Theatre of Cruelty. Playing from 7 May 1935 over only fifteen performances to a bewildered and uncomprehending public, the only praise was for Iya Abdy's beauty and the sets and costumes designed by Balthus. At about the same time Balthus painted Lady Abdy's portrait in the role of Beatrice (formerly in Lady Abdy's own collection) in which she wears a deep red gown very similar to the one she wears in the present portrait, and which may indeed be the costume Balthus designed for the role.
Derain was increasingly involved in stage projects through the 1930s, working particularly with Balanchine and the Ballets Russe, as well as illustrating Artaud's Héliogabale ou l'Anarchiste couronné (1934). Balthus was a close disciple of Derain during this period, painting a striking portrait of the older artist in 1936 (New York, Museum of Modern Art).
Where Balthus's portrait of Lady Abdy expresses his own increasingly complicated psychological concerns, in the present work Derain demonstrates his close study of nineteenth century and earlier masters, particularly the portraiture of Courbet, in the careful arrangement of the hands and the sweeps of drapery.